I’ve been in Goma (Democratic Republic of the Congo) teaching a course to 23 students, both pastors and lay persons. What a city this is! They say that 150 non-governmental organizations (charities) have set-up shop in this dusty town that lies in the shadow of active volcanoes. As my driver has shuttled me back-and-forth to class over the bumpy roads, I’ve often wondered how my life would have been different if I was born here instead of the United States.
Though I’ve lived in Africa at various times – cumulatively for 12 years – I don’t pretend to know everything there is to know about this amazing continent. First of all, there is no such thing as “African culture.” Africa is a big place, and sub-Saharan Africa has many cultures.
In Paul Hiebert’s book, Anthropological Insights for Missionaries, he outlines 14 characteristics of a Western missionary’s worldview. These formed the basis for one of my class lectures. Since turn-about is fair play – and effective adult education – I gave my Congolese students a homework assignment. “Imagine” I said “that you were sent as a missionary to Brooklyn, New York. Make a list of five characteristics about Congolese culture where you live that these Americans would need to know about you.
Storms don’t exist only in the physical realm; they are also a spiritual reality. The Church is like a ship. As we take on passengers who were adrift, lost and perishing in their sin, the enemy of our souls will do his best to stir up “storms,” anything to impede our progress and keep us from our primary mission. If possible, he’d love to sink the ship!
Indeed, the apostle Paul compared false teachings to dangerous high winds. In Ephesians 4:14, he warns against being “blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (NIV). But how can this be avoided? Verse 13 gives the answer. We must be both unified and mature, a result of the “knowledge of the Son of God.”
Sadly, knowledge of the basics of true Christian faith is often lacking, making the unsuspecting vulnerable to false teaching. When visiting recently with one of our Nazarene church leaders in an African country, I asked: “What is the greatest challenge our church faces in your country?” It only took a few seconds of reflection before he replied: “The prosperity message.” He was concerned that this false idea was destroying churches, disillusioning people by promising them great riches. When the promised return never comes, they tend not to blame the charlatan who pockets their money but the God who they think let them down. They become inoculated to the genuine Gospel, a version of the old proverb: “Once burned, twice shy.” The “high wind” of false teaching can carry away those who are not properly anchored in sound doctrine.
What do you think of when you hear the term “world Christian?” According to David Bryant in his article, “To Be a World Christian,” the term was first coined by Daniel Fleming in his 1920 YMCA book, Marks of a World Christian. Bryant described a “World Christian” as one who is driven to “reach out with God’s love to the ends of the earth.” Because there is a “Gap” between God’s purpose for humankind and the fulfillment of that purpose, the World Christian will re-orient his or her life to help close that Gap. Bryant observed:
Some World Christians are missionaries who stand in the Gap by physically crossing major human barriers (cultural, political, etc.) to bring the Gospel to those who can hear no other way. But every Christian is meant to be a World Christian, whether you physically “go”,or stay at home to provide the sacrificial love, prayers, training, money, and quality of corporate life that backs the witness of those who “go.”
The history of missions in the Church of the Nazarene is filled with stories of men and women who stood in the gap. Some of the personalities are well known and loom large, names such as Harmon Schmelzenbach and Esther Carson Winans. Others are merely a footnote, but each has the common element of answering the call from Isaiah 6:8: “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” To this Isaiah answered: “Here am I! Send me!” (v.9).
Take a minute and think about the “typical Christian.” Where do they live? How old are they? Are they male or female? If you’re like many Westerners, you probably thought of a middle-aged white man living in Nashville, Tennessee or London, England. According to the missions website, “The Traveling Team” (www.thetravelingteam.org), that description would have been accurate in 1907, but in 2007, just one hundred years later, the portrait has drastically changed. The “typical Christian” is now black, African, female, and around the age of 28!
Philip Jenkins in The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, traces this shift in Christianity’s center of gravity to what he calls the “Global South.” If current trends continue, Christian churches found in Western countries like the United States, France, Italy and the United Kingdom will see further decline, in part due to low birth rates and strong secular trends. At the same time, a rising tide of conversions to Christ and higher birthrates on three continents – Africa, Asia and Latin/South America – means that Christianity will continue the explosive growth that began in the 20th century. By 2025, Jenkins estimates that there will be 2.6 billion Christians in the world. Of this figure, 66% will be living in the Global South. Likewise, by 2050, for every two Muslims worldwide, there will be three Christians (Jenkins, 2-3, 6).
“If you take missions out of the Bible, there is little left but the covers.” This statement from Nina Gunter captures a central theme in Scripture, the theme of the Church moving out into the world in response to the missio Dei, the “mission of God.” Indeed, all that we do cross-culturally in the name of “missions” arises out of our understanding of God’s “mission.” God’s mission refers to God’s plan through Christ to save all of creation but especially the peoples of the world that are creation’s crowning achievement.
Because of the missio Dei, the Church moves out in missions. We do missions in a variety of ways, from preaching to teaching, compassionate ministry among the poor and oppressed and medical work with the sick and dying. But whatever form missions takes, we will not be able to sustain the work over the long-term if we lose sight of the reason why we send missionaries.
Theologians from various Christian traditions have emphasized different aspects of God’s mission. In this lesson, we will look at three biblical themes that apply to a Wesleyan view of mission: God as loving and holy, prevenient grace, and the need for humans to respond to God’s salvation offer. By looking at these themes, we will be reminded of the rationale for the sacrifices we make as a church. In times of discouragement and economic hardship, we will be encouraged to keep giving of our prayers, time and resources.
As a child, I used to sing a course in children’s church. It had some fun motions that went along with it:
Deep and wide,
Deep and wide
There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide.
Don’t get hung up on the meaning of the words. I’m not sure what the “fountain” was, perhaps a reference to William Cowper’s creepy lyric: “There is fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins.”
Yet as ironically shallow as “Deep and Wide” seems in retrospect, it’s a good description of what the church ought to be. If we’re only “wide” (and not deep), people will go elsewhere. On the other hand, if we’re only “deep” (and not wide), we may end up as the church of “us four and no more,” as if being small in number somehow makes us holier. The challenge is to be good at both, inviting people in and taking them to the next level in their walk with Christ.
How would you fill in this blank: “If I had to ________, I would really be roughing it!”
Sometimes the view we have of missionaries is a 1908 view, of Harmon Schmelzenbach piloting his covered wagon across swollen streams and rugged hills, taking the Gospel message to the Swazi people. Tied up with that picture is a rural view, of being far away from so-called “civilization” and enduring the hardships of missionary life.
Don’t get me wrong. There are still missionaries who live far away from population centers, but more and more missionaries are going where the people are going, and that is to the cities. Rapid urbanization is one of the amazing facts of life on planet earth at the beginning of the 21st century, as this montage so graphically depicts.
One would be tempted to think that the migration to the cities means an easier way of life for most people, that electricity would be readily available, fresh drinking water abundant and good sanitation a given. This is simply not the case. In Nairobi, Kenya, a city of roughly 3.1 million people, many residents only have a couple hours of electricity per day. Others must walk a good distance carrying plastic containers to draw clean water from a distant tap or bore hole, enough for the day’s drinking, cooking and washing.
How can we privileged Westerners who rarely face such a grind of daily living identify with those for whom life is much tougher?
When it comes to knowing Christ, are you tired of splashing around in the kiddie pool? This year, if you want to dive deeper in your Christian experience, pick up a copy of The Heavenly Man (Monarch Books, 2002).
This story by Paul Hattaway of Asia Harvest Mission chronicles the tribulations and victories of Chinese evangelist Liu Zhenying, better known as Brother Yun. The title of the book comes from his first arrest by Chinese authorities. As he was be being interrogated and beaten, they asked him where he was from. Pastor Zhenying shouted: “I am a heavenly man!” For his refusal to stop preaching the gospel, Brother Yun was locked away on three occasions, spending years in prison. Many of his guards came to faith in Christ, as did other prisoners. During his first stint in prison, he refused to eat or drink, laying immobile for 74 days. While that appears medically impossible, who are we to discount what God can do? In the same vein is Yun’s miraculous escape from prison, reminiscent of Peter in the Book of Acts.
There are several “take aways” after reading The Heavenly Man:
1. Memorize the Word of God. Often, Brother Yun was locked away by himself with no Bible. He had to rely upon what he had committed to memory. How well would we as Western Christians fare if the only Scripture portions we had were what was in our head?
I stepped onto a Boeing 737 headed for South Africa, admiring its sleek design and powerful engines. “What would Wilbur and Orville Wright have thought of this bird?” I asked my missionary colleague. In a little over 100 years, aviation has changed massively. Yet despite the changes, some things have stayed the same. The same aeronautic principles that allowed the Wright brothers to float just above the beach at Kitty Hawk also lifted us thousands of feet into the air.
As with aviation, so it is with world missions. Amidst changes in how we carry out the mission, some principles have stayed the same. This is the message of Franklin Cook and five other veteran Nazarene missionary writers in the collection, Vista: The Changing Face of Nazarene Missions (Beacon Hill Press, 2009). Church planting movements and creative access missions are two of the new things that God is doing. Yet getting these efforts off the ground and keeping them aloft requires the “old fashioned” practices of prayer, discipleship, giving and education.
Some may argue that church planting movements are as old as the book of Acts, yet God does seem to be outdoing himself these days. Howie Shute describes the contours of a Nazarene Church Planting Movement (CPM) in Ethiopia, an exciting move of the Holy Spirit in our time. Growth happens most rapidly where focus is upon multiplication rather than addition. Shute emphasizes the necessity of passing along the “right DNA,” which means preaching and living holiness, churches planting churches in rapid succession and using local resources to get the job done (p. 48).
Billy Graham peppered his sermons with the phrase, “The Bible says.” A direct appeal to the authority of the Christian Scriptures made sense when his listeners came from cultures that respected Christianity. But times are changing. Timothy Keller – pastor of an vibrant church of six thousand in multi-cultural Manhattan, New York – realizes that to reach an urban audience, today’s missionary must first clear away a pile of stumbling blocks. In The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (Riverhead Books, 2008), Keller addresses seven common doubts about Christian faith, followed by seven “reasons for faith.” At least three topics raised by Keller impact our theology of mission, namely, religious pluralism, hell, and the resurrection.
Many of Timothy Keller’s sophisticated New York City listeners would identify with what Wes Tracy called “the scandal of particularity.” In a world filled with many religions, how could Peter claim boldly concerning Jesus that “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, TNIV)? One student lamented to a panel of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim clerics: “We will never come to know peace on earth if religious leaders keep on making such exclusive claims!” (Reason for God, 4).