Article in the Baptist Bible Tribune - September 2016
“Pastor Don, there is a missionary who really needs to talk with you.” Usually, only urgent calls diverted attention from my Monday morning sermon prep. “Can’t it wait?” I agitatedly replied. My assistant pleaded, “Ah, no I don’t think so. Sounds like this missionary really needs to talk with you.”
That week was already filled with two funerals, five missionary calls, two counseling sessions, 100 emails, and hosts of other requests knocking on my door. I sat there almost out of breath just thinking of it all. Rather perturbed, I took the call.
“Uh, is this Pastor Don Mingo?” sprang out immediately when I picked up the phone. Impatient, desiring to get back to my routine of study, I replied, “Yes, yes it is, how can I help you?”
“Well, my name is Mark, and I’m a missionary. I believe Tim is a missionary out of your church? Is this correct?” Having pastored this medium-size church in northern Minnesota for five years, Tim really wasn’t out of my church. He grew up in the church. His father was also a missionary out of the church. Tim was one of more than 100 missionaries I “inherited” upon accepting the call to pastor this church.
Mark continued, “It is true you and your wife were missionaries in South Africa for over 20 years?” Sensing a deeper connection developing, Mark continued, “Well, we’d like you to come to our field, and spend a few weeks teaching a bunch of missionaries at our annual missionary conference. There are about 50 missionary families, and to be honest with you, most of us are pretty beat up. Been in the trenches out here a long time. Since you’re a pastor, and you’ve been a missionary, well, we thought you might be able to encourage us a bit. I hear you’ve really been through it.”
Six months later, Mark met us at the airport. Arriving at his home near midnight, sleep deprivation assaulted our senses after the grueling flight. Upon entering Mark’s home, his wife greeted us, “I know you’re probably tired, but can we talk now a little bit?” Over the next few hours, they began to share their story.
A year earlier, this couple had been traveling with another missionary couple and a group of missionary kids to a nearby country when their van was highjacked. At one point in their eight-hour journey, a small pickup truck pulled alongside their van on a narrow stretch of road. The man in the bed of the pickup waved an assault weapon ordering the missionary driver to pull over. When the driver did not comply quickly enough, a shot rang out. The driver slumped over into the center space between the front seats. Their missionary friend was dead. As the van careened into the bushes, their ordeal had only just begun. Mark and Joy went on to share it all right there during our first meeting. Crawling into bed in the early hours, I thought, “God, how am I going to help these missionaries?”
The first night of the conference, standing before 60 missionaries, I shared my personal journey. In our 22 years overseeing MANNA feeding centers in South Africa, we knew of dozens of little children who had died. Most died of AIDS. Often, the little girls, only four or five years old, contracted AIDS after being raped. One little Zulu girl, Andiswa, was very close to me. When she died, things began to change for me. Eventually I had to return to the States where I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (P.T.S.D.). Sharing my personal vulnerabilities and struggles in missionary life (for the first time publicly) opened the floodgates for those hurting missionaries.
For the next two weeks, missionaries shared their stories. As I spoke every night, and we listened, coached, and encouraged missionary couples during the day, Kathy and I realized God was redirecting our journey. Several realities punctured our hearts while interacting with those missionaries:
Missionaries face unprecedented challenges. When American missionaries go to the field, they often already have three strikes against them. Americans simply aren’t liked in many places — strike one. Sharing Jesus can be met with great disdain — strike two. The label “missionary” can have an unpleasant or disparaging connotation and often invokes hostility — strike three.
Missionaries experience severe trauma. During my pastorate, more than a dozen missionaries shared stories of physical assaults on themselves or a family member while on the field. One shared, “I know I should talk about it, but I can’t. Not yet, not ever. How could anyone understand what happened to me? What I feel like? The dreams that wake me up every night?” Trauma, for many missionaries, lives just down the street.
Missionaries face pressures beyond the norm. A missionary living in one of the crime capitals of the world shared, “Rarely a week goes by someone doesn’t call me asking for a funeral for a murdered family member or friend.” Another missionary shared, “Seeing four burned bodies smoldering just down the road from our church is something I’ll never forget. The smells, sounds, and sights.”
Even as I compose this article, we pray for a missionary family pinned down between warring factions in the country they serve. For several nights bombs and bullets explode all around them as they lie on the floor.
Missionaries fear sharing their fears. “It’s not the kind of thing you ask a church to pray about,” said a missionary friend of mine. “I’d lose my support pretty quickly if I talked like that.” Another shared, “Who in the world understands, or even cares, what we are going through out here?” Another, “If I shared that we were afraid to go back to the field, well, we’d lose our support in a hurry! Wouldn’t we?”
Missionaries often feel forgotten. During our missionary career, we experienced hardships unparalleled in American life. During my pastorate, the church supported over 100 missionaries and the needs and requests of a missionary family that size were many. There were certainly times when our missionaries, to whom we were responsible, got lost in the shuffle of pastoral ministry.
During that intensive two-week missionary conference with Mark and Joy, my EMS, police, and fire chaplaincy training found its nesting place. Missionaries shared accounts of assaults, robberies, burglaries, loneliness, fears, and struggles. Clearly some were pressed beyond measure. My training in critical incident stress management, grief care, trauma care, life coaching, and a host of other disciplines came into play. Helping missionaries see God in their circumstances struck a chord. With great clarity I began to see every hardship we experienced on the field and in the American pastorate had prepared us for a new journey.
After the conference, we returned to our “retirement home” in the forests of northern Minnesota. But our American dream faltered. Somehow, owning a home, retiring near the lake to fish and pastor felt different now. I couldn’t stop thinking about all those missionaries. My boat plans took on water as missionaries continued to call seeking counsel and someone to talk to. By September 2014, I had marked my last Sunday as pastor in the woods of Minnesota. A new journey had begun.
Just a few months later, in December 2014, I was sitting in the Mission Office with BBFI Mission Director Jon Konnerup. After relating the burden we felt for this new journey, I asked him for any perspectives and help he might offer in our journey. At that point, we’d already sold our home. We lived with our oldest son, his wife, and their eight kids. Jon’s response overwhelmed me, “Don, let’s see if the Mingos can do missionary-to-missionary care right here in the BBFI.” The road map for this journey was beginning to come into focus.
After serving a six-month internship at Ventura Baptist Church in Ventura, CA, with Pastor Lewis McClendon, Kathy and I were reinstated with Baptist Bible Fellowship as Support Team Endorsed Program (S.T.E.P.) missionaries. This program offers specialized support to BBFI missionary personnel all over the world.
So, at age 59, we are on deputation again! On our redirected journey, we don’t think much of that house in Minnesota. We are right where God wants us — living in missionary apartments, with occasional stops to family and friends, we busy ourselves raising support and sharing the need for missionary-to-missionary care.
Don and Kathy Mingo can be reached at:
Cell: (763) 213-2994
Last night I enjoyed the pleasure of hearing the founder of MANNA Worldwide speak. Bruce is a longtime friend; we go way back! In fact, it was our pleasure to start two MANNA Feeding Centers in South Africa. MANNA Worldwide has grown considerably since its humble beginnings just 15 years ago. It's nothing short of phenomenal.
Currently, 102 Feeding Centers, 23 orphanages, 15 schools, 20 medical facilities, and sports centers help missionaries and churches serve close to 15,000 children worldwide. MANNA Worldwide Partners and Supporters serve over 3 million meals to hungry children every year!
As I listened to Bruce speak, I asked myself, "Why has MANNA Worldwide grown at such an explosive rate?" Five words came instantly to mind:
MANNA Worldwide works almost exclusively through local churches on location. In the 40 countries MANNA serves, almost every ministry is conducted through a church in a particular locale. The Church has long suffered the criticism of turning its back on those suffering just outside the door's reach of the congregation. MANNA Worldwide helps the Church become the hands and feet of Jesus.
MANNA Partners living in location of feeding centers, hospitals, schools, and sports centers provide accountability for the program. Missionaries and Intercultural workers implement and oversee most projects. These Partners make sure funds actually reach the projects and children for which they were given; a huge problem in charitable giving.
During our many years in South Africa, a large Christian humanitarian group claimed to feed 4,000 children in an area where we ministered near our home. They set up a small office in this particular area. The office only appeared to open when Americans came out from the United States. Likewise, children received care only when American visitors were present. After the inspectors returned to the States, the feedings stopped.
MANNA Partners live full time at the locations of feeding centers and schools ensuring integrity of the program and ministry. More importantly; children really do receive love and care!
MANNA does exactly what it claims to do. Providing funding for the Church to cloth, feed, educate, and care for children around the world. 92 cents of every $1.00 gets to the children it claims to serve. Whether food in the bowl of a hungry child, books for learning, clothing, sports, or medical care -- MANNA dollars hit the target 92% of the time. That ranks in the top of charitable giving! This is accomplished in part because all MANNA associates and directors raise their own support.
Here's the thing. Children actually receive nutritious meals, schooling, and medical care! Programs provide better lives for children' gripped in the cruel harsh cycle of poverty.
Working through churches and its MANNA Partners, MANNA offers hope to suffering people. This hope impacts those outside the church's door. One MANNA Partner shared, "The Muslim parents in our area allow their children to attend our church because we provide their children with meals and education."
Once in our church in Ladysmith, South Africa I introduced myself to a new face in the congregation on a Sunday morning. After inquiring to the nature of the person's visit, he replied, "I wanted to see the church that cares for my hungry grandchildren. We are suffering."
For me, the great impact of MANNA Worldwide is seeing hungry malnourished kids transform into happy healthy children! One Zulu mother in her Zulu language shared, "Thanks for making my child's eyes sing again!"
MANNA Worldwide Directors, Associates, Partners, and Volunteers passionately rescue children in the grip of poverty. In doing so, MANNA brings them to a Jesus who said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them!"
Just My Thoughts,
Not long ago sitting in a local Restaurant in Springfield, Missouri, a patron frantically erupted while reading the newspaper, "I don't know what we are going to do? I hear they are letting those Syrian Refugees into St. Louis and then Springfield! Our governor won't stop them from coming in!" Clearly fearful she added, "They get free housing, medical, and food. All I have to say is, 'What about ME?' "
A gentleman sitting two stools down at the counter interjected, "How many refugees have you ever met?" Obviously agitated, he pressed another question aggressively, "What are the chances that a refugee will move in next door to you?" As she looked away, he chided, "Why worry about it then?" The woman admitted to never meeting or seeing a refugee personally in her entire life. Yet, she insisted refugees posed a personal threat. She interjected her strange question again, "Well, what about ME!"
That woman's question probes a universal consideration on our ever shrinking planet of human experience, "Yes, well, what about ME?"
As a Christ-Follower, Christ gave ME rather clear instructions on this refugee matter:
1st - My ME needs to show love towards God.
Focusing ME away from self towards God is my highest priority. Acknowledging my Creator who created me for a higher purpose than myself reminds me that even poor people, refugees, also possess purpose and value. Regardless of valueless attitudes towards these unwanted nomads, they are of my lineage, and we share a common existence.
2nd - My ME needs to show love and mercy to my "neighbors."
Who is my neighbor? Jesus talked about a traveler travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho many years ago. After attacked by bandits along the way, he lay wounded, broken, bleeding, and dying. Many traveled by refusing to help this refugee, I mean traveler, until finally someone stopped to help. Jesus called the helper a "stranger." After giving first-aid, clothing, food, and providing him a safe place, he paid for all the traveler's expenses promising to return to check in on him. Jesus called that wounded, hungry, dying traveler -My NEIGHBOR.
It's very interesting that Jesus calls this the 2nd Greatest Commandment in the whole Bible after loving God. Somehow helping refugees to Jesus was very important.
3rd - My ME needs to show love and mercy to my own.
Jesus often referred to "my own" as "One-Another." Showing love and mercy to people who reciprocate love and mercy to ME offers lesser challenges. It's where many draw boundaries enveloping themselves in safer surroundings. Yet, working with traumatized children over the years, children injured by their very own parents, love and mercy in our own families is sadly absent and desperately needed in too many families in this callous world.
4th - My ME needs to show love and mercy to my enemies.
Jesus said it, I didn't. Don't get me wrong. If a terrorist shows up, if there is a warning, if I know about it, I will defend myself, my family, and my community. Yet, Jesus commands even love towards enemies.
I once witnessed an elderly Zulu man face to face offer forgiveness to a neighbor in South Africa who beat his son's brains out with a rock. The old Zulu man held his son in his arms covered in his son's brain matter as his son died. I know this to be true. My Me was there. His actions prevented a clan war saving many lives. It's still a vivid troubling image in my mind thirty years later.
The Macro & Micro of it all - The macro issue of the refugee crisis is a global issue. It's on the macro stage most want to voice an opinion; an opinion that matters little, changes little, or helps little. Very little of the macro involves ME directly. I live in a micro world of this problem. Micro Me, however, can offer positive contributions to this crisis:
ME can control ME's rhetoric.
Words, opinions, solutions, biases, and verbal atrocities exploded on social media platforms around the world.
There is an ancient saying,
"Talking about a matter before one understands the matter is shameful and foolish."
ME can contribute positively! In our congregation, several members actually serve in some of those horrible refugee camps helping suffering refugee-travelers. They paint the picture of hopeless fearful desperate people leaving murdered loved ones behind looking for hope in a strange new terrifying world. ME contributes money to actual people on the ground in refugee camps helping Christians share the love of Christ with desperate Muslim women and children by serving them.
In giving a cup of cold water in Jesus' name, perhaps Christ's love can emerge from the seed beds of hate and religious extremism.
ME can pray for governments and authorities to make wise decisions. This problem is intricately complicated, requiring wise level headed people to act in the best interests of everyone. Protection of citizens is the highest priority. So too, is this vast swelling of refugee-humanity needing rescue, relief, and restoration.
Bad people will always take advantage of desperate situations. Yes, ME is concern these bad people are dealt with effectively for all our sake.
Yet, my ME concern is for a desperate suffering people of another world-faith looking to people of my faith for help. Now is an opportunity for Christians to respond.
Our greatest opportunity, perhaps avails itself to present Christ before a people who've never met a Christian. It's a defining historical moment in church and human history.
"ME" is the only control I really possess in this unfolding misery. And, the "YOU" is perhaps your only contribution to make as well. But, perhaps, just perhaps, if your "YOU" and my "ME" offered our very best, this world, might become a better "US" . . .
Just My Thoughts,
Don was born in North Minneapolis, Minnesota. Having served twenty-two years in South Africa as missionaries with his wife Kathy, and eight years pastoring in the United States, he shares unique perspectives about life, family, relationships, and ministry.