International Ministries

How Driving in Costa Rica Helped Us Understand Missiology

May 28, 2012 Journal
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Our year here in Costa Rica learning Spanish is quickly coming to an end.  At the time of the writing of this journal entry we have just 5 weeks before we head home for a visit with family and then off to Bolivia to begin our work.  Our time has been an amazing learning and growing experience for our family.  We have made some life long friends in colleagues that will be serving God all around the Spanish speaking world.

One of the joys of my (J.D.) time here is running.  It is a great way for me to clear my head and get to see the city.  While I was running recently, God hit me with a kind of a random thought…

If you want to understand how missions works (a.k.a. missiology) all you have to do is observe Latin American driving.

Let me expound.

Before I do…even though I am talking from the context of a missionary preparing to live in Latin America, this applies to us all because we are all called of God to be “on mission” for His Kingdom.  Don’t try and disqualify yourself because you aren’t living in the 10-40 window.

Directions: Driving in Latin America, depending on the country, can be a very scary experience.  You are in a culture that is foreign to you in language, custom and action.  You are trying to navigate in a culture that street signs are unlikely and the addresses are something like, “go to the third tree on the right, and take the first left, go 100 meters and then turn right and it is the 4th green house on the left.”  Sometimes you have to stop and ask for help…sometimes you have to explore.  It requires two important things…focus and faith.  Focus for the road and making sure you are in the right place and faith in the person that gave you the directions in the first place. 

When it comes to being “on mission” (which we all are…not just missionaries) we will often find ourselves in challenging situations that we are unaccustomed to and the act and have many different customs.  It sometimes seems like finding the calling of God on your life is like driving on a highway without street signs.  Maybe it is to be a Sunday School teacher, maybe a pastor.  Maybe God is calling you to be a Christian influence as a plumber.  In the world around you, when you receive the direction it takes focus on what the calling is and faith in the one who called. Remember Jeremiah 29.11 

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future…”

Familiarity: I have been driving for well over 20 years, but as I came to Latin America I very quickly realized that people don’t drive in the same ways as people in North America.  The horn isn’t a voice of anger but information and location (okay, sometimes in anger too).  If you need to merge into traffic, you don’t put on your turn signal, you put the bumper of your car halfway out into traffic and wait for someone to stop and let you in.  If you are said person on the main road and someone wants to merge, you don’t beep to let them know it is okay to merge, you flash your lights.  Hitting the horn would be rude.  When you are on the road, stopped or moving, it is customary for motorcycles to weave in, out and beside cars.  Things are definitely different.  You have to learn how to drive in the rhythm of the traffic without losing your driving “values”.

When entering another person’s world, if one tries to do things the way they did them at home (or in their home culture) they will quickly become disillusioned.  They will try to impose their value system on their host culture without any consideration of why that culture operates the way it does.  Not only that but sometimes when people enter another culture they try to dictate how that culture acts, which if not handled with the utmost respect and delicacy can have horrible ramifications for the Kingdom of God.  You need to figure how to maneuver successfully in that culture without losing your own identity.  All of that at the same time as you try to find the best in the culture you are learning about and use it to help show them the love and grace of Christ.  Never imposing.  Always watching…observing…ready for the right time to begin a dialogue about the risen Christ!  Observe but don’t conquer, that is God’s job.

“…in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (Romans 8:31)

Mis-assumption: When a seasoned driver leaves for another country, knowing that they will be driving, many things are assumed.  When the plane hits the ground in a third-world country, the arriving driver is wondering if they will have modern cars or if there are lines on the road.  There are a host of assumptions that come up...

“Do they understand the proper way to give the right of way?”

“I bet I will there will be so many more car wrecks because of the inexperienced/reckless drivers.”

Whatever the assumptions the driver has,  they are usually meant put them in a superior position to their host.  One thing that I noticed in my experience was that my personal assumptions about the driving climate were largely wrong and many people are very good drivers within the “traffic” context of their country.  How these people navigate without getting lost when there are no street signs on the road is beyond me.  The reality is they were just fine drivers before I ever got to this country and that had nothing to do with me. 

The romantic notion of missions is that when a missionary or a mission team gets to their host country, they are "bringing Christ" to the country.  Even though the planet is God’s planet and not our own, deep down sometimes we assume that we are the only agent of God’s grace to these "God-forsaken" people.  The reality when the group hits the ground is that quickly they observe and may even say something like, “I didn’t realize that God was hard at work long before I ever got here!”  The reality is that the God who brought the team/missionary to the country was already here long before they came.  In some case he was thriving in their lives without our input at all.  Most of us go expecting to be the teachers and end up being the taught.

Funny how God does that, isn’t it?