Dr. Richard Hopper's Story
When Dr. Richard Hopper arrived in the village of Katse, Lesotho, he was prepared to talk shop about farm animals and share his testimony about Jesus. He was not expecting to have to devise a plan to keep the cows from contracting anthrax. But as he looked out at the cattle owners and shepherds gathered in the orphan care center, the men nodded in agreement as their neighbor explained that that was exactly what they needed.
The trip to the small country of Lesotho was not Richard’s first time on a mission trip, so he had some idea about what things would be like upon arrival. He admits that he was a little nervous joining the small team going to Lesotho, which included his son McRae. It had been almost 40 years since his last foreign mission trip, but he wasn't too worried.
“Cow people are the same all over the world,” he said, with a chuckle.
With nearly 40 years of professional service, Dr. Richard Hopper is highly sought after to speak at numerous meetings all over the globe. He has contributed to numerous publications, has made tremendous contributions to the College of Veterinary Medicine at MSU, and has received a handful of awards, including the 2016 Theriogenologist of the Year.
I know theriogenologist is a big word! It refers to the branch of veterinary medicine concerned with animal reproduction and everything that goes along with it, and it happens to be Richard’s field of expertise. In fact, he helped write the textbook on it, literally.
It is this particular set of skills and knowledge that Richard used on the mission trip to make gospel connections. For two days out of their short trip, Richard met with local cattle owners and shepherds in the small village of Katse, gathering with them in the orphan care center to answer their questions and share how he came to know Christ. For many of these men, it was the first time they had stepped foot in the orphan care center, which doubles as a church for the village.
“The women in the community were highly involved, but the men rarely, if ever, came to the church,” Richard said, before segueing into a story from a time when he served in a church as a young man. It was there, helping a few of the older men set up for their monthly men’s breakfast, that he learned how important it is for men to be a part of their local church. “If Dad comes to church," one of the older church members told Richard, "then the family will all come.”
For Richard, getting these cattle owners and shepherds into the church was not only a matter for their spiritual health, but also for the health of their community. In a culture where teenage boys are sent alone into the wilderness to become men, where brute strength and violence are the markers of masculinity, the need for strong, Godly men in the church was all the more apparent. Therefore, Richard gathered in the orphan care center with the pastor and two interpreters, listening as these shepherds described the symptoms and ailments afflicting their animals, plumbing the depths of Richard’s knowledge for any answers he might have.
If you sit and talk with Richard for any length of time, one of the main things you will notice about him is a humility not often found in someone with his accomplishments. I asked Richard what stood out to him the most during his time in Lesotho, and particularly with these cattle owners. Surprisingly, it was not the announcement that they had a problem with their cows contracting anthrax, and subsequently passing it on to the people in the village after they consumed the slaughtered cow. That was an immediate need Richard was able to provide an immediate solution to, although he jokes that he had to remember back to things he learned in his second year of college to answer some of their questions.
No, what stood out to Richard the most was the knowledge the cattle owners and shepherds had of their animals. While they were not able to articulate what specific disease or ailment their animal had, they could see when things were not right and could articulate the symptoms because they know their animals so well. Richard describes it as a sort of "aha!" moment, one that brings with it an insight that applies to how we should think of mission work in general.
The importance of listening to local people talk about local problems cannot be overlooked, especially in mission work. Our goal isn't to go into a foreign church or village and try to apply American solutions to local issues or turn those places into America. "Often what is good advice here in America doesn't necessarily match with what they are dealing with," Richard says. "You have to help people where they're at."
As we finished up, I asked Richard if he had some advice for anyone wanting to get involved with missions. "I think it is important to remember that the mission field is not just other places, like Lesotho or Colombia," he says, looking like a father getting ready to give an impassioned speech. "It is also our workplaces and communities. What I did in Lesotho looks different from what I do at home on a daily basis, but it is all in the mission field."
We also need to stop thinking that mission work is only reserved for the people who come forward and say they are surrendering their lives to the mission field or that God is calling them to be missionaries. The truth is, as Richard points out, that when we become Christ-followers, we all "surrender" ourselves to his service.
We are all missionaries, and we are all uniquely equipped by God to reach the people in our local communities, as well as far-away places. Your unique passions and desires, your circumstances and experiences, those are things God has used to get you to where you are now so that you might influence the people around you. The skills and knowledge that you have picked up along the way can be used in the mission field, whether that is Starkville or Lesotho.
Richard was able to use his training to reach out and make gospel connections with a group of cattle owners and shepherds who had otherwise been overlooked. What skills and abilities do you have that you can use for God's mission?