A crisis of identity

Or at least that’s what it feels like I’m having right now. We on CPT have been taking more care the past year and a half with the answer to the million dollar question asked by locals: “Why are you here?”

We have stayed away from saying, “We’re missionaries.” This because what we mean by the term ‘missionary’ and what locals understand by it are two entirely different things; their understanding carrying quite negative connotations. So officially, we belong to a non-profit community service/development organization that is here to meet the physical and spiritual needs of our region.

People always want to know where we get our money from. Saying something like, “Well, people back home send us money to live off of and then our job is to go around and talk to people all day,” has never seemed an entirely satisfactory answer for them. It makes us come off as somewhat rich and lazy in the eyes of the locals. We do try and work jobs in keeping with the mission of our community service organization (and hopefully in keeping with the kingdom of God). That’s what has three of us trying to start a water filter business right now and Pam teaching English classes. The problem there is that the 10-20 hours of “real work” we do each week is still a far cry from the taxing 60-hour-a-week schedule many of our friends here have.

These complexities have me and the rest of CPT asking some tough questions right now about exactly what our role is here and what our identity in the community should be. Add to the mix a number of tough challenges and considerations (a number of which I’ve shared on this blog) coming out of our reading of Donovan’s Christianity Rediscovered, and we’re not exactly sure which way to turn.

  1. We could completely discard any attempt to have a legitimate, respectable identity with the people and spend all our time preaching, teaching, and praying. That’s something close to what Donovan did among the Masai of Tanzania, and some might argue it’s close to what the Apostle Paul did.
  2. We could continue on as we are doing, making a bit of money and establishing something of an identity through community development/tentmaking jobs, and then preach, pray, and make disciples on the job and with our time outside of work.
  3. The economic problems have been hurting some of us financially. We could truly focus on trying to earn a significant portion of our finances through some type of job (which would probably have to be online). This would satisfactorily answer the questions people here have about how we support ourselves, but it would also cut into discipleship time.
  4. Maybe another option exists that we haven’t considered?

Contemporary wisdom on multiplication and church planting movements says we should never minister in a way that cannot be easily reproduced by our disciples. If that’s the case, we wonder if living fully off of missionary support and spending all our time in prayer and meetings can ever be easily replicated down here, or if locals trying to adopt that model would hinder a movement. Dabbling in “work” a few hours a week and then doing a lot of discipleship outside of that also doesn’t seem very reproducible, though it is expedient. Working a full-time schedule and getting in what disciple-making work we can on the side is what most or all of our followers here will probably need to do. So in that respect, the model can be replicated. But one can ask whether our role as outside missionaries should be different, even if it’s not reproducible.

I really don’t know, but I think I need some answers.

(Above photo courtesy of Pizamanpat)

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