I (mostly) grew up in a Southern Baptist church in Montgomery, Alabama. Every year as a teenager I participated in a youth retreat called "Disciple Now". I think it was supposed to be a time of discipleship for teenagers, and for the most part it was. We spent all weekend in intense Bible study with a few fun events thrown in, but come Sunday morning everyone was hoping to report that someone (or every teen at the retreat) got saved. Forget that many of them were teens who were already following the Lord and doing a pretty good job at it. Forget that this time was a serious encouragement for them to keep growing in the Lord and living for Him. That is just not exciting. That is not worth the thousands of dollars the church budget put into this. If several kids did not believe in Jesus for the first time, then that is a wasted line item.
Don't get me wrong. I love people hearing and believing in Jesus for the first time. I think it is the greatest miracle that one could ever see in this world. It is why I am where I am, but there is so much more to it than that. There is the actual discipleship of the believer that will keep God's message moving forward.
I just finished reading a horrible email from my new co-workers. They sent us word that a 16 year old boy committed suicide a few days ago. He was a believer. He was one of those kids that showed "real promise". Everyone thought he would be a leader in the church in his generation. But he fell into some sin, and he didn't know how to deal with it. He needed discipleship. Many people would probably label the Hewa as "reached" because many have heard and accepted the truth of the Gospel message. "Why would they send new missionaries there?" Well, this is a perfect example of why new missionaries should join the Hewa work. Jonathan and Susan Kopf are in there already discipling believers, and translating the Bible, and doing medical work, and teaching new Bible lessons, and helping the believers reach out to other villages, and on and on and on. Helping a new church reach maturity is too much work for one family.
When we took this position with the Hewa people group we knew a large part of what we would be doing would be discipleship and we were and still are very excited about it. But we were worried. In the back of our Baptist brains we thought we should down play that discipleship role a little and highlight the fact that we would eventually be going to other villages to bring the Gospel to people for the first time. We thought that this is what people and churches expect of us, and they may feel they are not getting their money's worth if some people do not get saved. But the believing is only the beginning.
I finished Jonathan's book about the same time I received the email, and I realized that people need to know that the presentation of the Gospel for the first time is amazing and exciting and miraculous, but to just leave it there would be a mistake. The Kopfs and the Copleys (a family who until recently worked with the Hewa and who are now leadership here in PNG) poured their literal blood, sweat, and tears into these people and to simply see them believe and not mature would be devastating. To see a small group of believers for the first time would be miraculous, but to have those believers die out in one generation because they were not mature enough to pass their faith on to each following generation would be tragic.
You see when people are not discipled they usually do one of two things:
1. Go back to their old ways. In this case it means practicing animism and sorcery. Trying to appease spirits and killing those suspected of being witches- usually young teenage girls.
2. They combine what they have learned with those previous practices resulting in syncretism. Most of the time this just means they try to live by a set of rules that they hope will please God and earn their way to heaven. (is this sounding familiar to anyone? Didn't Jesus condemn the Pharisees of this very thing) But this is actually the case in almost all areas of PNG. In most denominational churches people are following a set of man made rules like, "you must wear clean white shirts" or "you must poop in outhouses" (that is not made up or exaggerated- our co-workers heard a preacher say these very words in a church service)
|Tribal man headed to church on a Sunday morning with his dress shirt, loin cloth, and "as gras"- a perfect example of syncretism.|
Is this what God had in mind when He called us to PNG? Is this what we want to pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into? Is this what our churches and supporters want? I believe I can answer all three of those with a resounding NO. And I am very thankful that God has placed mature believers on our team of financial supporters who would agree.
So I am praising Jesus that He forgives me for trying to "market" His work, and I am asking all of you to forgive me as well. We are here doing what Jesus tells us to do, and there is nothing that I can say or do to make that any better than it already is. At some point we will be seed-planters, but first we will be seed-waterers (1 Cor. 3:6) and are thankful and humbled to be called to this position.