On a recent trip to Thailand and Taiwan, I had the privilege of meeting face to face with about a dozen of the missionaries that our ministry is blessed to serve.
A few of them serve in Thailand and others had come from nearby Southeast Asian countries to attend a conference.
As I sat and listened to these amazing people, an American cultural trait that I’ve been pondering for quite some time–both its positive ramifications and its negative ramifications–crystallized a bit further in my mind.
To put it as succinctly as possible, American servants that choose to live among, love, and serve people in other countries and cultures must be willing to say good-bye to the American cultural norm that places what COULD BE in the future, (think: VISION) as a higher priority than what actually IS today.
To be shaped by that mindset is to be so future-focused, that we end up devaluing the meaning and significance of TODAY by viewing it as merely the next necessary step towards the fulfilment of the vision that God originally gave us.
The danger with that kind of mindset is that we also risk not valuing the people we encounter TODAY for who they are, but for how they might serve a purpose in helping us fulfil our vision.
I’m not saying that vision isn’t important. It absolutely is.
Having a clear VISION is essential at a number of levels for every missionary.
It is right and good that they embrace what God has shown them that can, and should become a reality.
They should clearly articulate it to others.
They should take the steps necessary to move forward so that the vision becomes a reality.
These are all necessary and noble things to do and these are some of the things that American culture soars with.
But as with so many other things, that can, and does get taken to an extreme.
Which is why our culture also has this simple phrase of exhortation, “you need to stop and smell the roses”.
Although few of us take it seriously until we’re confronted with a major life-change or a potential life-threatening event, there’s a reason that phrase noses its way in to all of our lives every now and then.
In Asia, where the predominant culture places a high value on TODAY and the relationships and people that are a part of TODAY, an American follower of Jesus that refuses to acclimate to this cultural trait will limit the depth of their relationships with the very people they are there to reach in His Name.
This is exactly what I saw in the lives of the missionaries that I visited spent time with.
Without abandoning the vision the Lord has given them, they have masterfully made a significant cultural adjustment and have learned to value TODAY and the PEOPLE that make up today for what they truly are–gifts from God.
And because they have, they have endeared themselves to the locals at a deep level.
It was observable and I was blessed to see it.
But probably not as much as the people they interact with on a daily basis.
And certainly not as much as the Missionary God who sent them in the first place.