Tom and Lynn Suchy serve with ReachGlobal. They lived in Mongolia from 1993 to 2019. Today they live in Lakeland, Fla., and Tom is part of the Global Equipping team that serves as a catalyst and partner in church planting and multiplication around the world. The Suchys are among the dozens of missionaries with whom First Free Rockford partners.
Tom will visit First Free this Sunday morning, April 16. Anyone can stop and say hello between services in the Fireside Room. Meantime, we spoke recently with him about his work, international missions and the role of the American church.
You mentioned that Lynn’s health made it necessary for you to move back to the U.S. Otherwise would you still be in Mongolia?
I used to always tell the Mongolians when they would ask me how long I was going to be there — they saw missionaries coming and going all the time — I learned a phrase that means “I will put my bones here. I’m not leaving.” And that really was my heart, my intentions. But I always knew there could be reasons the Lord would want us to leave and return to the States. My wife’s health was a good reason.
We continue to have some roles in ministry to Mongolians. Lynn continues to work on a book on how the word “Buddha” came to be used in Mongolian Bible translations. We continue to operate a business there called Bubbling Springs, managed by Mongolians.
Moving back to the U.S. must have been strange for you both after living in Mongolia so long.
Your identity gets so connected to a place and your work there. So transition was tough. I still value missionary longevity. I value people going to a culture and really taking the time and making the effort to learn the language and culture before they are real active in proclaiming the gospel. Trying to contextualize Scripture.
It’s interesting that you mention identity. We’re entering a sermon series on that topic. Can the connection to place and work become a pitfall for missionaries?
It can be if it’s an identity that supersedes your identity in Christ and ultimately your obedience to the Lord and wanting to please him supremely. But not in a sense of effectiveness and ability to be responsible in our mission’s effort. It almost necessitates becoming like them and connecting with them to where you really feel like you know the people and they know you and they trust you. You build those relationships.
And so when you identify with a place and a people, you can really start to minister to them and start having wisdom to know how to help them think through how to apply the truth. … If you don’t know the language and culture, it’s really hard to speak into lives effectively.
What does it look like for you now that you are not working in one place for a very long time, but you still bring that mindset?
When I was making the transition, I told my potential supervisor that I really wanted to limit my focus to a few places rather than to be stretched so thin that I’m not going to be able to get adequate, quality time in places. He agreed to that, and has encouraged me in that effort.
And what we are trying to do in any missions endeavor is equip the nationals so they are able to do the work in their power. They are the ones we are investing in, for them to carry on the work. And that doesn’t happen quickly. There needs to be investment of relationship to help our partners along through the process.
What are some of the spiritual needs in Rwanda, where you’ve been traveling for the past couple of years?
It has a lot of Catholic churches. Anglican churches are pretty prevalent. There are a lot of charismatic, Pentecostal churches and there’s a lot of prosperity gospel. So you’ve got a lot of people in Rwanda who have heard some version of the gospel and have responded in some fashion. They are aware of Christianity in some form, whereas in Mongolia that just hasn’t been the case.
The connection or similarity (to Mongolia) would be the animism. Even though there is a prevalence of more Christian forms there in Rwanda, there is still a lot of superstition and a lot of animistic belief in spirits and the influence of spirits.
About the only thing most Americans would know about Rwanda is the 1990s genocide. Obviously we’re a generation past that. What is the culture like today?
The government has made people afraid to not identify themselves as Rwandans and no longer refer to themselves as Hutus or Tutsis. So there’s at least outward conformity that’s created by a very strong, totalitarian government. Which has created a veneer of peace. But whether that’s really a heart change and if there’s been real reconciliation remains to be seen. Most people would say it hasn’t.
But I think there have been some good changes. The government has done what it has needed to do to get control and to stop the killings. The economy is growing. It’s a very clean country now.
What are the biggest challenges with your new role in Global Equipping?
I think the biggest challenge is in the area of financing, how our money from the West is used in a way that doesn’t create dependency, doesn’t create rice Christians — people who are involved with Christianity for a paycheck — and that doesn’t disrespect nationals and their abilities or keep them from taking ownership.
We don’t want to undermine their dignity in what we do with our finances, but there are ways to use finances that can really be helpful at the right times for the right things with the right people. It just requires a lot of discernment and wisdom.
How do you see that playing out in Rwanda?
I am at a point where there’s got to be a plan in place with the Rwandans to know how they are going to be funding their church planting efforts. Not how they’re going to get funding from us, but how they are going to fund it, and how that gets tied into the strategy. When people are empowered they have a sense of ownership, they have a vision and they are motivated to use their own resources and to contribute to the work of Christ. It creates a really powerful testimony and effectiveness.
What can an evangelical, Midwestern church like ours learn from your experiences?
We must not lose sight of Christ’s call to continue to proclaim the gospel and to continue to make disciples and see new groups of believers form. That work is still before us and we must not let that go. I think it’s the primary work that Christ calls us to. It’s easy to grow slack in that. The church needs to be proactively, intentionally seeking to grow mature disciples and see disciples multiply and be active in doing that.
Of course, churches vary in how actively they are doing that — how much they actually have that vision in their hearts. Some churches really are aware of that and are praying about that and are active in growing disciples. But a lot of churches aren’t. They are ingrown and siloed and just focusing on themselves.
So for a church in the Midwest, it’s maintaining that vision and continuing to value the work of missionaries and people who are really focused on that effort in various capacities. Being supportive of those people and praying for them. And then as a church, cultivating a vision for continuing to multiply disciples, even in your own Jerusalem and Judea. I just think it’s critical. When a church has that vision locally, they’re also going to be concerned about what’s happening internationally.
So good to hear this personal update on your ministry. You are spot on in having nationals seek how to have their church supported locally – giving them ownership and accountability. I had never heard the term “Rice Christian” before, but I have seen that take place – and it’s not a good way to spread the gospel. We are praying for your ministry.