Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
(An ancient Chinese proverb*.)
I will make you fishers of men.** Great. Wonderful. I'm excited and ready, Lord. But how come you didn't say anything about teaching a man to fish? Doesn't that make more sense?
Oh, you did? Make disciples. Entrust what we've been taught to people who can teach others.*** Right. Got it.
It was my sixth consecutive visit to the run-down town of Baode. Never have I come across a town so pitiful. On the bank of the Yellow River, this town is rife with corruption, drugs, famine and poverty. What can one Christian English teacher do? That evening, as we strolled up the dusty road in the cool evening air back to our hotel after the day's classes for local teachers, a young fellow asked the funny foreign woman, "How long will you keep coming back here?"
Jenny, my local assistant and a woman into whom I consciously poured myself, was by my side as I replied, "Oh, until I'm a little white haired old lady, and then a while longer." As usual, Jenny grasped this opportunity, which to me hadn't even seemed like an opportunity. She enthusiastically shared the reason for our hope and willingness to offer this type of non-profit service.
I had expected to develop a reputation of 'sticking it out for the long haul', of being more comfortable here than in my own country, of being another Mother Theresa or Hudson Taylor who gave their all for their adopted countries.
But it isn't all about me.
Jenny sat in the overstuffed faded green armchair. "Would you give a guest presentation to a group of all my students and their parents for New Year's Day? It would be appropriate to share your faith in a non-threatening way. I've already prepared gifts of tracts, candy and a CD of music for each family."
Hang on. Is the CD legally above board? Isn't it just Christian music downloaded off the internet? Is it legally acceptable to give out tracts here?
Having fought the minor ethical battle, I finally decided that it isn't my problem. Jenny has worked with me for years, and knows my pedantic nature for living by 'the letter of the law'. After setting up her own small English tutoring business, she no longer needs to be limited by my western black and white ethical stringencies. It's beyond me now.
As a result, I now find myself standing in front of perhaps forty children and twenty parents. Jenny has prepared well, with new vocabulary ready on cards to stick on the wall, prizes for the students, questions to be pulled out of a hat and more. I can see many of my own teaching practices reflected in what she says and does.
Afterwards, I evaluate the lesson. It was okay. Just okay. The talk was fine. Perfectly acceptable. Very nice. Will it have any lasting impact on the students and parents? No. None whatsoever. However, Jenny's contact with them, over several years now, does have a significant impact. In fact, several families have already come to faith, and are, in turn, reaching out to others.
I came here to go fishing. To be a 'fisher of men'. But, well, there isn't an awful lot of room to fish here these days. It's getting rather crowded. There are plenty of fish biting, it's not like I've nothing to do, and there are quieter patches of water I could go to, but there are others who are so much better at this game. Their bait is better, their lines and hooks are locally appropriate, and, well, I just don't know what I'm doing here anymore.
Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.
Could it be, Lord? Is it time to move on? To give up my dreams of being another Mother Theresa or Hudson Taylor? To leave the local people here to get on with their own fishing?
I know that you couldn't possibly want me to give up fishing. But perhaps it is time to move to a different part of the ocean.
It isn't all about me.
I've gone fishing. I've made a contribution. Now I'm ready to go home.
* 授之以鱼不如授之以渔 (The original Chinese proverb)
** Matthew 4:19 NASV
*** Matthew 28:19-20 2 Timothy 2:1-2
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