The blessings of mission work are both numerous and extraordinary. In this missionary’s mind, however, two of these numerous blessings standout above all others. The first blessing is that mission work is project-driven. The second blessing is that mission work allows one to see the church in its very beginning stages. These two blessings will be discussed in the words that follow.
This missionary is blessed to work among the native islanders of Micronesia which includes the islands of Palau, Saipan, Yap, and Chuuk. Rather than having a list of daily office chores like a located preacher in the U.S., the work among these islands moves from project to project. While there are office tasks to be done, the work shifts to whatever is the most important task at hand after the office work is accomplished. In this way, mission work among the Micronesian islands is similar to the way the native islanders think.
Islanders are project-driven. Their ancestors lived in the jungle. When it was time to eat, they hunted or fished in groups. When it was time to build, the whole village came together under the leadership of the chief to build a hut. There were few routine tasks (like being at work at 9:00 AM), but many large group tasks. The villagers lived and worked together by going from project to project.
The transition into the modern world has proved difficult for many islanders. They long to be project-driven in a world where daily tasks are common. Stories abound in the islands of how local people have lost their jobs because they couldn’t show up to work on time or took too many days off for a custom.
A custom in Palau may be a wedding, a funeral, or a first-childbirth ceremony. For any of these events, the islanders may expect to be exempted from work for several days so they can fulfill their obligations in the custom. For weddings and funerals, enormous amounts of food must be provided which takes the hosting family several days to prepare. For a first-childbirth ceremony, the large, extended family assembles and watches the woman who has had her first child go through an elaborate ceremony. The planning and preparations for this particular event are extensive. When a foreign employer does not understand the need for so much time off, a significant cultural conflict develops. The islanders long to be project-driven as opposed to punching a time card from 9 to 5.
In mission work, there are recurring weekly tasks. Developing lessons, visiting, and writing newsletter articles for monthly reports are among those tasks. In addition to those weekly tasks, there are the less frequent tasks that involve building projects and outreach efforts. One of the largest tasks for a missionary is that of travelling to the U.S. to report to supporting congregations.
While the tasks just described may not sound like blessings to the reader, as the title would suggest, it is the variety involved with these project-driven tasks that is terrific. Some days, the missionary is filming a TV show or recording a radio program. Some days, he is mixing concrete by hand or hiking through the jungle to a remote village. Some days, an entire day is spent developing a series of lessons for a Bible class. Some days, the day is wasted as the missionary tries to renew his legal status with government workers who are not at their desks because of a custom in their families! Mission work is project-driven, which creates an exciting expectation of what the day may bring.
The second blessing in mission work is the opportunity to see the church in its infant stages. It is rare to see Christians fighting with one another in Palau. Instead, they are fighting against the Devil. They are trying to develop a beginning faith, and all of their spiritual efforts are focused on this goal.
In the U.S., arguments might exist concerning the use of one-cup vs. many cups in the Lord’s Supper. On the other end of the spectrum, arguments might exist over applying the Scriptures too loosely. In the islands, however, the brethren rarely consider such things. In contrast to the challenges brethren face in the U.S., a challenge among the islanders might involve being a good steward of the Lord’s materials while trusting that God’s way is the right way.
The island of Chuuk, in Micronesia, is severely underdeveloped. A simple example of this truth is seen in the fact that brethren have difficulty finding grape juice on the island. Whenever the juice can be found, the brethren stock up on it because they know it will not last. To provide juice for the Lord’s Supper, the brethren usually boil raisins and squeeze them for the juice. To say the least, this process is time consuming and difficult. It is certainly a great deal more difficult than simply opening a bottle of Welch’s Grape Juice! Sometimes, individual communion cups are brought in to the island to help the brethren in their effort to provide the Lord’s Supper. This effort does make it easier, but the cost of bringing in the cups makes it prohibitive for this practice to be carried out regularly. Needless to say, all care is taken to make these communion servings last as long as possible.
A denominational teaching in Chuuk is that of transubstantiation. This doctrine teaches that the Lord’s Supper literally becomes the flesh and blood of Jesus. Although the brethren in Chuuk are aware that this popular teaching is false, the effects of this teaching still slip into the church. Since transubstantiation teaches that the bread literally becomes Christ’s flesh, it also teaches that nothing should be left in the communion plate after communion is completed. Denominations holding to this false doctrine teach their people to eat any remaining bread because the “body of the Lord” cannot be thrown away carelessly.
On a recent trip to Chuuk, the effects of this false teaching upon the church was observed. After the Lord’s Supper was given, a brother noticed that too many individual communion cups were placed in the serving tray. This fact resulted in a few cups of juice remaining in the tray. These cups were still sealed, and, considering the value of them on that island, one would think they would have been put back into the box to use the following Lord’s Day. Instead, the brother who was presiding at the Lord’s Table took it upon himself to open every remaining packet, eat all of the remaining bread, and drink all of the remaining juice. Given the fact that food is not plentiful in Chuuk and grape juice quite rare, it may be that the temptation to have the rare treat of grape juice influenced this brother. The goal, then, is to teach the good brethren of Chuuk to be good stewards of the Lord’s materials. “Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful,” (1 Cor. 4:2). Good stewardship applies primarily to the gospel message, but also to all that the Lord has entrusted to the Christian.
Unique aspects of the culture also remind one that the church in the islands is young. Among the islanders, there is a belief that the ancestors are watching over the people and can cause disruption in their lives if they are not living correctly. On one occasion, a young girl became ill. The family assumed it was the result of an ancestor not approving of certain actions between the family members. Consequently, all of the family was called together, and everyone admitted their wrongs. This effort was done by the family in the hope that the ancestor was appeased. When the girl did not get better, it provided evidence that this ancestral belief was false. Had they followed God’s word and realized the dead cannot affect the living, they might have saved the girl considerable pain. Concerning the dead returning to the earth, Abraham explained to the rich man in Luke 16:26, “And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.”
Indeed, the islanders have a rudimentary faith. Their efforts are spent on dealing with issues of personal spiritual growth rather than hot topics. To see the church in this stage is a blessing. It must in some sense resemble what the apostles and Jesus saw in the 1st century.
In conclusion, these blessings make mission work one of the most rewarding ways to serve our God and Father. It is this missionary’s desire that all Christians be enabled to experience these blessings, as they, too, are gifts from the Lord.