by Summer Kelley
"Why do the men sit on one side and the women on the other?"
Years ago, ITMI's founder, Bill Bathman and his travel companion, Don Christiansen were in a Romanian church. This particular group of believers held long-standing traditions that had gotten them through the persecution of the Communism and the scarcity of the aftermath that followed.
But after the Iron Curtain came down, Don wondered why they sat the way they did. Was it to keep everyone from being distracted? Was it their sense of modesty and propriety?
Several attendees that Sunday morning raised their eyebrows and shrugged in answer to his inquiries. Finally, one of the eldest ladies knew they answer.
"The heater used to be on this side, so all the women sat near it to keep warm," she revealed.
Asking Why We Do Things Is Important
It's important to stop and ask "Why?" every now and then. Sometimes the reason is still a compelling reason, and the answer provides a renewed sense of vision and inspiration.
Others, there may be no real reason and things need to be adapted.
Four Reasons ITMI Serves and Empowers Nationals
Why does ITMI serve and empower national believers? There are four main reasons.
- They speak the language.
- They grew up in the culture.
- They understand current local needs.
- They are cost effective.
1. They Speak the Language
It takes time to learn a new language. Some are harder to learn than others, too. And of course a missionary can't just know some words, like how to find the restroom and make purchases. A missionary has to be able to share abstract ideas like the Gospel, love and spiritual matters.
The time spent on language training varies greatly for missionaries, but regardless of the time spent, it needs to be learned.
National believers already know the languages they need to know to share the Gospel. They can reach people with the Good News right now!
A national doesn't need to study a language. They can reach people with the Good News right now!
2. They Grew Up in the Culture
Cultural norms are important. Our nationals know how to navigate these waters. They didn't spend years and money learning them, either.
They already know them.
In addition to being able to sidestep landmines of cultural taboos, having a history of being in the culture for long time, they are able to make cultural references that help explain the gospel, and enable it to sink deep into hearts.
While the Holy Spirit can use the words anyone says to reach who He wants to reach, we believe nationals are ideally positioned to reach the people of their own culture.
A national navigates cultural issues naturally, and can use them to help explain the Gospel.
3.They understand current local needs.
In her book For the Love, Jen Hatmaker tells a story she heard from a pastor in South America. A well-intentioned church group contacted his orphanage and offered to bring a group to paint the orphanage walls.
Each year, they returned to re-paint the walls - assuming they knew what was needed, they continued to return year after year to perform the same service. So each year, just before the team arrived, the orphans smeared dirt on the walls to give the team something to do. They never asked, "What does your ministry need this year?"
Hatmaker says, "We can do better than this."
ITMI firmly believes that national believers are the best equipped to reach their people. If we can make sure that top quality, dedicated, servant-hearted nationals have the resources they actually need, together, we can multiply their reach.
Our nationals are on-the-ground and in the trenches. They know the culture. They know the history. They know the needs around them.
They know when the walls need to be painted...and when they don't.
A national knows how to best meet the needs of those around them.
4.They are cost effective.
According to Christian Aid Mission, while sending an American family to a rural area can cost $75,000 a year plus start up funding, resourcing a believer that is already living in the location and part of the culture averages $2560. They note that depending on the location, that $2560 could double or triple.
Even at the maximum tripled amount, equipping a national believer to reach their own people costs far, far less. One year of support for an American missionary family could provide basic support for 10-40 indigenous believers! (Indigenous in this case means already in place, not "inserted.")
Nationals Are Effective
All four of these come together to make nationals remarkably effective at reaching their people.
Jahim's church in Juba, South Sudan.
The title photo is of ITMI Director, Steve Evers with a group of South Sudanese believers who were "accidentally" equipped with a weekend training Steve gave.
Their perspective was so altered that they built a counter-cultural church on the Biblical principles of leadership they learned! That church is still infiltrating its neighborhood in Juba, South Sudan with the Good News and is growing so fast they can't keep a roof over all the heads who want to be a part of it!
ITMI's Muhindo Kawede has trained the students of the International School of Missions in Uganda so well, that they are continually sharing Jesus, and they, too, saw the Spirit bring enough people to faith that the form of discipleship that made the most sense was planting a church...in a piggery building!
Newly planted church on ISM's property - in a converted piggery building!
Adi and Ema Ban, serving in Romania, have been so effective at discipling young married couples, that they launched a second Young Couples' Fellowship early this year! Their influence in Romania has grown as they are invited to share in other cities, contribute to books and call others to minister to those in need around them.
Ema Ban with two young women at a retreat.
A native Polish-speaker is the only one in a position to translate the Bible into everyday, modern Polish like ITMI's Dr. Piotr Zaremba did. After 16 years of translating, the entire Bible was completed this year! Piotr's understanding of the needs of his beloved people have led to an incredible team reaching people from a myriad of walks of life in Poland.
South African Charl van Wyk and co-laborers from his church, have seen incredible turn-arounds in the lives of youth in a estranged settlement near their city called Stone Hill. Charl was also involved in helping a Zimbabwean leader reach youth in his village and boosting the ministry of a Zimbabwean couple while helping their entire village by equipping them with a maize mill this year.
Relationships are changing lives in Stone Hill.
Only a national could do what ITMI's Paul and Molly have done for their 19 daughters in India's legal environment. Paul's family of Indian believers is uniquely positioned to reach people in the very-difficult-to-navigate caste system culture, and have reached many through their sport ministry, after school tutoring, door-to-door ministry in the slums, support for widows and multiple church-plants.
What About "Inserted" Missionaries?
We would never want to take anything away from those called to move somewhere to demonstrate and declare God's Kingdom as missionaries.
Their obedience to God's calling and sacrifice is to be honored and supported. We commend these faithful brothers and sisters. We're thankful for them.
Our Unique Call and Vision
ITMI's unique calling is to find nationals who are already faithfully serving God with what they have and help them with the resources they need - training, funding, prayer and encouragement to name just a few.
Nationals can reach their people in a way no one else can. They are uniquely positioned to declare and demonstrate the Gospel to those around them.
They can make a dollar stretch until it yells for help! And they can do a lot of kingdom work with just a little.