Our LTO Experience
Lloyd & MaryEllen Esh
Our whole family was scheduled for Long-Term Orientation (LTO) training. To be honest, we felt like we hardly had the time to go, but it was a requirement of our organization. We weren’t there long at all until we started realizing the many benefits of LTO. Even thought we had spent 2 ½ years in the mission field prior to this, we learned many new things. We also found our relationship with our Lord was strengthened, which is so important in effective witnessing. We really appreciated our teachers and all the work they put into the training. They pour their hearts into this ministry and were a huge blessing to us, answering questions and giving us many new insights.
One aspect of the training we felt was highly beneficial to us was afternoon street ministry. While this was quite stretching for us, we found that the more we ‘practiced’ it, the more courage and boldness we had to go out and witness again. We also enjoyed the fellowship of like-minded believers and made some lasting friendships.
Whether you have a specific call to missions or if you just want to more effectively witness in your community, we highly recommend going to NYC for the training. We are so thankful for all we learned and we look forward to seeing what God has for us as we go on assignment!
Spreading The Good News
Towards the beginning of Long-Term Orientation, Allen Roth taught a class on personal evangelism. He gave us many tips on how to begin conversations with total strangers and ways that we could eventually turn conversations into a presentation of the Gospel message. We also had sessions on how to effectively witness and present the Gospel to Muslims and Buddhists. Each day we were given an outreach assignment that stretched us in unique ways.
One day, after the first personal evangelism class, we were to pray for divine appointments and then attempt to have a conversation with somebody in hope of sharing the Gospel. Another day we went into a Muslim community and talked with the Muslims that were walking the streets. One afternoon was spent in the metro system on the subways singing and sharing Scripture and testimonies. Another day we had the opportunity to hold a kids program in the park. We sang, did a Bible skit, and passed out coloring pictures with crayons. Once we did some spiritual mapping of the community around the training center by surveying people. With this information the team here could pray more specifically and reach out more effectively in this neighborhood. Other times we would simply hand out tracts and/or prayer walk.
These experiences were very stretching for me personally, especially the assignments where we were encouraged to find people to share the Gospel with in a one-on-one encounter. Outreach times got me out of my comfort zone, gave me more courage when witnessing to people, and taught me to rely on God every moment for the words to say and the Scriptures to share. I was also convicted of my need to commit more Scripture to memory, because Scripture is more powerful than a two-edged sword and will stick with people for longer than the words that we say. Evangelism is not optional: it is a mandate of God for those who call Him Lord. Finally, evangelism is not primarily about leading people to Christ for salvation from hell, but about leading people to Christ so that they may glorify God. We as humans are only fully alive when we are glorifying God. That is what outreach is all about: preaching the Gospel so that people may become fully alive.
Cross Cultural Training
It ought to be easy for conservative Mennonites to understand the need for cross-cultural training in Christian evangelism. We are an ethnic group ourselves within American society, and without serious cross-cultural outreach toward us in centuries past—whether by intent or otherwise— we’d be up the creek without a Savior. Further, the only way we’ve been able to have an impact at all has been to think, feel, and function cross-culturally. This is true for every Christian subculture.
Unfortunately many of us don’t do so well at this for one of two reasons. On the one hand, some of us feel threatened by syncretism and are afraid that the distinctiveness of our faith will be lost in our efforts to reach beyond our own ethnicity. Others feel personally insecure about who we are in Christ and try to run away from our ethnicity in order to disguise our identity within culture. But if we can be personally secure both in Christ and in our ethnicity, all of us can develop an appreciation for cross-cultural training in Christian evangelism.
God has created everyone in His own image. Whenever anyone has tried to make something themselves or has tried to protect themselves from threat of identity-loss, God has taken drastic action. At the tower of Babel, God deliberately confused the languages, thereby forcing upon them the greatest cultural barrier possible - all because they tried to create an arrogant identity. Cain was reprimanded and sent off into no-man’s-land ultimately because he felt threatened by his brother’s more favorable treatment. In trying to establish our own identity or protect a perceived identity rather than willingly embracing our God-given identity, we risk the discipline of God Himself.
The lesson here is that we are both special and estranged, and our only real asset is God. It is His culture we embrace, and His identity we seek. We do not hold at arm's length those who are different from us nor hold ourselves up as the model. Instead, we accept ourselves for who we are and others for who they are, while all along recognizing our common creation by God. When it comes to communicating the Gospel of Jesus Christ to other cultures, we must approach the task humbly as learners and as servants of God to others. We don’t create identity, and we don’t condemn identity. We simply communicate an Identity beyond us all! •