Travel is both a benefit and a burden of being involved in a global organization. I’m blessed to visit many amazing places; and yet, sometimes it happens at a breakneck pace. Last week, for instance, I traveled to Nigeria…for a grand total of 54 hours in Lagos.
But those 54 hours reminded me of three important things.
We have a great team in Africa! WME would never be able to have an impact if it weren’t for the committed folks who come alongside us all over the world. Although email and video conferencing are effective tools, there is nothing quite like meeting face to face – praying, eating, laughing, planning, hoping, and learning together. These things take on a deeper meaning when they are shared face to face.
Relationships are like that. They require face time – and I don’t mean the Apple variety. This is true for our relationships within the church and outside of it. If we want to grow in our faith, if we want to impact others on behalf of Jesus Christ, we need to be willing to put in some significant face time. Growing in love and trust isn’t a “virtual” experience.
People will surprise you.
God has blessed WME with excellent leadership in Africa for many years. Bishop Lawi Imathiu of the Methodist Church of Kenya and Bishop Mvume Dandala of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa not only provided outstanding leadership to WME, but they also took the time to become spiritual fathers to me as a growing disciple of Jesus Christ and as a leader in the church. These fathers in the faith have now stepped down from leadership in WME. I traveled to Nigeria to gather a new group to lead us in Africa.
In anticipation of our time together, I created an agenda but worried that it might be too open, without enough information or guidance. I needn’t have worried. Each of these new leaders was eager and able to move forward, filled to the brim with ideas and excitement and hope. Each was committed to creating opportunities for others to discover faith in Jesus Christ. Each was ready to become a father or mother to the next generation of young leaders.
My “open agenda” proved to be a good thing. It provided freedom for creativity and the wonderful surprise of innovation and new ideas.
In our relationships – both within and outside the church – people will often surprise us with their willingness to explore and risk, to learn about Jesus Christ or to go deeper in their faith commitment. Often all they need is to sense that we are open to exploration and are willing to let go of our preconceived notions of how things should progress.
Which leads to the third thing my 54 hours in Nigeria taught me.
Things always look different from the outside.
The tendency to hold preconceived notions about just about everything is an almost universal trait among human beings. We learn about other nations, cultures, and peoples through the media, our governments, the entertainment industry. We encounter individuals and very quickly formulate first impressions – about them or about whatever people group or culture or country they are part of. But these impressions or understandings are from the outside, rather than the inside. And things always look different from the outside.
In addition to innovation and new ideas, the open agenda of our short time together in Lagos enabled me to see that the outside perspective does not always provide the most complete understanding. I had an outsider’s view of the needs of evangelism in Africa. These were not completely inaccurate, but they also weren’t accurate enough to create an environment of healthy collaboration. It was the view from the inside that was the most helpful in discerning how to proceed with our work together.
As we seek to share our faith, or even come alongside others as they grow in discipleship, we must always remember that we are looking at them from the outside. That is our default vantage point. And things always look different from the outside. But to know another person deeply, to create the space necessary to grow in love and trust, we must come to see them from the inside. That is the perspective that leads to healthy relationships and to opportunities to share faith, grow love and deepen connections.