Over the years, I have seen many Glimpse Project videos detailing Lutheran Brethren International Mission (LBIM) work in Chad. But it was an entirely different experience to stay with and get to know our missionaries and missionary partners by visiting with them in their homes. Their mission to make disciples and “reach the unreached” played out before my eyes. The impact of the intentional relationships that our missionaries have built in their communities was clear.
In January, I had the opportunity to travel to Chad, Africa for a “mission vision trip.” Director of LBIM Dan Venberg led our team of six students and two professors. We traveled to many villages and were hosted by LBIM missionaries or Chadian missionary partners. The purpose of this trip was for the participants to internalize our Lord’s mission to unreached people groups in Chad, so that we, and the congregations we serve, will be better equipped to pray for, support, promote, and engage with God’s mission to these unreached peoples. Visiting with Chadian people in their context gave us insights into their culture and worldview, which differs from our own in many ways.
When we visited the village of Adere, we stayed at the home of Paul and Teresa Szobody. We arrived on a Sunday, so we worshiped with Paul, two of his students, and their families. I have been going to Sunday morning worship services my entire life, but it was incredible to see and experience a worship service outside of my cultural context. It was different from any other church I have attended, and it was awesome to see God working through a culture foreign to me. Worship took place outside in a gazebo, and we sat on the ground on mats. Despite the differences, I was encouraged by the realization that this church looks to the same Scripture, has the same confession, and is part of the same body of Christ as our North American churches.
In our culture, religious beliefs are often considered personal and private. Questioning or challenging someone’s beliefs is frequently met with hostility and defensiveness. This was not my experience in Chad. The Muslims we spoke with were delighted to talk about Jesus and the Bible. They were open to our missionaries and to hearing the gospel. While we were there, Dan distributed some audio-Bibles. One Muslim man had listened to two of the Gospels before we saw him the next day! It was amazing to see how God is softening hearts and opening ears to receive his Word. God is working to evangelize these unreached people groups in Chad, and it was encouraging to see the fruit of his work through these LBIM missions.
As we traveled to each village, I came face to face with those who have much less than I do. I was struck by the generosity of the locals we met in each village. We were always given the best of what our hosts had to offer—the nicest spot in the shade, cushions to sit on, the best bowls and plates, etc. They were eager to share what they had with us, taking every opportunity to invite us to sit down in the shade, offering us tea and pastries.
One of the clear differences between our culture and theirs is the way that they prioritize their concern for the surrounding community rather than the individual. It is assumed that each person will do what they can to financially support their family and community. It is a cultural expectation that money is shared with your family, even with distant relatives. In our thinking, wages belong to the individual who earns it; it is not that simple in the collectivist Chadian culture. It is not uncommon for family members to show up at their relative’s place of work on payday so that they might collect some of the paycheck. Who receives a portion of the paycheck and how much, is determined by need and relationship. This means that even for those who have relatively well-paying jobs, saving money is practically impossible, because there is always a relative in need.
This aspect of their culture made me reflect on the way I care for my family and community with what has been given to me. The gospel is the greatest gift that I have received—am I compelled by it enough to continually share it with my community? All who look in faith to Jesus Christ for their salvation, find it. Through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus Christ has made full satisfaction for all our sins. Take a moment to consider that. Complete atonement has been made for our sin, so that, “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). The hope that we have in the gospel is surely the best thing that we have to share with others, and it is given in such abundance that it cannot be reduced to scarcity, no matter how much we share it.
Most mission trips, by nature, present us with a new perception of the daily struggles experienced by those whom we are visiting. I do not deal with the reality of day-to-day hazards, due to impoverished living conditions. Where I live, I am not plagued daily by worries of water or food-borne illnesses, parasites, breathing in toxic gases from burned rubbish, or my daughter being trampled by elephants. This trip to Chad underlined for me that our faith is the great equalizer. I saw that cultural differences in the practice of Christianity mean very little in the face of that which saves and keeps us. Although there are different styles of worship and different locations in which they are carried out, the gospel is the very same. It is the power of God for salvation, that unfailingly binds us together in one faith, one Lord, one baptism—in Christ.
Eric Reese is a second-year seminarian at Lutheran Brethren Seminary. He serves as associate pastor of Stavanger Lutheran church in Fergus Falls, Minnesota.