TMM History and Development
The desert river bed that was dry for ten months out of the year had suddenly become a raging torrent 200 yards wide. Surprised by the unpredictable wet season in northern Kenya, a thirty-year-old-Turkana tribesman who didn't know how to swim was trapped on the wrong side of the river without food. When he saw Paul Teasdale fight his way across the swollen river, he begged him to help him across. Paul, tired and breathless from his own trip across, nevertheless agreed.
For the first seventy-five yards they were able to stay on their feet and battle the stiff current. But suddenly they dropped into a twelve-feet-deep channel that stretched ahead of them for fifty yards. As Paul struggled to swim, the tribesman clung tightly to him. With every inch of progress the river swept them yards downstream.
Then the man sensed Paul's growing fatigue. He became frightened and began thrashing and kicking, making it almost impossible for Paul to keep his own head above water. But just as Paul thought his lungs would burst, his feet touched the sand on the other side of the channel.
That kind of involvement in the lives of people is not unusual for the Teasdales. Paul grew up in Kenya, where his parents served as missionaries. Betty's parents ministered in what was then known as The Belgian Congo. But Paul and Betty first met in Chicago while attending college. After they were married, they returned to central Africa as missionaries for Africa Inland Mission. They eventually settled at Gatab in northern Kenya. There they raised Jim, Bobbi, and Dan, their three children.
When circumstances forced them to return to the states after 20 years, Paul's passion for missions didn't die. He lamented that there was a dearth of missionaries able to work effectively in remote areas. A Christian businessman encouraged Paul to look for land that could serve as a training base. What they found--1,100 undeveloped acres in the Snowbird Mountains in North Carolina--gave new meaning to the word remote. Only 8,000 people live in Graham county, and over 60 percent of the land is state and national forests. Although it is only 15 miles from Robbinsville, the property was almost inaccessible.
With the purchase of the land in 1979, Mission Ready began. It took two-and-a-half years just to build a road into the property and erect the first buildings. "We spent the first summer of our marriage," Jim's wife, Barb, recalls, "Living in a tent and building the barn" (a building that initially housed the staff, candidates, and classrooms). Jim remembers that year well: "It rained every day; my boots were green. We mixed concrete by hand in a wooden box and traded logs for the lumber to build that first building. We were running on a shoestring, scrapping even to buy a box of nails. Some days we lived on Campbell's soup and Spagettios."
In the fall of 1981 tragedy struck--Paul was severely injured in a sawmill accident. A 36-inch circular blade used to cut huge timbers from trees completely cut through the thigh muscles of both his legs and half of his left hand. Miraculously the doctors were able to save his legs and hand. But the year of rehabilitation that followed was slow and difficult. "The way the community responded to Paul's accident was wonderful," says Betty. "One man cleaned the sawmill so our family wouldn't have to see the mess. Several people waited with me at the hospital, and many others helped us with medical expenses. Others gave their time to keep the mission running."
When Paul's accident occurred, Jim was at John Brown University in Arkansas studying engineering. He and a close friend, Colin McDougall, Jr., returned to North Carolina to continue the work.
By 1983 they had completed the 8,000-square-foot training center that houses all the classrooms and several workshops. In 1986 the staff finished writing the curriculum, and in September 1987 the first formal classes began at what is now called The Master's Mission. By then The Master's Mission had already trained thirty missionaries for other organizations.
The Master's Mission now has several of its own missionaries, all stationed in central Africa. The board chose that area as its initial place of ministry because of the great need and the Teasdales' previous ministry there. "You have to be focused to be effective," says Jim, "so we chose central Africa as a starting place--but we aren't limiting ourselves to that area. In many countries the gospel is readily available. But we traveled 7,000 miles in Africa and met only a handful of believers."
Paul recalls an incident several years ago in Kenya. He was staying with a rancher friend whose bulldozer had broken down hundreds of miles from any repair shop. When another visitor noticed Paul repairing it, she was incredulous: "You're a missionary? Well at least you aren't totally useless!"
That Paul was different from other missionaries the woman had met was no accident--it reflects a fundamental difference in philosophy.
Most Christians agree that a missionary's primary objectives should be preaching the gospel, discipling believers, and planting local churches. But The Master's Mission adds to those things a strong work ethic. Paul feels missionaries must earn the right to be heard, but being willing to do hard work side by side with the people they are ministering to. "Our philosophy is not new," Paul insists; "it's what good missions has always been." It's the philosophy Paul learned from Scripture and observed in his father's ministry.
"We moved into Gatab, Kenya," Jim says, "where senior missionaries had located a healthful place with a good water supply for a mission station. Then we built roads, a water system, and an airstrip for medical emergencies. We built a church building and simple houses for us and the pastors. We worked with the people to get veterinary help for their livestock. We worked with them as they grew corn they could store for the dry season.
"Many new missionaries just want to sit under a tree and disciple people. But nationals aren't interested if you aren't invoved in their lives. The practical things form a platform for the message. But the only thing that effects permanent change is the gospel of Jesus Christ."
According to Betty the reason some disagree with their approach is a misunderstanding of what people are like: "The world is not looking for the gospel. People are hungry for it, but most don't know it. For example, people with a poor water supply and sick children don't want to hear about Jesus. They ask, 'What's He ever done for me?'"
"As a missionary," Paul says, "you validate yourself only if you're useful. Practical service creates a platform for spiritual ministry. And that process takes time; on the mission field I have never seen a person come to Christ with an intelligent decision in less than two years."
"When you go into another culture," Paul says, "you are there to teach them what God says. You have to show them what God is like by letting them see how a Christian family lives, how Christians work. You are illustrating how your faith works by how you live. As one missionary said, 'My pulpit was my brick-laying trowel.'"
That philosophy shapes the daily training at the mission. The candidates live at the mission's training base in North Carolina for one year beginning in September. The faculty are veteran missionaries who are on furlough or who have returned to the States. Each day begins with devotions followed by a Bible and missions class. Then the candidates attend classes where they learn technical skills.
The men, for example, study such subjects as timber harvesting and millwork, heavy construction, mechanics, station planning, and water systems. The women learn things like general accounting, health and first aid, and how to buy enough food and supplies for four to six months.
The candidates spend the majority of each day practicing what they learned in the classroom. After lunch while the wives concentrate on taking care of their family's needs, the men work with the staff to develop the base's facilities. They get practical experience working on the same kinds of projects needed in remote areas.
Each couple has a cabin. The cabins are comfortable but far from luxurious. Paul Craig and his wife, Jill, recently finished their year's training at the mission and will soon be leaving to minister in Mombasa, Kenya's beautiful port city. "When we heard we would be living in a cabin in the woods without electricity, we thought the worst," Paul remembers. "When I first arrived, I was two weeks early. The staff was working on a large dam on the mission's property. For two weeks I worked 8-10 hours a day picking up large rocks and roots. I thought, What am I doing? I came here to be a missionary! I soon learned that missions is hard work--not always glorious work."
But how did Paul Craig's training for remote area missions prepare him to work in a city? "Eighty percent of my training dealt with principles that can be applied to remote areas or cities. The program is flexible; they aren't trying to produce clones. When they saw Jill and I weren't cut out for remote areas, they tailored our training," Paul answers.
The staff at the mission emphasizes personalized training. This year they are training only eight missionaries, and although they plan to have a few more next year, there is a limit. "The numbers aren't impressive, but the candidates are," says Jim.
That's because The Master's Mission chooses its candidates carefully. "Once someone applies," says Jim, "we contact that person's local church. We want to know if he's qualified to be an elder in his church, if he's actively involved there, and if the church's leadership will confirm his call to mission work. In fact, all through the process we stress the candidates' involvement with their local churches. We also encourage the candidate's local church to provide all or most of his support. Too many mission agencies have usurped the responsibilities of the local church. Even our staff members have to raise their support."
It is also important to know why someone wants to be a missionary. "The proper motive for mission work is gratitude to God," says Paul, "not a Messiah complex or a guilt trip! The primary focus of the missionary's life is first God and only then the people he ministers to."
The training doesn't stop after one year at the training base. When a candiate is accepted as a missionary with The Master's Mission, the staff helps that individual or couple decide where they should serve and appoints a veteran missionary for them to work with during the first term. Paul and Jim candidly admit that only a few people are willing to accept the challenge of this kind of missions. But for those who will, there is a place to train.
In addition to preparing effective missionaries, The Master's Mission want to encourage every believer to get involved in missions. How? Paul Teasdale sees several ways: (1) Rather than discourage your children should they express an interest in missions, be sure to encourage them. (2) Establish a relationship with an individual missionary or missionary couple whom you can support with your prayers and letters. (3) Give to support you church's missionaries. (4) Remember your own call to evangelize. Having served in third-world countries, the Teasdales have a poignant perspective on life in the U.S.: "Western culture is merely paganism with a veneer of civilization. Therefore, every church member's responsibility is just as great as any missionary's. All of us are called to show Christ in our lives and proclaim His truth."