Interview by Leah Dixon, Copyright 2019
Dave Wiedis and his wife, Miho, were invited to Beirut this past spring by a group of ministry leaders and missionaries to lead a retreat for their teams, provide an intensive marriage workshop, lead a seminar on self-care and avoiding burnout, provide individual and couples’ counseling and perform Miho’s Clean Sheets, a one-woman show depicting God’s redemption following her dark experiences as a teen. In this interview Dave discusses the challenges and rewards of international ministry, why everything hinges on trust, and what he is still processing from the trip.
Leah Dixon (LD): You have taken several international ministry trips over the past few years—China, Haiti, India twice and most recently, Lebanon. What are some of the challenges of walking into an unknown group?
Dave Wiedis (DW): I actually like the challenge of the unknown. That is the challenge—who is going to be there and what will they want and need? I did marriage counseling in Lebanon and had no idea beforehand whether it would be because of intense disconnection, abuse, or normal marital problems. In fact some of the counseling was trauma counseling. One of the women shared her horrendous story that occurred in a Muslim country where abuse not only takes place, but there is little remedy in the family system for it.
Another unknown was the evangelical culture in Lebanon. Usually, right before I give a seminar somewhere, I’ll often share my testimony. In my case, I grew up in a Jewish household in my childhood and teen years. How would the Lebanese respond to my being Jewish? Five minutes before getting up to speak, I consulted with someone who said to avoid that detail.
A cultural surprise to me was that the evangelicals in Lebanon—and they are very serious, bright, godly Christians—hold the position that present day Israel is their enemy. I can’t as an American assume that everyone holds the same views as evangelicals in the US.
LD: As if current day Israel were an impostor?
DW: Just a different country. Not God’s chosen people. The evangelicals in Lebanon have their narrative that permeates because the purveyor of information typically is Hamas or people who already have a bias against Israel. So if you go to argue—which I didn’t—you have to ask: “Okay, what is the basis of their opinion?” To them, Israel is a terrorist country. But can you blame somebody who is taught this all their lives?
LD: And that wasn’t the purpose of the trip, right?
DW: Right. As a Jew who is pro-Israel, I just decided to listen and hear people’s perspectives rather than dissuade them out of something.
LD: In your international ministry trips over the past few years, have you seen similarities in the needs of ministry leaders?
DW: In every place, I see hungry ministers who really want to learn. Many do not have access to good teaching or teaching with emphasis on the inner life, emotional health and wise self-care. On this trip, I did a lot of teaching on Emotionally Healthy Relationships [part of the Emotionally Healthy Discipleship Course by Peter Scazzero]. Just like I would in the US, I taught valuable relational skills and had the group practice those skills.
Some cultural and leadership issues are unique to different regions of the world. If I am asking a Lebanese man to expose his emotions in marriage counseling, that can be a push. And similarly if I am asking someone in leadership in the Middle East or India not to be authoritarian, the challenge to him is going to be: “Will I be seen as weak?”
In these regions of the world, I am stepping into whole organizational structures [where power is often exercised with rigidity]. I am trying to encourage healthy relationships, which means people have to start talking about the under-the-surface relational problems and the “elephants in the room.” How do I get that [level of transparency] to take place if a subordinate can get fired for speaking up? Do I have the ear of the leaders to encourage them to listen?
LD: So, you have to build trust with that leader really quickly.
DW: You have to build trust with everyone really quickly. The subordinate is not going to want to be honest, either.
LD: Have you seen this go well?
DW: I have seen real efforts and vulnerability. I was told that when I am speaking to mixed groups in the Middle East and India, I should not expect to see a lot of openness. In Lebanon, however, I started talking about issues of the heart in a mixed group, and one women shared very vulnerably about a pornography struggle. Her transparency really opened up everyone in the room. In another session when I was teaching about the many signs of unhealthy leadership and immaturity, I asked, “Who has one or two of the signs?” A brave leader responded, “It’s one or two that I don’t have...I have 14 or 15 [signs of unhealthy leadership].”
LD: What are you still processing from Lebanon?
DW: One of the women I had the opportunity to counsel came from a Muslim family who essentially put a hit out on her after she became a Christian. She fled her home country and was living under a very real threat to her life. I was able to help her process some of the trauma she has experienced and try to make sense of her past and present situations. Thankfully, she is now living out of immediate danger. I am processing what I learned from her and the degree of suffering she has experienced.
Another one of the ministry leaders there who had lived through the multiple wars in Lebanon described how his community was getting shelled 20 years ago and it became normal. He said, “Maybe you aren’t going to have electricity for the next few weeks, but you are going to try to get into your car and go to work and come back. Nothing changes and everything changes.” These horrors that I hear about stay with me and make me very grateful. We have such incredible resources and opportunities here [in the US] that people just don’t have in other countries.
LD: Any final thoughts?
DW: It’s hard to underestimate the impact of traveling around the world to spend time with people. From my perspective, I feel rather insignificant and ask myself, “Who am I?” From their perspective it’s “Oh my gosh. You have spent money to be here, you have taken your time to be with us, and you care about us.”
Ministering to 30 people sounds so insignificant, but on the other level it’s not. Some of them will go on for the next 50 or 60 years to share the gospel, minister to people and make a tremendous impact in the lives of tens of thousands of people! It is such a privilege to serve them.
After Miho’s Clean Sheets performance, a woman outside of the group we were ministering to described how at seven years old her mom had told her, “I hate you and I wish I had aborted you. But if you are going to be here, you will serve me.” A relative sold her for sex as a young girl. So here is this woman who came to me and said, “I have a real problem relating with other people.” You would never see it if you didn’t spend time with her. You can’t underestimate the power of spending just a short time with her to help her process, understand herself, and get over just one hurdle.
It may seem insignificant, but not in God’s economy. At the beginning of my seminars, I show people an image of a ripple of water and try to inspire them with this idea: We are all like that drop of water. The impact of what we do in ministry will go on. Fifty years from now, will this woman be shipwrecked, or will she be ministering out of her wounds, with God redeeming beauty from ashes? Seventy years from now, who will be sharing the gospel as a result of your touching their lives?