“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have ordained,” writes the psalmist, David, “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you visit him? For you have made him a little lower than the angels, and you have crowned him with glory and honor.”30
If there is any doubt as to the inferiority of man in comparison to God, this passage of scripture clears it up well. We serve a great and powerful God who alone can grant honor and glory to men. But unlike the world of men in which inferiority breeds hurt and pain and jealousy, an acceptance of humility before a deserving God fulfills the best in us personally and enables the best kind of ministry in a way that our own arrogance and pride cannot.
Perhaps in the studies on paternalism the last few days you have begun to form in your heart and mind a positive replacement for notions of paternalism that too often accompany foreign missionary service. But to make sure there are no weak points in your foundation, know that the hole that the absence of paternalism leaves must be filled with something.
And that something is humility.
This is at the core of doing effective ministry – both spiritually and materially – in Cambodia, and thus the reason humility is addressed more than once in this guide. Dealing with different economic markets, worldviews, leadership styles and cultural expressions of time and commitment can be frustrating to a foreigner. To successfully navigate cultural barriers and demonstrate the best love you can to the people of Cambodia, you must embrace an attitude and heart of humility.
In her book, Brokenness: The Heart that God Revives, Nancy Leigh DeMoss outlines characteristics of prideful people compared to those who walk in humility. Since pride is at the root of many manifestations of hurtful ministry, it is imperative that prideful attitudes be uncovered and substituted with humble ones. Below are a few points she makes that are poignant in their application to your ministry in Cambodia.
Proud people feel confident in how much they know. Broken people are humbled by how very much they have to learn. 31
Whether it is your knowledge of economics, construction, or theology, you will probably want to share. And to desire to do so could be of great use in certain ministry settings.
But a failure to listen to locals and understand cultural context could render your advice unheeded or disallow a community from building for themselves. Being willing to listen and learn could enhance your knowledge and help a community, both economically and spiritually, even more.
Proud people are self-protective in their time, their rights, and their reputation. Broken people are self-denying. 32
Short-term missions make it so that time is of the essence to prideful missionaries who want things done a certain way. Humble missionaries will lay down their plans and way of doing things for the sake of being true servants of God and His people. They are willing to include locals, listen to permanent staff members, and use wisdom that might previously have been unknown to them.
Proud people desire to be known as a success. Broken people are motivated to be faithful and to make others a success. 33
Home churches might want pictures and statistics to justify their financial investments in their mission teams, and team leaders crave positive testimonies to report every day and confirm progress, but this is not to be the heart and core of ministry. Humble missionaries will put the needs of the people and guidance of the Holy Spirit first, recognizing that fruit may not become evident until they have returned to their own homes. This is not to say that ministry tactics shouldn’t be evaluated and adjusted, but they should not be judged purely on a Western definition of success. Instead, missionaries should mark success by how much the ministry enables the community for future progress.
Proud people have a feeling – conscious or subconscious – that ‘this ministry is privileged to have me and my gifts.’ They focus on what they can do for God. Broken people have a heart attitude that says, ‘I don’t deserve to have any part in this ministry’; they know that they have nothing to offer God except the life of Jesus flowing through their broken lives. 34
This is perhaps what points most directly at the heart of what often defines foreign ministry work and what ought to define it. Remember who did the real work of salvation: Jesus. It is Christ who prepared good works in advance for us to do,35 who strengthens our hands and minds and puts breath in our lungs in order to be able to give and serve. These are gifts given to be freely poured out in recognition of the power, love and grace of the gift giver.
Your skills and knowledge may find a place of use in Cambodia. Or they may not. Are you prepared to just do the dirty work? Are you prepared to learn and adapt and admit ignorance? Are you going into ministry with a genuine heart and plan to serve the Cambodians according to their needs, or according to what you desire? Do you think you can do it on your own?
It is God who will enable you to effectively minister to His broken people in Cambodia, so long as you are a humble and willing vessel. You were and are in as much need of restoration and redemption as those who you will minister to. You are a tool in the hands of God who does the real work of bringing the dead to life and restoring individuals, communities and humanity unto Himself.
30 Psalm 8:3-5, NKJV.
31 Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Brokenness: The Heart that God Revives (Demoss, 2005), 66.
32 Ibid., 65.
34 DeMoss, 65-66.
35 Ephesians 2:10