This past month I had the privilege of teaching several young people in two courses at a Bible college. The study and work the students do is quite demanding. I helped one group learn how to study parables, and we studied the Book of Daniel in the other course. Daniel was a man whom God showed the future, and I was reminded that students like these are the future of the church.
I also enjoyed visiting with many alumni during the school's annual Founder's Day conference, and several others in a second meeting before I left. They naturally look to me for guidance as their former teacher, but it's they who encourage me when I see their faithfulness and vision for ministry.
One man especially encouraged me as he shared all God was showing him to do, and what he was doing. Pastor Elmer has quite a story. While he was working as a carpenter in the early days of building at Rainbow Village, he went back to night school to complete his high school degree while improving his English. He wanted to enroll in the Bible college I established in 1995, which required a high school degree and some English proficiency. I was also blessed to officiate his marriage held on Rainbow's compound.
Even while working as a carpenter, I saw his vision and commitment for ministry. He held devotions with the work crew each Friday morning. He went on to Bible college and worked a year in an internship program following graduation. Plenty of challenges came his way, but he endured and completed his assignment under a national pastor.
After taking it over, he established a new church plant in the mountains above the school and Rainbow, later, he came on staff at the Bible college. He was instrumental in helping me establish a curriculum taught in the local dialect (language), a long-held vision of mine. A few years later he wanted to strike out on his own to establish a church-planting school.
The curriculum would be similar, but simpler and more condensed. His goal was simple—equip leaders to plant churches. At first he was hesitant to tell me his vision, since other church leaders had laughed at him. I rejoiced when he shared it with me. It was another phase of vision God had shown me many years before.
More and more, I've realized that vision from God is not something given for us to bring to pass, but to be shared with others. We may or may not be part of its fulfillment. Perhaps our involvement is simply to share it with others without direct involvement.
For many years, even a couple decades, I've believed the Philippines to be a reservoir of missionaries. I even compiled a list of reasons* I believe this. In the past year or two, my brother, Pastor Elmer, has begun moving forward with his own vision for sending out missionaries.
He has a contact in Hong Kong who helps provide employment, sponsorship and plane fare. Elmer's part is getting candidates prepared to go. This includes equipping them to do ministry. He's able to draw on his own experience and training as a church planter and pastor, and as a certified trainer for Biblical storying (Simply the Story).
But getting candidates prepared involves acquiring the necessary legal documents, including a passport and visa. This is a cost most Filipinos cannot afford. Where does the money come from? Initially, he used profit from harvesting a field of rice (another interesting story!) from funds he loaned to poor rice farmers. But he has a sustainable plan to develop a missionary sending agency, another great story in itself.
I believe this is the future of world missions. Men and women such as Pastor Elmer exist throughout the rest of the world (MOTROW). They have vision, ingenuity and dedication. An important question to ask in light of this is—What is the role of the American church and of western missionaries?
Pastor Elmer and I have a partnership similar to what Paul and Barnabas had in Acts 11. My role is not like Paul's, but Barnabas'. When Barnabas saw the revival taking place in Antioch (Acts 11:10-26), he went to Tarsus for Paul (then called Saul). Elmer doesn't need me to direct him, but to work alongside him. He's not looking to me for financial help (although I do help support him in a small way). He's asking me to partner with him in what God has given him vision to do.
In the past several decades, western missionaries and churches have unwittingly hindered national-led churches by creating a dependency on foreign support and methods. The dependency develops, among other reasons, because of strings-attached to giving support—the expectations of how ministry will be done.
Will we, the American church and western missionary, make way for a new wave of missionaries and world missions outreach? It will move forward with or without us. After all, it's God's work, not ours.
*If you'd like a copy of my list of reasons for Filipinos being World Class Missionaries, send me an email—firstname.lastname@example.org