When I got the email from a Missionary in St Vincent telling me there was an opportunity for ministry there in early August I became very excited. After a phone call with him and an hour on Skype with the Missionary who I would be filing in for that excitement was at a fever pitch. In that moment my plan was to fly there, and throw myself into the work right away.
Instead of going along with that the Missionary and trusted friends encouraged me to take a two-week trip to St. Vincent, and then return for a longer ministry if God opened the door
To be perfectly honest part of me wasn’t too crazy about that idea. After all a huge spiritual impact usually can’t be made in that short of a time, and taking two trips instead of one seemed like a waste of money as well as time.
It didn’t take long to realize just how wrong I was.
The truth is these short visits (commonly called survey trips) aren’t meant to make an impact upon a culture for the Gospel of Christ (though the Lord does use them in that way sometimes). Instead they allow Missionaries to live in and understand the culture.
Now at first “understanding the culture” may not seem as important as evangelism or teaching. But personal experience has taught me you can avoid many headaches in ministry by understanding how ministry is done best in that culture (of course the Gospel never changes, but people are reached in a different way in St Vincent than America).
A greater blessing of these trips however aren’t in understanding the Gospel, but knowing what NOT to do there.
For instance here are a few lessons I learned during my two weeks on the island
- Always carry cash because nobody takes debit cards
- When meeting someone in the cities main public transportation terminal under no circumstances leave the terminal
- People will think your weird if you walk too fast
- The majority of the day should be spent on your front porch (it’s cooler there)
- It’s acceptable to preach for about an hour since people walk to the service
These and many other lessons have helped me approach the island with confidence this time instead of confusion…and a better understanding of how the Lord can use me there.
Best of all taking the time to understand a culture (taking two-weeks for a survey trip followed by about ten days in the States) makes you feel comfortable with that culture.
Last night about 6:00 I stepped of a plane in St. Vincent and was immediately met with sights, sounds, and even smells that were incredibly familiar to me.
And as crazy as it may seem, the island felt like home.
Because I had walked those roads
And listened to those crickets
And smelled that smoke from nearby cooking fires before
This morning I sat on the same front porch where I sat the evening of August 13th for the first time looking at a town that was absolutely foreign to me. But this time I saw a town and people who had become familiar.
Do I know everything about the town of Barrouaille? Of course not! But I can tell you taking the time to experience and understand the culture for two weeks has given me a vision for the people I never had before