The drive from Greensboro, N.C., to our office in Birmingham, Ala., took seven hours,
so Dale Tadlock and I had plenty of time for stories from PASSPORT missions.
Dale coordinates a summer team along with finding and vetting the thousands of volunteer hours our students will complete over the summer. Since that was once my job I understand the impossible task and the joy in its accomplishment.
Dale told me about a woman who called him, reacting to the news that free help was on the way to paint her father’s house — avoiding a $4,000 fine from the city.
“Is this real?” she asked skeptically, having been scammed many times before.
We get that reaction often. I imagine that’s what it felt like to be served a bottomless bowl of fish and bread on a Galilean mountainside when you knew there was no Captain D’s near by. It is wonderful to be surprised by God’s gracious provision.
I smiled and celebrated: “That’s the way it sounds when we find the right mission work to do, Dale. Way to go!”
He told of another man who had fallen through the cracks in the system. John had simultaneously lost his job and been diagnosed with cancer. There were weeks when he survived on a single can of tuna.
With no family close by and no job or other help, he said: “I just knew nothing good would ever happen to me again.”
Standing in the front yard along with the team’s mission project coordinator Jeffery Dunkerly, Dale explained to John that he was not alone. He assured him that God loved him and that there was hope.
John responded: “You are the good thing I never thought would happen for me again.”
Dale connected John with Josh Hearne who through the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship oversees Grace and Main, a ministry in Danville, Va., where a Passport camp is held. Now John can find a free meal each week as well as a community of people who will enjoy his company.
This is the critical piece for doing missions well: learning to work yourself out of a job.
My missionary father taught this concept to me. He said, “Colleen, if people’s relationship to God is dependent upon my presence (in a village in southern Africa or a pastorate in Alabama), then I have not done my job very well. People do not need to depend on me; they need to depend on Jesus Christ.”
Then he added: “My job is to work myself out of a job.”
For Passport that means offering helping hands wherever we find meaningful work and connecting marginalized people with local agencies doing redemptive work.
What does working yourself out of a job look like for churches on mission in the local community or for mission field personnel in remote corners of the world? Here is my best example:
When I was a girl in Malawi, my father would drive our family to remote villages on Sundays. Dad was tasked with starting churches that began simply as “preaching points.”
My sisters and I would roll our teenaged eyes because church always took the entire day. During rainy season the experience included getting stuck in the mud at least once, greeting everyone with a handshake and a bent-knee curtsey, and then finding our spot on the ground or under a tree or in a small mud building.
We passed time by counting chickens or imagining shapes in the clouds. Sundays were long days that stretched past a nightfall return.
One Sunday, at a preaching point started by another missionary, the crowd was glad to see my father and eager to share communion. When they asked for the bread and juice, my dad realized the church had become accustomed to the missionary providing the elements.
Speaking in their Chichewa language, he said: “You do not need a missionary to have communion. You are a church. You can choose to remember the Lord’s Supper without me. I did not bring the elements. What do you have that we might use?”
Perplexed, they began to look around and finally announced, “We have Coca-Cola and some tea biscuits.”
The church learned to host communion that Sunday, and I learned what it looks like to work yourself out of a job. NFJ
By Colleen Walker Burroughs
—Colleen Walker Burroughs is vice president of Passport, Inc., a national student ministry based in Birmingham, Ala., and founder of Watering Malawi.