Guest Post by David Sedlacek, TEAM Japan Vice Chairman
1John 3:18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.
Today, I'd like to share a "fable" from the book Cross-Cultural Servanthood by Duane Elmer.
A typhoon had temporarily stranded a monkey on an island. In a secure, protected place on the shore, while waiting for the raging waters to recede, he spotted a fish swimming against the current. It seemed obvious to the monkey that the fish was struggling and in need of assistance. Being of kind heart, the monkey resolved to help the fish.
A tree precariously dangled over the very spot where the fish seemed to be struggling. At considerable risk to himself, the monkey moved far out on a limb, reached down and snatched the fish from the threatening waters. Immediately scurrying back to the safety of his shelter, he carefully laid the fish on dry ground. For a few moments the fish showed excitement, but soon settled into a peaceful rest. Joy and satisfaction swelled inside the monkey. He had successfully helped another creature.
I encountered this story a few years ago, but recently it came to mind again when I was thinking about leadership and love. I believe we are called to this nation to lead and to love others. We "lead" others to Christ, and we lead worship services, and we lead Bible studies, and we lead our lives as a testimony to the grace of Jesus Christ. God has given us a love for the Japanese people, and it is out of love that we perform our various ministries.
But did the monkey love the fish? He had great intentions, but at the end of the story the fish is dead (re-read the story one more time if you didn't get it). Duane Elmer explains the moral of the fable like this: "The story does not tell us the degree of humility or arrogance the monkey possessed. But, then, that was not the real issue as far as the fish was concerned. The fish likely saw the arrogance of the monkey’s assumption that what was good for monkeys would also be good for fish. This arrogance, hidden from the monkey’s consciousness, far overshadowed his kindness in trying to help the fish."
The reason I was reflecting on this story the other day, and why it came to mind again today, is that I want to be a servant to the people of this nation, to the people of my church, to my teammates, and to my TEAM-mates. I came here to love and to lead and to serve. But if I am going to love or lead or serve, I need to listen. Listening is the one thing that the monkey neglected to do.
You cannot serve someone whom you do not understand, and you do not have compassion for someone whom you do not know. So we must get to work get to know one another. We've got to spend time listening to the people in our church and in our community, to understand them and to love them that they might know Jesus.
Note: Elmer's book is an excellent guide to helping think this through in a cross-cultural setting. He outlines the pilgrimage we must take if we are to truly serve others. The journey starts with Openness ("the ability to welcome people into your presence and make them feel safe"), to Acceptance("communicating respect for others"), Trusting, Learning ("seeking information that changes you") Understanding, and then finally Serving ("you can't serve someone you don't understand"). Elmer presents each step of the journey as an essential building block to the next.
Note from Paul Nethercott:
Dr. Duane Elmer is currently a professor at Trinity Seminary in Deerfield, IL. In the 1980s my wife and I had the good fortune of having him as our adviser at Missionary Internship in MI. He was an exceptional mentor and teacher for both my wife and I because he believed in us, invested in us, and went out of his way to help us. He facilitated highly innovative (and effective) training that has made a big difference in our lives. In recent years I finally "got it" and have started teaching a lot like he taught us -- simulations, small groups, no tests, lots of activity, discussion, reflection, etc. One valuable statement he made to us is "without reflection there is no learning." Thanks Duane -- your help meant a lot to us.