This past Sunday, 13 January, it was exactly 23 years since I was ordained as minister of the Swaziland Reformed Church. Actually, I didn’t even think about it until I arrived at the church and saw that someone had put up a notice in the church which read: Happy birthday and happy new year. When trying to find out who’s birthday they were celebrating, nobody seemed to know, although I wondered if they hadn’t intended this to be a celebration of Jesus’ birthday! In any case, I then suddenly realised that in a certain sense it was a birthday celebration – my being part of this church in Swaziland for 23 years.
When I arrived in Swaziland on 4 January 1985, I never thought that I would be remaining there for so long. Typically, at that time. ministers remained in churches for three to four years, before moving on. It was usually just the hopeless cases whom nobody else wanted that remained in one congregation for such a long time ;-)
The advantages and disadvantages of remaining in one congregation for a long time can be debated. I know that Rick Warren believes that it is good for a minister / pastor to remain in one congregation more or less for life. I tend to think that this may be even more important in a missionary post. I’ve seen people come and go in missions, sometimes remaining in one place for a year or two and then moving on to the next place. Obviously not all are called by God to do the same thing. Paul also moved around a lot. The problem, when working in a totally different culture from your own, is that it takes so long to build relationships – something which cannot be done in a year or two. When you move away after such a short time, it would be nearly impossible to leave behind something which have really made a change to the people’s lives.
Related to this is the lack of commitment from people going on short-term outreaches. I wrote about this topic a few weeks ago and have been thinking about it again over the past few days. People go on a short-term outreach, get excited about what they experience there and the people they meet, promise te keep contact, promise to send photos and promise to return, and I would dare to say that in 99% of the cases none of these promises are kept.
While I was still a student, I was the leader of a short-term outreach to a small community in rural Kwazulu-Natal (South Africa) where we helped the local minister to add a study / office to his home. His wife was pregnant at the time when we were there. A few months after we left we heard that the baby was born, that it was a son and that they had decided to give the child my own name: Siyabonga SenzoseNkosi Arnau (translated into English this means: We thank the work of the Lord, Arnau) which was a great honour to me. A few months after I made special effort to travel back to that area to greet the family and to see the child. That day I saw how much it meant to those people that I had not forgotten them.
Being involved in mission is a long-term commitment. Those leading outreaches or coordinating a church’s mission program, need to realise this. Although I am convinced that God expects of all of us to have a vision for mission, part of this vision should be based on a long-term commitment in whatever place God calls us to work. More harm is being done by hit-and-run missionaries than by those not involved at all.