A posture that has been growing in missions work is that of recognizing the fact that God is already present in places we are headed to, even if we may not realize it. We have a difficult time not falling into the temptation of making assumptions and judgments about people and cultures we do know a lot about. We can be forgiven for that, and God gives us grace, because even Old Testament fathers like Abraham, who closely communed with God, made the same mistake. We know Abraham was a great man of God, and God appeared to him multiple times, so clearly he knew God’s voice.
In Genesis 20 verses 1-6 we see that Abraham may have been making some assumptions without listening or looking for God’s presence. "20: Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, 2 and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” Then Abimelek king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her. 3 But God came to Abimelek in a dream one night and said to him, “You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.” 4 Now Abimelek had not gone near her, so he said, “Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? 5 Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister,’ and didn’t she also say, ‘He is my brother’? I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands.” 6 Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her.”
God then tells the King to return Sarah, so he did asking Abraham in verse 10 and 11, “10 Whatever possessed you to do such a thing?” 11 Abraham replied, “I thought, ‘this is a godless place. They will want my wife and will kill me to get her.”
Author David Smith, in his book Learning from the Stranger, highlights the incorrect assumption of Abraham. “I thought, this is a godless place.” How wrong he was because clearly God was there, God has the power to be everywhere and talk to everyone, even people who may not outwardly appear to be walking with him. He spoke to the King directly through a dream. This is both a challenge and a reminder for us, God goes before us and is present, even when we may not see or understand it. We would do well, as we go into situations in mission’s fields near and far, to listen for the Holy Spirit and listen to others in our presence, watching for signs of God and His love.
On my learning trip to Mexico, we had the opportunity to share an afternoon with an Indigenous leader named Nacho Torres. It was a unique time of listening and learning because of their cultural practice of oral teaching. He held a deep historical knowledge about his people, the land and the connectedness of them with the Creator. I was intrigued by how he used and defined terms like dualism and syncretism because they were different than how I have heard people in our culture defining them. This raised questions for me but is something that I would have to learn more about from the different contexts and would not be something I would feel comfortable drawing a conclusion about God’s presence and workings in that place. It would take deeper engagement, stronger relationship connection and listening to the Holy Spirit, as we were formed in community together.