"That's not missions."
I've heard that more than a couple of times when I've described what I do or what I'm going to Africa for. Missions is coming into some grass hut village to play with kids, hand out clothes, and give a revival-style service so they all raise their hands to accept Jesus. At least that's what people seem to have in mind a real missionary does.
There are quite a few problems with this idea. While there ARE some great valid ways to do short-term missions, to do what I just described would be disastrous. Most people who have never heard the gospel don't speak English well, if at all. And wouldn't you be highly suspicious, probably even hostile, if a strange-looking group of people with loud equipment showed up in your neighborhood asking to talk to your children and telling you to convert to a strange religion?
Of course you would. Anyone would. "But that's how Paul did it," some might object. Yes, he did travel a lot of places and sometimes plant churches fairly quickly. But he had a lot of advantages going for him. Everywhere he went, people spoke Greek, a language he was already fluent in. Even though he was the apostle to the Gentiles, you'll notice he almost always started by preaching at Jewish synagogues, to people who already believed in the God of Abraham and knew the Scriptures. So it was a fairly simple matter to introduce Jesus as the Messiah they were waiting for. Then, when he did preach directly to Gentiles, it's evident that he was well-read in their poetry, philosophy, and history, because he used those in preaching to them. He knew their culture well enough to start where they were at, and when they did convert, they joined churches that had Jewish believers there who could teach them the Scriptures. There was a discipleship structure already in place.
With that background, I can explain how really our model is closer to Paul's than you might at first think. We, too, take advantage of our language being prevalent in Africa. We train people who are fluent in English, but encourage them then to teach classes in the local language when that will serve better. That way, we can reach potentially hundreds of villages speaking hundreds of different languages without our little team having to take the time to learn them all, which would be impossible. We also work with people who already follow God, equipping them to disciple new believers, in their own communities and in new territories.
But our starting point, rather than the synagogues or acropolis like Paul used, is with a felt need in Africa--education. Education allows missionaries to build relationships, and relationships are what missions is all about. As people learn to trust their teacher, they learn to trust the One in whom their teacher trusts. The teacher can learn the worldview and deepest needs of the students, and learn how from there to show them that Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, who can transform every aspect of their lives.
Therefore, we're praying now for missionaries to be able to take our Computer Training Outreach and use it for church planting. Say a Nigerian takes our CTO at a center in his village and gets excited about the gospel. Say he hears that churches need to be planted in a village in Rwanda. With 24 laptops, he could go start a computer school in that village, a self-sustaining center for teaching the Bible as the story of redemption. He's leading people to Christ and giving them the foundation for a biblical worldview. He could train both church leaders (hopefully having them sent to places with more advanced training, too) and people to run the school, and after a few years move on to a new village ... perhaps taking a few Rwandians along to learn how to do the same thing in new places.
Multiplying, sustaining discipleship. If that's not missions, what is? Please pray for the places that want to start these computer schools already (we're hoping soon to put specific school profiles on www.ten3.org), that they get them running and running well. Also pray for the students who will go through them, that they may become godly power users of technology, and Christian leaders, wherever God leads them, be it staying at home serving their communities or going to new lands to make disciples themselves.