To Focus on the Message, Eliminate Distraction

No distractions! Eliminate anything in your presentation that might distract your audience from the point of your talk.

Public speaker coaches hammer this advice repeatedly. Don’t tempt your hearers with distractions. Don’t wear an outfit that calls attention to itself. No flamboyant ties. No unusual outfits. If a story doesn’t relate to your point, delete it, no matter how good it is. It will sidetrack some of your listeners.

Public speakers, pastors, and teachers all know reducing distraction is a basic principle of communication.

The same is true for pioneer missionaries working in an indigenous village. Jo and I had a vitally important message to communicate while living among the Canela for over twenty years.

“Your Creator God loves you, and wants you to know and love Him. He sent His Son to save you. God will fill you with His Spirit so you can relate to others in peace and love. He will fill you with peace and power so that you no longer fear death and evil spirits.”

We modeled this message for the Canela—living in peace with them, loving them, and living without fear, totally trusting God’s care for us no matter what happened.

But we knew we had some built in distractions. I was tall, blonde, and blue-eyed. We were foreign, speaking English to our kids and to each other. We were rich. Jo had, not one pan, but two, as well as a kettle; we seemed to have an unlimited supply of matches, and plenty of salt. We had more than one pair of shorts or piece of cloth each. I wore a watch, the only one in the village. Instead of eating with our hands from a cast iron pan on the clay floor, we ate with spoons from enamel plates at a table.

We were concerned that our foreignness and wealth would blind the Canelas so that they could not see that the peace and love they saw in us, came from our relationship with the Creator God.

This Canela family adopted Jo as their daughter.

This Canela family adopted Jo as their daughter.

Jo and I reduced this distraction by living as much as possible like the Canelas around us. We lived in a house with a clay floor, dried-mud walls and a palm-thatch roof, just like our neighbours. We ate what they ate, we learned their language, learned their songs, participated in their festivals and practiced generosity and became Canelas as much as we could.

We could afford a propane stove and refrigerator, which would have saved us much time, work, and inconvenience, but did without them for those decades. Our policy was, “If the Canelas can’t have them, and we can do without, we will.”

We did bring in things essential for our translation work like a tape recorder, camera, and lots of books, and writing materials. And, since we were the only modern medical “doctors” we brought in cases of soap and modeled good hygiene. We boiled our water for drinking and recommended this to the Canela, especially in the beginning of the rainy season when the creeks ran brown and the entire village suffered from diarrhea. We brought in hundreds of kilos of medicine and freely treated people through prayer and modern medicine for every type of disease. In these ways too, we modeled love, praying that people would focus on our message of God’s love for them, and not be distracted by our foreignness.

But today we live among Canadians, non-Christians as well as fellow believers and are a part of the Canadian church. God has a message of love for our non-Christian neighbours, coworkers, and schoolmates. I wonder what distracts them from hearing His message?

Are some of us indulging in unbiblical lifestyles? Do some of us dogmatically present strongly held opinions on such topics as: theology, government, politics, human rights, military action, pharmaceutics, big business, immigration, and temporary foreign workers, etc?

What in our daily lives distracts from God’s message? Is there anything about you and me that blinds, deafens, and sidetracks people from turning to God?

Eliminate distraction.




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