As a missionary and agriculture development worker in rural Tanzania, I have countless opportunities to teach both Bible and agriculture. Everyone wants the knowledge I (am perceived to?) possess,* and I am regularly invited to teach new groups of people. But my time is limited and finite.** Perhaps the least mentioned task of cross-cultural workers is one of the most important skills for them to develop in order to be effective in their work.
How do we determine in whom to invest our time?
I strongly believe effective and lasting development work involves multiplication, not addition. And quality mission work will reproduce itself. But you don’t have to take my word for it:***
Take the teachings you and others have heard from me, and entrust them to reliable men who will teach others.
— 2 Timothy 2:2 (my paraphrase)
I love the word ‘entrust’ here — to put something into someone’s care or protection. What I have is valuable — whether it be an understanding of God’s word or of important agricultural principles — and I need to treat it as such. I should carefully consider to whom I will entrust this information.
Paul urges Timothy to give his teachings to reliable men who will teach others. And we should take this seriously. So how do I determine who is reliable and will teach others? I’m not suggesting I’ve got it all figured out, but I’ll share with you a couple of the “tests” I use in my work here.
Prior to traveling to the US for July and August, I started a Bible study with a small group of people who had expressed interest in studying scripture. We met weekly and once I’d demonstrated for 2-3 weeks how to facilitate the study, the role of facilitator was rotated among us. I purposely began this study about 10 weeks before I left the country. My goal was not for myself to continue studying with this group long-term, but rather for this collection of individuals to begin their own groups studying with others — though this was never explicitly stated. Rather, each week we simply took turns answering the questions, “With whom did you share what we studied last week?” and “With whom will you share what we studied today?” Sharing what we learned together came to be expected.
When I returned to Tanzania in late August, I was able to ask 1) the group if they’d continued meeting and 2) each individual if his/her own study groups had continued meeting. I found the group had stopped meeting about 3-4 weeks after I’d left Geita, but that two of the individuals had continued studying with the small groups they’d formed at their own homes. And there I found my answer: I will invest my time and energy in those two guys.
The group as a whole has asked me to begin the study again, and I answered that I was very busy with work and that I really want to encourage them to continue meeting together — but that I don’t have time to myself continue with that study. Instead, I’m now working on ways in which to mentor and disciple the two men who have continued meeting with their groups. One of them has now formed a new group of six neighboring families, and he asked me to help him put together a curriculum for them to study. I also suggested we meet to study and discuss in advance the key points of the verses his group will read together each week. This seems like a tremendously good use of my time (and I think Paul would agree).
In conservation agriculture seminars, I teach farmers how to use green manure / cover crops (gm/cc) to build soils and increase yields. Many of these legume seeds, though, are not available in markets here in Tanzania. So each seminar ends not only with a group-prepped classroom plot, but with each farmer receiving a small envelope of gm/cc seeds. I tell them up front, “This is not enough seed to amend a large area of your farm, however if you’ll plant these for seed production (perhaps on a small trial plot), next year you’ll have plenty.”
It may sound harsh, but the following year (or season in some cases) I further invest only in those farmers who have reproduced their gm/cc seed. This small test allows me to weed out farmers who are 1) uninterested in conservation agriculture, 2) lazy, 3) looking only for handouts, and/or 4) just plain bad farmers. It’s not that I wouldn’t like to help everyone, but rather that my time is limited and so I need to invest in the reliable farmers (Paul’s word). I hope these reliable farmers will in turn teach others, perhaps even some of those I initially weeded out of my own “program.” [And in fact I’ve seen this happen already.]
So why don’t we talk about smart investing more often?
I don’t know. Maybe somewhere people do? But my experience is that most groups lean towards reaching the largest percentage of the population. “Let’s get this information to the masses!” And I’ve got no problem with engaging large groups up front — provided we have tools in place to help us then narrow down those numbers. Jesus himself spoke to the masses on several occasions.****
But he also said things like, “He who has ears, let him hear,” recognizing the reliable were likely only a few of the many gathered.
So I’ll continue looking for those individuals with ears to hear and a willingness to share what they’ve learned with others.