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Mission’s Feature

My Real Reason

Bjorn Harboldt

inside_asi_winter_09_page_24_image_0003Someone recently asked why I decided to spend a year as a student missionary. I had to laugh, because I knew if I had recognized my real reasons before going, I would have had a hard time even raising the necessary money.

Just imagine me visiting Great Aunt Thelma asking for some funds. “Aunt Thelma,” I would have said, looking at her with big eyes and using the tone of a most worthy great nephew, “Will you give me money so I can go be a hero? I want to go to Africa so that my friends will be impressed with me. Will you give me some money?” I’m not so sure Aunt Thelma would have been so generous.

Looking back, though, it is likely she knew what really motivated me, even though the words I used to describe my goals sounded a lot more pious. Luckily, Aunt Thelma knew that no matter what my reasons were, I needed to go. And she sent me on my way with a check, and a wink.

My problem was that I was more interested in appearing to be a missionary than in being one. But God is pretty clever in dealing with people like me. I’m not the first selfish person God has used. Read about Jacob in the book of Genesis. He was determined to take his brother’s place as the family patriarch. Jacob wasn’t content with the idea of being second to his brother. So Jacob tricked Esau and took his birthright.

God didn’t have to use an individual with such an unseemly past, but He did. God used that very situation to help Jacob become one of the patriarchs in the bloodline of Jesus.

And God knew that if I went to Africa and actually tried to share Jesus, laid bricks, gave immunizations and actually did work in His name, His purpose would be served. His buildings would be built, His sick children would receive medication, and while I was busy doing this work I would realize some things about myself too.

He knew that when I realized what my motives had been, it would disgust me and I would find new motivation to fall at his feet in submission. He knew I would learn to mean what I say when I ask Him to humble my prideful heart.

Thanks to providence, in the form of friends who had already served in Africa, I found myself headed to Riverside Farm Institute in Zambia. Riverside is an evangelistic training center where individuals from Zambia and elsewhere receive instruction in evangelism before being sent out to work among their own people.

The school supports itself financially through farming. Riverside is on the Kafue River, which allows for consistent irrigation. The farm produces wheat, maize, and bananas. Student missionaries work at Riverside in three main areas: evangelism, medical work, and construction.

Most of my time was spent working on construction projects. Our team built additions on some of the houses at Riverside, and kept busy with all manner of maintenance jobs in between construction projects. But our construction work wasn’t limited just to Riverside, or even to Zambia.

Alan Knowles, Riverside’s student missionary director, stays in contact with congregations in Zambia and surrounding countries. Many of these congregations lack even a simple church building. Often these groups can combine their resources and build the walls of a church, but putting on a roof is more than they can afford.

That’s where Roofs Over Africa comes in. The program, sponsored by ASI, enables Alan to bring student missionaries and local church members together to form a multi-cultural construction team. There are major language complications, but certainly more than enough laughter and trust to get the job done.

One of the tricky things about cost-effective church construction in Southern Africa is that mud bricks don’t perform well when they get wet. Local church members can make the bricks and then build strong walls. But if they can’t get a proper overlapping roof before the rainy season begins, the walls will crumble and the members are right back where they started.

This cycle was all too familiar for the congregation in Nkhata Bay, Malawi. Three times the church walls had gone up. And three times the rains had washed them away before funds for a roof could be found.

With the rainy season impending we learned that the church members had completed the walls for a fourth time. We rushed to Malawi, knowing the rain could begin any time, but hoping to save the church.

On Friday the long-awaited roof was finally finished. Sabbath morning, during the very first service ever held in the new building, the rains began. In fact it rained so hard on the metal roof, we had to shout to be heard. Before long the preacher gave up, and we just laughed together and sang praises.

It really was incredible to see God’s timing with this project. I had never before witnessed such a joyful Sabbath worship service. Some were so happy they were weeping. They had fought for so long to build a place to worship.

I often struggle over whether or not to participate in certain missions or projects. It’s obvious to me now that my motives for service in the past were pretty selfish. But in my experience, choosing to act, regardless of my motives, has been a good thing. People have benefitted from my help even if I helped for the wrong reason.

What I get really excited about, however, is the genuine change I can see in myself. When I go and help people and see the real needs they have, somehow my reasons get rearranged. I find myself doing things out of an actual goodwill toward others, and loving it.

Maybe that’s why He said, “Go”.