Three steps towards successful missions
One often hears that it is said that the value of property is determined by three things: location, location and location. With apology to whoever said that first, I’ve created my own three steps for successful missions: relations, relations and relations!
I have seen good missionaries and bad missionaries in my life. I have seen good preachers and bad preachers. I have seen good administrators and bad administrators. But I have also seen that many faults can be forgiven or overlooked if the relationships are right. I have also seen people moving into the mission field doing everything correctly, but because that person was not willing to work on relations, the wonderful things which he or she did was also overlooked.
How does one build relations? It would be impossible to give one final answer to this. What I have found was the necessity to create a feeling of trust. But that may take literally years to establish. When I moved to Swaziland in 1985, I honestly thought that I would be moving into an already established church where people will be used to foreigners and where I will be easily accepted. In a certain sense this was true. I was fortunate that my immediate predecessor had gone to great lengths to build a trusting relationship with the church members as well as people of the community. I was definitely respected due to the “office” which I held as minister of the congregation. But I quickly found out that much more than this is needed to build trust.
If you will bear with me, I would like to relate an interesting event which we experienced. I was born as a white, Afrikaans-speaking South African and grew up in the years of Apartheid in my country. When I moved to Swaziland, I quickly found out that anything I did which someone did not like, was blamed on Apartheid. This truly saddened me as we did our utmost to demonstrate our true love and acceptance of the Swazi people. One day we, as well as three other missionaries and their wives working in different parts of Swaziland were instructed to attend a meeting in Manzini, the industrial capitol of Swaziland. We were told to sit on chairs in the front of a hall and then the church members of a number of churches all over Swaziland lifted their grievances against things which they felt we had done wrong. This was probably one of the worst days of my life, because I realised that everyone of the missionaries had done their utmost to show love and acceptance to the Swazi people, but somehow this had failed to have the expected response. What was truly amazing that day, was that the four of us together with our spouses, kept quiet throughout the time of accusations against us. (I can’t speak on behalf of the others, but as for myself, this was truly a miracle!) Long afterwards I realised that, in spite of all our attempts to be acceptable to them, they still did not trust us – mainly because of missionaries who had worked in Swaziland in the past and who had never been much interested in building trusting relationships. What had happened that day was that they had reflected their own hurt built up over some decades onto us. In great sadness and still suffering from the effects of bomb shock, my wife and I returned home that evening.
The next morning I went to church. Only one of the members of that specific congregation had attended the meeting the previous day. After the church service she asked permission to speak and (rather reluctantly) I agreed. She shared with the people what had happened the previous day. And then a wonderful thing happened: The congregation reacted with great indignation and anger, asking where these people got the right from to accuse us of all the things they had said. After their tempers had subsided a bit, I stood up again. My words on that day more or less boiled down to the following: “I was born as a South African. I cannot do anything to change that. I was also born as a white person. I cannot do anything to change that. You were born as Swazis. You cannot do anything to change that. You were born as black people. You cannot do anything to change that. However, I want to give you the assurance that none of this will ever influence my love for you as people and it will never cause me to think that I am better than you. God has created us as brothers and sisters and I want to live together with you as my brothers and sisters.” And then the people in the church broke out in spontaneous applause.
Building relations can sometimes be a long and hurtful process, but for successful missions this is the only way to go about it.