It has been a while since I blogged! Part of the reason for the long gap is that I just returned last Saturday from a 10-day trip to equip leaders in the house church in East Asia. What an experience. This is my second year in a row to travel to the same country in East Asia to work with house church leaders in newly urban areas. After our work last year, the leader of this church-planting movement (CPM) felt like our equipping was helpful enough that he invited us to join him again this year for a conference with his city-leaders. It was a honor to be invited back to share what God has been teaching us as we participate in a church-planting movement in Greater Austin.
Now, when I say “conference” don’t picture in your mind a large conference in the United States with video screens and lights and smoke and sound systems. Imagine 15 leaders packed into a two-bedroom apartment living room that might have been 8 feet wide and 20 feet long (160 sq ft.) listening to one of our founding elders, Patrick, and I talk about a biblical vision for a city, and the work of multiplying disciples, multiplying churches, and multiplying movements. We were taken directly to this apartment in City #1 once we arrived by train, and we were not allowed to leave that apartment for 72 hours, for fear that we would draw unnecessary attention to our training sessions. There is a first time for everything, and this was the first time I had spend 72 hours in a small two-bedroom apartment on the 31st floor of an apartment building. Let’s just say we were ready to go for a walk after those three days!
So what did we learn this year? Or more accurately, what did God remind us of while we were overseas? A few thoughts immediately come to mind:
1. We must continually ask God to soften our hearts toward people. This planet is full of so many people. The numbers can be staggering (the UN estimates we will exceed 7 billion this weekend), and the sight of densely populated urban areas can also be overwhelming. How can I (or we) have an impact when there are so many people that need to be reached? We must guard our hearts against growing callous toward people of different cultures and languages, but we must also guard our hearts against growing hard toward the masses of people who don’t know Jesus Christ. The Bible teaches us that God loves every single person we meet. God knows their name, and He is writing their story. He desires for each one of them to know His Son, Jesus Christ. Do you and I desire the same? I think I prayed every day while I was away, “God, help me to see people the way you see people.” Because my flesh wants to see the crowds and not the individuals, and my flesh feels like they are an inconvenience, not a gift from God. So we must ask God to give us a soft heart for the people He created in His image, the ones that He sent His Son to rescue.
2. The world continues to shrink. By this statement, I simply mean that it continues to amaze me how the global cities of our world are much more similar to each other than you might think. While every people-group has unique characteristics, university-educated, internet-connected city-dwellers around the world are influenced by the same culture-makers that influence us. In East Asia, half-way around the planet, people eat at McDonald’s and KFC, listen to Lady Gaga and Justin Beiber, watch Transformers 3 and Harry Potter. They play and work on iPads, drive BMWs and Fords, and watch the stock-market. My point is simply this: culture-makers don’t just influence their own culture anymore – they also impact the worldwide youth culture. In this way, Western missionaries that understand global urban culture can really communicate with people in any global city around the world.
3.We must go to others as Jesus has come to us. Jesus sends us into the world in the same way that the Father sent Him into the world (see John 20:21). Jesus’ incarnation is the model for our missionary-work. Jesus came from heaven to earth, stepping out of his culture to come into our culture – his perfection coming into our broken, sinful world. If we are to be people of incarnation, we don’t wait for people to come to us. We got to them. Traveling to a different part of the world is challenging and learning to function in a different culture can be disorienting. But Christians are called to go to others because God has come to us. Our good news tells the story of a missionary God who comes to those without hope. How can we be messengers of that story unless we do the same?
4. We have a lot to learn. Mission work is life-changing not only for those who receive the message, but also life-changing for those who take the message. I always learn so much from those I go to serve. From our brothers and sisters, I learn about having strong faith in God in the midst of opposition, about maintaining a fervent prayer life, and about giving powerful witness to the work of Jesus Christ. From doing evangelism in a different culture, I learn about doing evangelism in my own culture. From helping other movement leaders think strategically about reaching their cities, I learn about thinking strategically about my own city. My point is this: we need to do missions with boldness and humility – realizing that we have much to share and much to learn along the way.
I have many individual stories to share from the trip, but would rather do that in person for security reasons.
In closing, I would ask you to pray for the worldwide mission of the church. Our brothers and sisters in Christ are laboring in some very difficult situations and need our prayers. May God strengthen His church by His Spirit to take the gospel to every person on the earth.