Engage Magazine Article : July 30, 2012
Since early 2008, Ray and Becki Neu have served as missionaries in Belize, Central America, located in the English Field of the Mesoamerica Region. Ray trains pastors for the Church of the Nazarene, taking them through all of the 30 courses mandated for the educational requirement toward ordination. He currently teaches in two locations in Belize and establishes training centers in other parts of the country.
In addition, Ray has discovered and established Bible storytelling as a means of oral training, which is a means of not only delivering God’s Word, but capturing people’s attention and turning them into storytellers who repeat what they have learned.
As mission vice president at Grove City Nazarene, Grove City, Ohio, Ray, along with Becki, led more than two dozen trips to various countries, mostly through Work & Witness. As outreach pastor at Seashore Community Church of the Nazarene in Cape May, New Jersey, that trend continued and added six more trips.
Ray and Becki have four daughters and six grandchildren.
Engage: How did you first recognize God’s call to be involved in missions?
Ray: While a student at Moody Bible Institute, I was strongly impressed with the need for missions work worldwide. Although not able to go on trips myself, at that time, I immediately began sending teens from my youth group, supporting and promoting missions at every opportunity.
The Scriptural call to “Go!” is a mandate that stirs me every time I encounter it, whether in print, audio, video or person-to-person. It feels like it is imprinted in my DNA. Which, considering our Creator, would not surprise me!
Engage: What is your favorite aspect of what you do in your present assignment?
Ray: I get to spend time investing in and pouring into the lives of those who are shaping Belize. The time I spend preparing not only makes for better classes, but makes for better pastors. The pastors and students are precious people, many of whom have and are living with incredible struggles and challenges, yet are happy and determined to serve the Lord. So many times, I feel that my contribution is so small. Yet when I receive a handwritten note from one of the pastors expressing their heart’s gratitude for what I am doing for them, I realize that it is not so small to them.
Just this week, a pastor who I am training to become a teacher of pastors shared an encouraging story. He has also become one of our Bible storytellers, using that method to teach others. He had taught a particular Old Testament story some months ago that really stuck in the heart and mind of one Catholic young man who had been coming. This fellow, whom we will call “Juan,” had come for a while, then disappeared and finally returned. Juan shared that while he was “away” from the group, something happened that made him realize how much he learned by participating in the Bible storytelling sessions.
Juan had met another man, and while neither knew if the other was a Christian, they started a conversation. The newcomer ended up basically “preaching a message” to the pastor’s friend. Juan was surprised to hear that it was one of the stories he had learned through Bible storytelling. He also realized that he knew much more about this story than what the other man shared. So after his new friend had finished, Juan began asking questions to pry into the story a bit more. This method is what makes Bible storytelling so successful. It had the same effect on Juan’s new friend, as in the course of time, tears began flowing down the man’s face. He said that he realized that Juan had so much to teach him and he was so grateful for being shown in such a gentle way that there was much more to learn.
So Juan came back to the Bible storytelling group eager to learn more, now that he had experienced firsthand how easy it was to pass along to others.
Engage: What are some of the challenges that you face in carrying out your work?
Ray: The biggest challenge is adequate communication. I KNOW that I need to communicate at a level that is appropriate to my listeners, yet I still fail to meet the mark so often. Theological words and concepts are difficult to simplify sometimes. English is the official language here in Belize, but it is not the heart language of most people
A huge eye-opener occurred in one of the teaching locations when I suggested that some basic English classes might be of benefit. This was met with such enthusiasm that my wife came the next week to assess the adult students. After an hour of this, she asked a question that shook me to my core. Becki asked the class to show on the blackboard how many of her words they actually understood and to make a mark between 0 and 10, 10 being that they understood everything she said. Understand that Becki had been speaking in about a 3rd grade U.S. standard level. The class indicated that they understood between 80-90% of the words Becki had used.
Then she asked, “How many of the words do you understand when Pastor Ray is teaching?” I fought back hot tears as the results clearly showed that they could only understand between 20-30% of the words I used during teaching.
I have fought to adapt our teaching materials, the words I use, and even the methods of teaching ever since that day. Bible storytelling has become one of the most effective tools to help bridge this huge and vital gap.
Engage: Please share a story of a significant event or moment that has happened in your current assignment.
Ray: Again, just this week, two students shared that in their church plant, a young woman just gave her life to Christ after discussing the story of Zacchaeus and Jesus and Nicodemus. The students had learned Bible storytelling from me and had chosen to use it almost exclusively in this new church plant. They have seen wonderful responses from people whom others consider very difficult to reach. The stories of God’s Word are working. They are having the impact and accomplishing the purposes for which God is sending them.
Engage: How do you maintain a close relationship with God and your family in the midst of the demands of missionary service?
Ray: First things first. My personal rule is that I cannot leave the house, or begin a day’s work without first spending time in God’s Word. I am useless without it. I have nothing to give and no stamina for myself. I am like a vehicle without fuel. So, first thing every day, is to fill my own fuel tank with whatever spiritual nourishment the Spirit wants to lead me into for that day.
I believe that the Spirit of God knows what lies ahead in my day and can send me to the exact scripture I need for that day. So I read whatever portion(s) of Scripture the Spirit seems to indicate, then I anticipate that it will be of use at some point during that same day.
My wife and I live in the jungle. We are literally separated from most other people. This solitude makes for great study time, and causes us to lean on each other more. We have no TV, or noisy neighbors or many distractions, so it is easier to focus on each other.
Engage: What are the rewards of what you do?
Ray: Seeing the pastors engage more fully in ministry. Seeing them taking steps of growth, being able to baptize, serve communion, lead others to Christ. Seeing the light in their eyes and the conviction in their voices as they share that something they learned in class really worked when they put it to use in their village.
Graduation is another. Each year, we get to see another group complete their studies. This remained an elusive dream for so many people for so many years. Now that it is a reality, it brings a special depth of reward all its own.
Another reward is hearing people talk so excitedly about the things they discover through Bible storytelling! It truly opens people’s eyes, minds and hearts to finding so many things they did not realize about the stories God has given us. This is hugely motivating to continue this work.
Engage: What are some aspects of the culture where you live that you have come to love or embrace?
Ray: It’s hard not to enjoy the laid-back attitude of the Caribbean. Broken things will get fixed. Difficult tasks will be accomplished. Things may not always happen in a “timely” manner by North American standards, but they will most likely happen.
As Belize is also blessed with several different cultures, it is easy to flow in and out of these and feel completely at ease. It is a beautiful reminder of the grace that God has woven into the people He created.
Engage: What do you like to do for fun?
Ray: Read. My wife and I are avid readers. Nearly any kind of book will do, but I love to read about missions and reports of what God is doing around the world. We also enjoy the beach, although we rarely get the time. When we do, we can be serious beach bums.
Engage: What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
Ray: I don’t talk much. I know that those who listen to me teach class for eight hours a day may have a hard time believing that, but it could well be that I use up all my words in class. By the time it is over, I’m ready to be a clam and keep my mouth shut!
Engage: What advice would you have for others exploring a possible call to missions, or embarking on their first missionary assignment?
Ray: GO! Enjoy yourself. Eat the food. Relax. Learn some local words. Concentrate on making friends. Everything else comes along as you do.
When you go swimming, you intend to get IN the water. It is the same with missions and cross-cultural experiences. Get IN the water! The quickest ways to make friends, earn respect and enough trust to be able to share the message on your heart, is to accept the people, the culture and the food. People always connect with food.
Jesus said, “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you.” Following that single piece of advice has brought a lot of people close.
Engage: Other comments?
Ray: Thank you to those who pray for us. Seriously. We KNOW your prayers sustain us. Becki and I have seen firsthand and, at times, “felt” the very real impact of prayers, even as if they were an arm around our shoulders at times. Please do not stop praying for us!
Please pray for the ongoing efforts to develop Bible storytelling training and tools that will further expand this method globally. Pray especially for the Leaders’ Audio Bible that is nearing completion. These carefully chosen 186 Bible Stories comprise a basic Bible college. The truths and treasures in each story build on each other to develop each listener into a leader, who can develop others in their local context.
Jesus said, “Look to the fields, they are white for the harvest. Pray for the Lord of the harvest to send more workers into His harvest fields.”
I believe this will create many more workers for a global harvest. It is my prayer that the Leaders’ Audio Bible will train people in many nations who will become and then make “Christlike disciples in the nations.”