While eating spaghetti, our host (we'll call him Tim) told us about a lot of the projects he has undertaken in order to reach his people group, a rural minority group that adheres to an animistic form of Buddhism. A quick glimpse at the obstacles he faces shows how difficult missionary work is, and how much the missionary must rely on God for guidance with every new project.
For his organization, Tim is the highest authority responsible for reaching his people group. He casts the vision, drafts a master plan and hires necessary staff. He is the general, the head, the one in charge of his organization's efforts to bring these people into the kingdom. As such, he's aware of every project that seeks to either build relationships or sow the seed of the Gospel. Here are some of the things going on:
-Parables-Tim is currently developing culturally appropriate parables to use as training lessons for new believers that come from his people group's background. This taps into the overall intention of the parable: to explain deep truths with common language and imagery. Instead of the parable of the lost sheep, for instance, he might use the lost water buffalo. This doesn't water down the word; it makes it accessible to those who've never heard it before. Luckily, a believer from his people is helping him translate spiritual language into the people's vernacular.
-Translation-This people group has their own distinct writing system and about five different dialects of their language. The New Testament has been in print here for a long time, but the Old Testament has never been translated, much less read in the churches. Without a solid foundation of the Jewish people and their desire for a messiah, how will some of the New Testament passages (think Romans) even begin to make sense? Tim has a small team working on this at his office. They translate from Chinese into their language. They recently experienced a setback in production, when one of their team members, a girl in her late teens, died unexpectedly. Tim requests prayer in this endeavor.
-Laying foundations-Until the O.T. is completed, Tim must lay the foundation for the Gospel all by himself. He says that without a working knowledge of God's existence, man's sin, God's wrath and God's love, you can't even begin to talk about things like atonement and santification. He must start from the beginning, brick by brick building a view of God, a theology, from scratch, sometimes having to tear down strongholds that hinder construction. These people have been in bondage so long, he says, they have a lot of cobwebs to clear out of their thinking.
-Building Relationships-Surprisingly, this is the easy part and the reason we had traveled across the seas. Relationships are extremely important in China, and by giving of our time, we reflected well on Tim. His opportunities will hopefully multiply because we loved those kids and taught them a little bit of English.