Quick Fix or Long Haul?


For the Americans emerging from the van, this was their first time in Africa. They were at the front of a short-term missions experience in Mali, West Africa, and I was their missionary host. The Malians welcoming us were incredibly hospitable. As they observed the visitors looking around and understood their questions, an older Malian man looked over at me. “Your visitors have big eyes, but they can’t see very far.”

Recognizing by the twinkle in his eye that this was an African proverb, I asked about its meaning. “They are looking at us with big eyes. They may think they can quickly understand us, but until they live here and get to know us well, they cannot. They see us through a shallow understanding as visitors.”

His words made me wonder if he thought the same about me. A little later, I privately asked him if I too had big eyes. “You did when you first came. But over time, you’ve learned to understand more deeply. The more you’re with us, the more you’ll know us. Your taking the time to learn our language has helped tremendously!”

Through worship-driven commitment, long-term international workers pour their lives into a people, knowing that in-depth understanding comes over time. The mind-numbing hard work of learning language and culture is essential.

Having long-term workers on the ground is the backbone of Alliance missions. Those who have culture-piercing eyes able to see deeply can win a hearing for the truth about Jesus. Their understanding, with the Holy Spirit’s power, enables them to frame the gospel in a way local people can grasp. Long-term workers can help those with big eyes (specifically, short-term workers) accomplish strategic, lasting results not otherwise possible.

Why invest for the long haul? Why so much time and effort?

• Because for peoples steeped in a religious system very distant from the teachings of Jesus, it takes time to shed old ways of thinking—of understanding self and the world around them—to embrace gradually a Christian worldview. It’s a long-term process of engaging with biblical truth . . . and discipleship, discipleship, discipleship.

• Because developing trust is not quick like a microwave; it’s more of a crockpot process.

• Because building bridges of trust strong enough to support the weight of truth takes time.

• Because moving from a visitor among an unreached people to a trusted “insider” whose life can be observed and whose words are taken seriously requires time.

• Because before anyone can reap a harvest, ground must be tilled, seeds sown and seedlings cultivated and watered.

Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us. Investing heavily in the lives of 12 men during the course of several years, He showed us that disciples are made, not born in an instant. He is Emmanuel, and costly investment of His all for them and for us was His method. As the Father sent Him, so He sends us . . . to make disciples, a costly and time-consuming work with timeless (i.e., eternal) impact!

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