McDaniel Phillips is a veteran TWR missionary and a good friend. He’s giving leadership to a new initiative called Discipleship Essentials (DE) to disciple leaders and lay leaders using new technology especially in hard and hidden places.
Part of McDaniel’s job is to make connections around the world, and Discipleship Essentials has been embraced by a number of organisations – especially those trying to equip the global diaspora. These are people who have been displaced from their homeland due to conflict, persecution, or economic reasons. These people often gather in larger communities in their new countries (ie. Little Italy, Chinatown), and many are finding Christ. But there’s no one to lead them.
I was in Dubai to meet with the Filipino church leaders. My friend Joey (not his real name) became ill suddenly and wasn’t able to introduce me. I had to meet with these guys by myself. They didn’t know me or anything about me.
They asked how long had I been a missionary?
30 years, I said.
What have you learned in 30 years?
Their question shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did – of course this wasn’t what I had come prepared to share. Off-the-cuff, I shared some of the significant events in my life where God had revealed Himself. All of the Filipino pastors were listening quite intently. Their tradition is to listen to the pastor and believe whatever he says. No one asks questions.
I talked for about an hour with these guys and each of them said this is the kind of help that we need. They were referring to my sharing, not DE – though they liked the idea of DE. They were hungry to have someone older to walk alongside them.
I was beginning to see something, which later became clearer.
My travel plans next took me to Qatar. Joey was still quite ill, had been near death in fact, and was again unable to introduce me. Instead of the prepared presentation I had with me, I decided to take a different approach. I had come to ask leaders if they would field test DE, but instead I took the leaders through a lesson in DE.
Though their tradition was not to ask questions, I encouraged them to interact with me and the content. The point of the lesson was that leaders needed to facilitate a believer’s relationship with God, but each believer (pastor or a member of the congregation) needed to discover God for themselves.
What I had wondered about in Dubai became clear in Qatar. Even though some of these pastors were in their late 40s or early 50s they were baby Christians. Much of their basic understanding of the Gospel was based on what they had been told, not what they had studied or read for themselves.
When I finished, the senior pastor came to me and said he had prayed for experienced leaders to come. He saw missionaries going to China and Africa and Russia, but never to his people.
“We need a tool,” he said, referring to DE. “Today, my prayer’s been answered. What you’re presenting is exactly what we need.”
The pastor had video-taped the whole 1-hour interactive presentation I had given. A few weeks later, that pastor emailed me to say that he’d made 2000 copies of that presentation and was sending it to people.
These trips taught me some very important lessons about working with diaspora peoples.
- We cannot rely on technology to be the teacher. The technology is only a tool and they need real people to walk alongside them.
- In our Western arrogance, we make too many assumptions. We assume that the technology we use every day is too advanced for them — they all have iPhones. We believe that download speeds will be a hindrance or obstacle to their accessing content online – they embed videos on Facebook and share the content that way
- We assume that pastors are well equipped and trained to fulfill their calling. In reality, you’re a pastor if you lead a study or preach a sermon. Many of these men aren’t trained and are simply trying to replicate what they’ve seen others do. They need someone to walk alongside them.
Many of our ministry workers whether they’re foreign missionaries or nationals, require a more mature leader to walk beside them. We need the retired leaders, those who are trained and have the time to travel, to take a month or more and visit a field. They don’t have to teach, but simply be there to answer questions, help make decisions, bring their experience and wisdom to a situation.