It's all about the mission at Van Dyke Church. • From working with at-risk kids to incarcerated teens to the homeless, the church strives to help every member embrace a mission that models their faith, according to pastor Rob Rose. • Its reach goes beyond local needs, however. Rose began traveling on mission trips in February 2010 and hasn't looked back. He travels to Tanzania, a country in southeastern Africa, and helps in any way that he and his group can. • He sat down with Tampa Bay Times staff writer Paul Driscoll to talk about his experiences on the mission trips and why servant leadership is so important to his church.
Tell me about some of your experiences during your trips.
Tanzania is still a very male-dominated culture. Power is held by the men. When I go to Tanzania to teach, I tell them I'm not here to teach them the Western way is better or the Tanzanian way is better. Rather I'm here to explore how, as pastors, we need to model to both cultures a radial way of leadership as shown by Jesus — servant leadership.
I teach the lesson wearing my best suit, covering the material in the training book and reading verses from the Bible. The participants all nod and agree. Then I take them out and circle them up. I find the youngest woman, usually a housecleaner or maid, and proceed to wash her feet. I then take my suit jacket and dry her feet. Every time I've done this illustration there is an audible gasp from the men. Here is a Western man washing the feet of a lowly servant girl and he is drying her dirty feet with his fine suit. It usually creates much discussion between the men as they realize they need to serve not only the men in their churches, but also the women.
Has this had an impact on the people?
What makes this a unique experience is what happened just two weeks ago. While I was in Tanzania, pastor Timothy, a leader in the Tanzanian Assembly of God church, told me he had copied me. Recently he had been invited to conduct an hourlong seminar on leadership for a regional meeting of Compassion International.
He said there wasn't a young lady so he selected the youngest guy in conference. He proceeded to wash his feet as he explained the need to kneel down and be servant leaders. He then took off his best suit coat and dried the young man's feet. The culturally reserved Tanzanians jumped to their feet and, in tears, cheered. Pastor Timothy had gotten "it" and now was sharing "it" with others. It was an incredible confirmation and blessing to hear this story.
Do you always do the same work or does it vary by trip and location?
The work does vary by trip. I represent Van Dyke Church by going to Tanzania twice a year. For one of the trips, I go with a small team of one or two other people from Van Dyke Church. We go at the invitation of a Tanzanian church at a national level. We work with the denomination's senior leadership and pastors to introduce concepts like transparent accounting, goal setting and servant leadership. We partner with Tanzanian nationals and co-teach the curriculum. The other trip tends to be more of a mission trip. Working at orphanages, building schools, micro-finance, this trip changes depending on the needs and varies in the number of participants. Just two weeks ago, I took a group of 13 Van Dykers to job shadow Tanzanians who use micro-finance.
What's been the most enjoyable part?
Enjoyable may not be the best word. I think the most rewarding part is when people live out their Christian faith. Whether it is here in Tampa Bay or Tanzania, when an individual stretches out of his or her comfort zone and does something they never would have done before because of their faith — wow, it is one of the most amazing things you can experience. It is such a gift to be with people when they realize they are being the light in a world that, often, can be very dark.
Can you explain what Vision Fund is and how it's impacting and helping so many people?
Vision Fund is the subsidiary of World Vision. World Vision is a high-integrity international charity that works with the poorest of the poor. Vision Fund was set up to create low-finance loans to people who live off $1 to $2 a day. Two years ago, Van Dyke Church decided they wanted to help women who live in Tanzania to escape the cycle of poverty. Though it isn't a panacea, micro-finance is a very powerful tool in accomplishing this goal. Last year, I met with Adrian Merryman, the CEO of Vision Fund Tanzania, and he and Joyce Temu, the vice president, set up an opportunity for women from Van Dyke Church to job shadow Tanzanian women who are participants with Vision Fund. This allowed for both cultures to learn a lot about each other and it has motivated the Americans to do more to try and help alleviate poverty.
What kind of work do you do for local residents in Tampa/Lutz?
At our core, the DNA of Van Dyke Church is to serve. We strongly believe that just meeting on Sunday and talking about faith doesn't allow a person to really experience everything the Bible teaches. To do this, a person needs to get out and get their hands dirty serving others and making a difference in their community — local or worldwide. Van Dyke is very invested in our local community.
In your spare time, what hobbies do you enjoy?
In my spare time I spend a lot of time wrestling with my two sons, Zach and Ben. Both have autism and my wife, Karen, and I enjoy laughing and loving up on them. I also enjoy reading and traveling.
Sunday Conversation is edited for brevity and clarity.