Journal Entry #57 – Team dynamics and conflicts. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, things are not the same in the mission field as they are back home. No matter how good of friends you may think you are with someone, or how well prepared you suppose yourself to be, there are going to be crashes, conflicts, or crisis with your fellow workers. A foreign mission field is a completely different environment with different forces at work on all the senses. The manner in which we handle these difficult situations is the key. In times such as these, try to remember this passage, “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:3). Soldiers must not only guard against the enemy from outside, but also from within. Satan couldn’t be happier than to see a squadron of the Lord’s army dissolve on account of some trivial internal conflict. It is another victory for him. Let us be mature, sensible, and responsible men toward one another in order to resolve whatever issue may arise. I am thankful and blessed to have such wonderful team mates. We have had our share of conflicts, but every one of them has been handled extraordinarily well. I believe it is because we desire to put the Lord’s kingdom first in our lives.
Journal Entry #56 – “Mission Reports.” While I was recently visiting another missionary, I witnessed him writing his report to his supporters. He affirmed something that I had already believed by telling me, “a good report is not just about how many baptisms there were, but about what is happening within the local church.” I couldn’t agree with him more. So often, it seems that many brethren think the number of baptisms per month is all that matters. The more baptisms the “better” the work, right? Friend, that is NOT what the Great Commission says! Also, since 1 Corinthians 3:6 says that “God gives the increase” then how can we put an emphasis on counting baptisms? Our focus should simply be sowing the pure seed of the Gospel and strengthening the saints, allowing the Word to work in people’s lives. When a new babe in Christ starts taking an active role in service, that is worth reporting. Or, when leaders begin to develop from within the congregation, that is worth reporting. Mission work is not only about baptisms but also about generating Bible study contacts, guiding new converts in their Christian walk, and teaching others to teach others (2 Timothy 2:2).
Journal Entry #55 – “An open door just a few doors down.” It took a considerable amount of time, effort, and money to get from Paraguay to Panama in order to meet up with my team mates for a short term mission trip. We had all traveled to the Darien jungle to evangelize the surrounding area, as well as, to encourage the church there and teach some classes. We were excited about the possibilities! We stayed at the Hotel Felicidad in Metiti and traveled down the road to the church building everyday. A young woman, Maria, was a guest at the same hotel in which we were staying. She told us she was from Nicaragua and was traveling with her husband. He worked all day in the jungle while she and her daughter, Faviola, sat around the hotel. Since the ladies of the local church were preparing lunch for us, we decided to invite Maria and Faviola to join us. They really enjoyed themselves. Then, Maria started asking some questions and wanted to know more about this “church” that she was seeing. We shared the Gospel with her and she decided the next day to be baptized. It is interesting that we all had traveled from different parts of the world, but through a chance meeting in a mutual location, another soul was added to the Book of Life.
Journal Entry #54 – “Getting sick in Panama.” Yellow Fever shots were acquired before making the trip to the jungle. Many of the team took medicine to prevent contracting Malaria. Mosquito repellent was constantly being applied to prevent getting Dengue. We were careful to avoid drinking the water so as not to get bad digestive bacterias. Yet, despite all these best efforts, most of the team got sick. Not from any of the illnesses that we were prepared for, but instead, from another air-born, highly contagious, flu-like virus. One of our team mates was so sick that he had to go to the doctor while still in Panama. We were thankful the physician was able to help him. Now, doesn’t that exactly describe the situation in which all of humanity finds itself? We are subject to a disease that despite all of our best efforts, we will contract one form of it or another. It is called sin. For example, we may be able to prevent ourselves from being a murder, but then easily slip into covetousness. We may not commit adultery but find ourselves stricken with a lying tongue. It is a disease that effects everyone (Romans 3:23). Aren’t you thankful that we have the “Great Physician” to help us with a cure?
Journal Entry #53 – I just returned to the mission field from a mission trip. I know that sounds a little strange, but after spending two weeks in Panama on a short term mission trip, I have just arrived back “home” at the place where I am serving as a missionary. I put the word “home” in quotation marks because despite the fact that my home (as in my family and household belongings) is currently in Paraguay, I am still a foreigner in this country. While my coworkers in Panama were able to return to their homes in the USA, I returned to yet another Latin country and its environment. They say “home is where the heart is.” Well, I may live in Paraguay, but I am an American citizen, so my heart is with my country. Above that, however, I am a Christian first. Therefore, where ever I may be, whether it be Panama, Paraguay, or even the USA, it is a mission field. Souls are at stake and we must be about the business of sowing seed. With this perspective, I suppose it would be more accurate to quote a line from that old Gospel song, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through.”
Journal Entry #52 – “Out of Office.” I apologize to all my “Fellowship Room” colleagues for my recent absence here on the site … and … bring notice that I will be out for yet another couple of weeks. One word sums it up: BUSY! We just received our container with all our household items, so it has been a whirlwind week of paper chasing, customs inspections, legalese, and unloading. Despite all that, the Mrs is VERY happy right now that she has all her things. Nothing received any real damage, so we have been blessed with a good move.
Tomorrow morning, I leave for Panama for two weeks. I am joining some brethren from our sponsoring congregation (Margaret Street church of Christ – Milton, FL) on a mission trip to the Darien. Looking forward to a great time teaching and preaching in the jungle. Once I get back and settle down a bit, I promise I will get busy writing again for the “Fellowship Room.” Thank you for the opportunity and God bless!
Journal Entry #51 – Street Workers, you gotta love ’em! But, they tear at your emotions. There are some who are extremely rude and aggressive, like the one’s who always want to clean your windshield. (They tend to test one’s patience). There are also some who are kind and helpful, like those who sell fruit, or newspapers. (They tend to make us smile). Then, there are some that you just don’t know what to do with, like the barefoot woman in the street, carrying a baby, and asking for handouts. This really tugs at the heart strings! After a while, however, I began to notice that the babies never cried whether it was hot, cold, rainy, or dusty. Sadly, we recently learned that many of these babies are drugged so that they will remain docile while the “street mom” works. I write “street mom” because we also learned that some women will “rent” out their babies to make a little money. So, both the mother and the “street mom” use the child in order to appeal to your emotions and get a hand out. Yet, despite all these circumstances, our Lord tells us we must have “agape” love for them – that is, ALL the street workers, which are included in ALL mankind, (Matthew 22:39). The hardest part to learn is that in order to have agape love for someone, we must understand that it is not dependent upon the other person’s actions, circumstances, or relationship to us. It only depends upon our very own “heartset.”
Journal Entry #50 – I just discovered that it is a very surreal feeling to read mission reports from abroad while actually being abroad. I have always been interested in mission work and have become quite accustomed to reading reports from all around the world. I receive several from various brethren. I love seeing how the Gospel is having an effect in other parts of the globe and it is thrilling to hear about the missionaries’ works and adventures. Just recently, I was reading one of these reports when it struck me that I am currently experiencing some of the same things as them. What a strange sensation! An American missionary reading about another American missionary and being able to personally relate to what they are saying. For me, that’s just neat!
Journal Entry #49 – What’s your motive? One of our visitors from the States recently made this comment, “I already had a great deal of respect for you guys coming down to a foreign country to work as missionaries. But, after visiting here, my respect level for you has increased ten fold!” Not only did we appreciate them making this statement, but it also forced a dose of humility upon us. We don’t consider what we are doing as anything special, but instead, simply a privilege. How fortunate are we (that is, any of us) to be able to teach the Gospel to others? I am afraid many Christians feel it is an “obligation” that they must fulfill rather than it being a privilege. I know I once felt that way. I read the Great Commission and I thought, “I need to get busy if I want to be pleasing to the Lord.” That statement is true, however, my motive was wrong. I was getting busy for myself. I have since come to realize that I have salvation because of God’s love for me ….. AND my fellow man. We need to be busy for OTHERS so that they may also receive the precious gift offered by our Lord. This is where you find your motive, this is why we share the Gospel with others.
Journal Entry #48 – Many times, Andrea has a way of saying things much better than I, so, I wanted to share this with the Fellowship Room in this edition of “Culture Shock Chronicles.”
ANDREA SPRADLIN’S TOP 5 LIST of Things to Know Before Trying to Drive in Paraguay ….. #5 – You only need a blood test to get a drivers license. #4 – Ignore those lines in the middle of the road that seem to indicate there are two lanes. You can go 3 or 4 wide if you so desire. #3 – There is no “right of way.” However, buses (which dominate the landscape of the city) take full advantage of their “right of weight”. #2 – That thing that appears to be a sidewalk can be used to go 3 or 4 wide (see #4), but beware of motorcycles, as that is where they like to ride. ……. and, #1 – Stop signs are merely a suggestion.
Journal Entry #47 – The other day, a nice young man rang our doorbell. He was very professional and explained that he was conducting an official survey. He wanted to get my opinion about Paraguayan politics, the different political parties, and other questions regarding the upcoming elections. I explained to him that I would be happy to participate, except I was a foreigner. He stopped, looked rather surprised, then abruptly said, “Dale, chau!” (Which means “OK thanks, bye!”) ….. I concluded that a foreigner’s opinion doesn’t matter much with Paraguayan politics …..
Journal Entry #46 – Stateside visitors have proved to be an interesting gauge for us. How do I mean? Well for one, they show us how far we have come with the language. Listening to them struggle with phrases or questions reminds us of where we were just a short time ago. Because of them, we can now see that we have learned a great deal since first arriving in Paraguay. Second, when I asked one of our visitors how their trip was going, their response was “I am having complete sensory overload!” Hmmm? It never dawned on me that we have now passed that stage. Much of our surroundings have become somewhat “normal” to us. Yes, there are still strange and new sights everyday, but apparently, we must be getting used to it. Finally, watching our visitors lean on us heavily for translation, direction, and clarification demonstrated to us just how independent we have become over the past few months. No longer do we rely so much upon the more seasoned missionaries to help us around town or translate a transaction for us. Yes, it is refreshing for visitors to come, not just because they are a welcome sight from home, but also because it helps us see our work from a completely different perspective.
Journal Entry #45 – I thought some of you might be interested in what a day in the life of a newly relocated missionary must be like, so I wanted to share our experiences.
The first thing on our agenda is language school. We attend Spanish classes for about three hours every morning, Monday through Friday (we will continue doing this for our first year until we can speak the language fluently). If time is available afterward, we like to go to the gym for about 45 minutes, three days a week. Then, we have lunch – usually at home, but on Tuesdays, we go out with the team to a restaurant. Monday and Friday afternoons are my time to close the office, so we work at the building studying, writing reports, catching up on email, or making phone calls. Tuesday afternoons are team meetings. Thursdays are special study meetings. Two or three times a week, we pass out flyers at the local bus stops inviting people to a Bible study. At least once a week, we go visit one of our members in order to build stronger relationships with them. The evening drive home typically involves a stop at the grocery store (because food spoils quicker here, for some reason), the pharmacy, and/or places to pay bills. Dinner is followed by personal Bible study and then we like to relax by playing a game, or watching a little TV. Free Saturdays are usually spent sightseeing, otherwise, we assist with the planned church event. Sunday is worship and Wednesday night is weekly Bible study.
Of course, all this is subject to change – and as anyone in ministry will tell you, it usually does …
Journal Entry #44 – Paraguay just celebrated her 199th anniversary of independence from Spain. Their were celebrations, parades, and festivities all throughout the capital city of Asunción. Even many foreign dignitaries flew into the country just to participate in the events. Everywhere one might look there were patriotic colors, flags, and emblems proudly displayed in order to support the national holiday. Almost everyone was wearing some sort of pin, shirt, or hat that exhibited their national pride. Oh what a sight to behold … and it wasn’t even the BIG celebration, yet! That will be next year for their bi-centennial. I haven’t seen this kind of patriotism since America celebrated her own independence in 1976. (By the way, I was just a mere child, but I still remember). Now consider this, how marvelous would it be if Christians were to display their identity with such enthusiasm? No, we wouldn’t use flags, buttons, or t-shirts which could fade away. Instead, we would simply exhibit our identity in the way Christ commanded us, by showing our love toward one another (John 13:35). What a celebration that would be!
Journal Entry #43 – Is there anything more encouraging to a foreign missionary than a care package from home??! I find it hard to imagine that there could be anything else. We just received our first from our sponsoring congregation in Milton, Florida. It was just a small box, with some trivial things inside, but it was one of the greatest gifts I believe we have ever received. I knew that every item in that box was purchased and placed there with us in mind. Our brethren went out of their way to provide a few little things that we had requested. To me, each item represented a great deal of love, a whole lot of encouragement, and a large portion of thoughtfulness. That little box gave me a lot more understanding to what Paul wrote in Philippians 2:4.