Thinking Out Loud

March 23, 2018

Mission Profile: Mustard Seed International

Earlier this week I had what I consider the special privilege of spending nearly 2½ hours getting to know the work of Mustard Seed International (MSI) a Christian organization whose tag line is, “We teach. We love. They lead.” I had a very focused lunch meeting with Craig Jeffrey and Lucie Howell who direct the U.S. and Canadian operations respectively from an office near Toronto.

When we think of organizations like this, usually two models come to mind.

The first is all about proclamation. This suggests the image of the individual who learns the language of a particular tribe and embarks on a program of Christian education and evangelism with the goal of ‘winning souls to Christ.’

The second model is all about relief and development. This suggests going into a particular area and providing nutritional food, clean water and medicine. The goal of evangelism is not at the forefront; neither is it pushed entirely into the background for such organizations, but the primary purpose is to bring “a cup of water” in Christ’s name.

Mustard Seed International provides an alternative, what might be a third model, namely a focus on education. As we discussed this, I could not help but think of something my oldest son said to me having just returned from his second trip to an orphanage in the third world. He pointed out that without a decent education, the kids are going nowhere. Education is the key to allowing a child to have, as the prophet Jeremiah conveyed it, “a future and a hope.”

As Mustard Seed’s website explains,

Through the schools we start, staff, and operate, we provide Hope to our students, teachers, and the communities they live in. The education, training and discipleship they receive nourishes their hearts and minds. In every classroom and children’s home we run, we teach in words and deeds about our greatest Hope. Driven by that Hope, teaching is our small act of worship. It starts mustard seed-sized, but with God’s blessing it will grow into something much bigger.

Some of the brightest and the best kids are given an opportunity to further their education in ways that would be not be practical without the organization’s intervention. With the possibilities that presents, do some take advantage of that to move on to better things? Craig Jeffrey said there is a small percentage of students who are lost to the lure of careers in larger cities and towns, but a larger number take their expertise and return to their home communities to bring leadership to those villages; hence the “they lead” part of the aforementioned tag line.

In 2017 alone they accomplished the following:

  • 34 teachers-in-training who are preparing to become world changers in villages.
  • 33 teachers in Java.
  • 30 teachers in the remote mountains of Southeast Asia.
  • 6 teachers in an outreach center in Java.
  • 8 teachers serving in a kindergarten.
  • 29 teachers in 3 schools located in a village along the K River.
  • 40 part-time teachers in Borneo.
  • A pastor and his wife who have dedicated themselves to teach in a remote village where Mustard Seed has opened a school.
  • Support for a widow who was left alone to raise her 5 children.
  • The rent to keep a kindergarten rolling forward, and a new 6-year contract for a kindergarten that serves 32 children.
  • The materials for 3-day training for 35 teachers on an Eastern island.
  • A youth center in Java that provides discipleship for 461 teenagers on 8 campuses, and CEC which provides discipleship materials and homework assistance to 55 children.
  • The tuition, food and other expenses for 50 abandoned or orphaned children in Seeds of Hope Children’s Home.

You can’t tell the story of Mustard Seed International without dropping a few names.

Lillian Dickson aka ‘Typhoon Lil’

I was interested in knowing more about Lillian Dickson (1901-1983) mainly because she was a huge influence on Bob Pierce who founded World Vision. In a section about her, Pierce’s daughter Marilee Dunker writes:

It is fair to say that my dad met his match when he was introduced to Lillian Dickson in 1953 on a visit to Taiwan (then called Formosa). Her willingness to take on human need wherever she found it reaffirmed my father’s own conviction that God will do impossible things when we don’t put limits on Him. Their lifelong partnership would bring thousands to Christ and become one of the enduring cornerstones of World Vision’s ministry.

The story of the diminutive founder of Mustard Seed International is all the more remarkable in that Lillian came to Formosa in the 1920s as a missionary’s wife. Her husband, Jim Dickson, was the “official” missionary in the family, and his bride devoted the early years to their children and home.

But when the kids got older, Lillian decided she wasn’t going to “sit out her life.” With Jim’s blessing, she packed up her Bible and her accordion and began hiking with a team of medical missionaries into the most remote areas of Taiwan. They went where neither modern medicine nor the hope of the gospel had ever reached.

During the next 30 years, “Typhoon Lil” (as she was affectionately named after surviving a particularly savage storm) walked thousands of miles, fearlessly wading through rushing rivers, crossing dangling wooden bridges, and facing down angry witch-doctors and headhunters. She slept, ate, laughed, and cried with the tribal people she loved, and every day God trusted her with new needs and a bigger vision…

Lillian Dickson earns a detailed page at Wikipedia and Pierce interviewed Dickson; the video is posted at Vimeo. While the organization looks to the future, ‘Typhoon Lil’ is an inextricable part of MSI’s history.

Paul Richardson – Missions runs in the family

The other name that’s inescapable in the MSI story is Paul Richardson, International Director. Paul is the son of iconic missionary Don Richardson, whose book Peace Child is both a powerful story and the textbook on a particular aspect of missions and evangelism called contextualization.

A 2010 story in The Christian Post tells the story of Paul and his wife Cynthia:

As Richardson and his family began to settle down in Compton, Calif., he and his wife received a calling from God and they were led to return to his hometown, a small village in Southeast Asia.

They arrived in the Muslim-majority country to find a generation “as lost as you can imagine.”

“HIV/AIDS is spreading there more rapidly than almost anywhere in the world, a lot of the streets and cities are ruled by violent gangs, there’s a tremendous amount of drug abuse and alcoholism and there is illiteracy, a lack of skills,” said Richardson, director of Mustard Seed Southeast Asia.

But what was most shocking upon returning to the land where his parents served was the extent to which the society had fallen to within two generations.

“During the 1960s to 1970s there were as many as 1,400 missionaries who moved there… As an adult I have a chance to go back to that same island … and what I see there, to be completely truthful, has been very shocking to me.”

In the same article he provided a reason why MSI chooses to work in education as opposed to traditional mission modes:

“In missions we are responsible to do far more than just start churches but we are to unleash a movement of discipleship in the young and instill this as a core value in the hearts and the minds of anyone who chooses to follow Jesus,” he stressed.

Mustard Seed Southeast Asia is currently involved with approximately 3,000 children across the region, working with indigenous leaders, other local teachers and the government to equip and mentor them with hopes they will rise up as the future leaders of the world.

The school has attracted teachers from all the over country to participate in training programs.

“We have increasing influence in education methods among many teachers and just helping to set them free as teachers and discover God’s creativity in the classroom,” Richardson explained.

Our lunch meeting ended all too soon. Nothing I write here can capture the passion that Craig and Lucie have for this work. MSI is not an organization on the tip of everyone’s tongue, but I hope that with this article, by raising awareness, I can motivate some of you to pray and as God leads, give to support this work.


If you are among the givers and are looking to support a new project or cause, let me encourage you to connect with MSI using the following links. MSI is both EFCA (USA) and (CCCC) Canada approved.


TPT Matt.13.31 Then Jesus taught them another parable: “Heaven’s kingdom realm can be compared to the tiny mustard seed that a man takes and plants in his field. 32 Although the smallest of all the seeds, it eventually grows into the greatest of garden plants, becoming a tree for birds to come and build their nests in its branches.”


This article was voluntary on my part and was not requested or expected by MSI.

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1 Comment »

  1. […] We’re returning today to another excerpt from the 2010 Zondervan book, A Certain Risk: Living Your Faith at the Edge, by Paul Richardson. Paul is the son of missionary Don Richardson. To learn more, check out a story we did at Thinking Out Loud on Mustard Seed International. […]

    Pingback by God As a Thriving Artist | Christianity 201 — June 2, 2018 @ 5:34 pm


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