[To understand where I’m coming from in terms of Jesus, community and mission, please see my Blog ABOUT… respect to my followers who may not see these issues quite as I do, but let’s at least have an open mind and be prepared to think out of the box]
Recently I’ve been writing on the inward journey into true worship, now it’s time to contemplate the outward journey into a lost world (Jesus certainly believed it was/is: cf. Lk. ch. 15). Worship and witness are inseparable! Consider with me the passage related by the evangelist Mark where Jesus was healing a demon-possessed man (1) who had ‘bowed low before him’ on the far side of Lake Galilee: “As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. But Jesus said, ‘No, go home to your family, and tell them everything the Lord has done for you and how merciful he has been.’ So the man started off to visit the Ten Towns and began to proclaim the great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed at what he told them” (Mk. 5:1-20, especially v. 18-20/NLT). Another very obvious link between worship and witness is found in Jesus’ ‘Great Commission’ (Mt. 28:16-20). In some ways worship and witness could be compared to believers’ breathing IN and breathing OUT – and these in balanced rhythm. Put another way, we could speak of spiritual input and spiritual output. It’s a case of balance, which is often an elusive target, for me at least!
My esteemed missiology professor, Dr. Ralph Christensen, had the habit of asking his students ‘Where is God??’ After some vague guesses on the part of his students, he would respond ‘God is going into the world!’ The celebrated South African missiologist, Dr. David Bosch, often affirmed that ‘Missiology is the Mother of Theology.’
Recently my wife and I attended a missions prayer-breakfast with Mike Burnard of Dialogos (2). With his blessing I list some of the details he shared…
A) On Displaced People (recall Jesus’ refugee experience in N. Africa: cf. Mt. 2:7-23, 8:18-22). [Have you, or people you know, had such an experience as is happening in Afghanistan right now? I’ve been stranded in foreign countries for a few days once or twice, and that was traumatic enough!]:
- Approx. 82 million people around the world are displaced at this time, including 35 million children.
- Most refugees are currently fleeing Syria in the Middle East, S. Sudan and Somalia in Africa, Myanmar in the Far East, and Venezuela in South America.
- The tiny country of Lebanon, has hosted the most refugees per capita in the World: yes, they live in tents and humble conditions but at least they’re safe. Germany, under Angela Merkel, the daughter of a humble pastor with a heart for the needy, has taken in some 50,000 Syrian Muslim refugees and housed them. A spin-off is that Muslim converts are reviving ‘dead’ German congregations! (3)
- Mike Burnard has pointed out that while fleeing, these dear folk are most open to receiving the Good News of Jesus. Mike also left us with this pearl of wisdom: treat people like refugees and they will remain refugees – treat them as those made in God’s image and they become the children of God!
B) On Afghanistan.
- In many ways the hub of the Muslim world. Population: 39 million.
- The average age is 26. Many of these young adults have only known war in their life-time.
- We need to pray especially for women (hugely restricted), children and the aged.
- The only non-Muslim country bordering Afghanistan is China, with whom trade is cherished. You may have heard of ‘The Back to Jerusalem Movement’ mentioned by TIME journalist David Aikman in his ‘Jesus In Beijing,’ referring to Chinese believers’ desire to take the Good News ‘back to Jerusalem’ via the Muslim countries of the Middle East. Mike mentioned a Chinese pastor visiting Afghanistan who was invited to explain the meaning of Christianity to a class of school children. Praise God!
C) On Covid.
- The pandemic (4 million tragic deaths since March 2020: 38 million have now been vaccinated), among other things, has led to huge poverty and unemployment worldwide. What a ministry- opportunity for the Church in our day. In centuries past the saints were magnificent in serving plague-ridden societies, even when endangered themselves. Is. 6:8’s challenge is to one of obedience, ‘Here am I, send me!’ (Listen to the powerful song at the foot of the page)
D) On South Africa (Mike’s/my home country).
- 20% of the population suffers daily hunger. 10-20 children die of malnutrition every day.
- 33% are unemployed. In the Eastern Cape where I live it is nearer 40%!
- Many opportunities for evangelizing the nations are right on our doorstep, with refugees from Zimbabwe, Somalia and the Far East coming to South Africa.
The task of mission is not only for some believers, e.g. evangelists, ‘career missionaries,’ etc, but for EVERY ONE of us wherever God has placed us (cf. Paul’s sermon in Athens and specifically Acts 17:24-28). You and I as worshipers of the living God are called and privileged to humbly and obediently follow Jesus into his world!
NB. Part 2 considers a ‘must ask:’ what kind of Church is able to complete Christ’s Great Commission in these problematic and unparalleled days? What kind of Church can journey, with God, into his world?? Many are convinced that the traditional, institutional Church as we know her, can never get the job done. So many exciting things have happened since I researched this subject for a Master’s a decade ago. E.g. in Mongolia they’re now talking of establishing heavenly families – I like that immensely, because it all started with God’s divine family (the Trinity) and his first family on earth. Once more we need ‘new wine-skins’ (Mt. 9:16-17) for the application of ancient truth, a mixture of something very new and something very old. A few weeks ago the media reported that, because of global shipping problems, there has been a shortage of glass bottles, which in turn has affected the wine industry worldwide and in South Africa: hence wine has been sitting in barrels for longer, leading to it tasting ‘like a sawmill!’ (not that I would know the difference, lol). Join me for Part 2 soon…
(1) In my pastoral ministry of close on 50 years, I’ve been confronted with the demonic many times. My experience is not unique but is shared by thousands working on the front-line, especially in Africa, South America and the Far East. E.g. Dr. Michael Cassidy (Cambridge and Fuller graduate), head of African Enterprise for so many years, relates many occasions where he and his team were confronted with ‘evil supernaturalism’ during their evangelistic visits to the major cities of Africa. Certainly Jesus, his disciples and the people of the 1st century AD weren’t unintelligent and naive nincompoops (consider Luke, Paul, etc) as so many ‘clever’ modern/post-modern existentialist scholars would have us believe. Surely it is sheer arrogance on our part to put Jesus of Nazareth and his early followers in some kind of ‘primitive/mythical’ box. He interprets us, not we him! (Prof. Thomas Oden, describing his journey from Bultmann’s ‘demythologization’ of the NT to Christian orthodoxy).
(2) Cf. diaLOGOS at http://www.dialogos.co.za
(3) Here’s another encouragement for those pursuing the organic way. Marcus Rose of Joel News states that 1,000 new house churches have been planted in Germany (of all places) over the past 20 years. Where there’s life, there’s hope. Especially when/where Jesus is around!
(4) For starters, see Howard Snyder’s excellent ‘Radical Renewal: The Problem Of Wineskins Today.’