I (Lisa) have heard many things about American missionaries and visitors abroad that have made me cringe in the last few months, and I’m sure I’ve done and said a few cringe-worthy things myself. Yesterday a Ukrainian IFES staff-worker served me a glass of water from a pitcher that had been out on the counter, and asked with evident concern, “Is it okay? It is not cold.” She explained that a recent visitor, part of a mission team, had insisted on ice-cold water throughout his visit. Our hosts here in Kyiv specialize in organizing large-scale evangelistic events, including bringing Christian rock bands to countries around the world. They shared comical stories of dealing with ‘riders,’ lists of requirements from the bands for their dressing rooms and other aspects of their visit. One band, heading to a poor country, included a certain obscure American brand of gluten-free bread and a case of Dr. Pepper; various impossible demands regarding accommodations have also had to be discussed and set aside. In general the stories had happy endings—the band members got a clue and were able to think more like missionaries and less like the secular bands whose demands had inspired their riders. (I include a fun list of some famous riders at the end of this post. Van Halen’s famous brown M&M rider is a notable exception for the purpose it served.)
Imagine if Jesus had had a rider as he entered the manger: “All straw must be shredded and refined so it is soft as feathers, lowing cattle must low lullabies, the temperature of the manger must be between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit at all times.” He sent his disciples out with the very opposite of a rider when he encouraged them to eat whatever was set before them. His model of incarnation, coming to earth with no demands, needs to guide our forays and our stays in foreign lands.
On one level, this blog post is just a reflection on the need for good missionary etiquette, a helpful word for short-term teams and long-term guests in other nations, whether in business or ministry. But I also think about the riders I put on God, the demands I make and expectations I have for how God will answer my prayers, how I want my life to unfold, and the things I look for as signs of success in a given day. I think about the riders I put on my husband and friends: I will give myself to you if you prove your love by these five actions. My hope is that we have not entered homes or ministries with riders attached, but no doubt we have inadvertently done so. Our friends’ stories and the extreme incidents of riders here, from Wikipedia, serve as cautionary tales for me.
Rich and Lisa Lamb