My ministry began in villages. At the age of 14, I used to cycle 45 mins one way twice a week to go to the villages close to our home town in Ambernath. Eventually God moved me to youth ministry and later into church planting ministry. However, over the years, I have still been very passionate about ministering in village setups. In fact, one of our churches is in a rural setup in a place close to Nairobi, Kenya. Moreover we financially support and spiritually mentor other ministers who are ministering in remote places.
Many a times, we who are living in the cities are not aware of the challenges that missionaries face out there in these difficult setups. It causes us to be complacent and take the blessings we have for granted. The intention of this post is not just to make you aware of the challenges in rural ministry, but also to invite your hearts to partner with someone you would know so you can meet and help them at a point of their need.
There are innumerable challenges that are faced in such setups, but to begin with, I have to mention that the power of the Holy Spirit is greater than anything the world can throw at us. So let none of the challenges stop you from going and ministering in rural setups, if God has called you into that.
This can be a multifaceted challenge.
The problem with rural places in India is the multiplicity of languages. Even if the issue of language gets addressed, there are such varying dialects in the same language, that effective communication takes a beating.
In Kenya, this wasn’t much of a challenge as most people, if not all, (of the few places I have been to), knew English and it was easy to form intelligible speech. However, being relevant to the context and having a knowledge of acceptable societal and cultural norms to communicate accordingly became highly difficult. I remember sharing with much pride in a church service there about my wife’s pregnancy, only to be met by stares and stunned silence as to why I would mention that, only to know later that it wasn’t celebrated in their culture as it was in mine.
Another aspect of a challenge in communication is in technology. Often, not many places or people are well aware of how to use technology like smartphones or computers, or have the connectivity to support it, or simply can afford it. God has raised a desire in me, and has also provided for it, to equip pastors in rural areas with smartphones, that will allow them to be more effective in their connectivity to the world outside their village.
This is undoubtedly the most challenging thing faced by pastors and their families in village ministry. I can go on to tell you stories of numerous pastors who have quit or moved out because of threats or having faced first hand experience of persecution, having lost their homes, families and even lives for the sake of the gospel. Many others have stayed put and experienced God’s hand of protection over their lives. What can we do to help? Nothing but pray for God’s protection over their lives, and boldness in their hearts.
One night after a meeting in Odisha last year, my heart leapt into my throat when I saw a feline predator on the road. It was dark, so couldn’t figure exactly which one that was. I was in a SUV and was well protected and had no cause for fear, and yet I was scared! But what gave me the chills were hearing stories of how the pastors have to return home alone at night on two wheelers on the same roads! It took my respect for these men of God to a new level. If you know a missionary or minister working in remote places, take a moment to text or call and encourage them.
Lack of funds are always a challenge for ministers and ministries working in these areas. There could be many reasons for this.
Churches in rural areas aren’t always taught to give to God, out of the fear of being labelled as ‘exploitative’, a fear that comes from widespread belief that the leaders make a living out of wringing the people amidst the penury they are already in.
Secondly, pastors are not taught how to steward money well. Many times, the support that is sent to missionaries is used up in paying for everything else but helping or caring for the missionaries.
It is not just money that is lacking in rural setups. A church in a rural place cannot at will invite guest speakers like how it is in the city, nor will many be willing to go even if they do get invited.
The same goes with their education and healthcare systems. They are under staffed, stifled by inadequate funds.
If you are led to personally work in any of these areas, get connected to ministries that work in one of these fields.
4. Cultural influences
This happens to be a real danger both in rural as well as in urban churches.
Cultural influence in church invites teachings and practices that are contrary to the doctrine and theology of Christian faith, to the extent of being demonic in nature. Though this is a challenge in many urban churches, the rigidity to adher to it is much less due to the exposure to other churches, ministries and teachings through media, that in turn help one take an informed decision. It is not so in a rural place or even in a small town.
I believe exposure to culture outside the village and tribe can definitely help many of them see the fallacy of their own cultures and traditions that are anti-scriptural. That is why mission trips are so important. Why you should encourage the young people in your church to organise and go for mission trips is that so that you impact them with the gospel and message of Jesus. You might not always see a great hoard of people accepting Jesus on the first go. However, the exchange of culture that happens there will bear fruit for generations afterward.
5. Family welfare
Every person who gets married and has children has great desires and plans for his/her family. However, when conditions are hard where one lives, one really has to make a lot of sacrifices to make ends meet. Most times, these ministers neither have the privilege of giving their children the best of education nor can they afford to spend quality time with their family as they work long hours to provide for them. Extra curricular activities just happen as life brings them by, there are no tutors or after school coaching classes. There are yet others who put their children in residential schools while they minister in the mission field.
These are our brothers and sisters who are ministering out there for the sake of the gospel. If they have a challenge with their family welfare, the responsibility should be on us to stretch to whatever extent it takes to bless and uplift them. I like ministries like MUT India, who continually work towards the betterment of the missionaries in these rural places.
You can probably host a missionary and his family at your home and give them a well deserved vacation, once in a while so they can go back with more refreshed hearts to serve God in their mission fields. If we can open our homes the same way we would be willing to support them financially, their families will be equally blessed and would in turn lead to a more effective ministry.
I wrote this post from my heart and my personal experiences of interacting with people who are out there in village ministries. I might have mistaken or missed some things. I hope you would share your heart on this topic in the comments section below.