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Posts Tagged ‘Christian missions’

EDS Byron Nelson ClassicI always think of Byron Nelson, the legendary golfer, during this time of year. I met him eight years ago, just  weeks before he died.  But I’ll finish that story later.

Let’s Start Talking is in the middle of our biggest fund raising activity of the year. Once a year–during August and September–we have what we call our Season of Generous Giving.  Typically, we conclude this season of fund raising with the September Celebration Dinner, this year on September 25.

The activities and emotions of this season are all over the place!  We start with trepidation! Since September 30 is the end of our fiscal year, we need a successful fund raising effort to finish paying for the work that we have already done! The difference between a successful effort and a less successful effort can mean the difference for us of finishing our fiscal year with a positive or negative bank balance! So much is at stake!

But we also start with great faith that our God is rich in mercy and His people have all the resources needed for His kingdom to advance.  Most years, our prayers and efforts are richly blessed, but other years, the same prayers and often greater efforts do not result in all we thought we needed.

In this context, I was thinking about Luke 10 and  the report of Jesus sending out the 72 on their short-term mission.  “Do not take a purse or bag or sandals . . . ” (v.4).  What was he thinking about there–what was he trying to teach them?

If LST put a team on a plane to somewhere, but told them not to carry a suitcase and don’t take any money, we’d be considered irresponsible and negligent.  If a church required missionaries to go without support, they would be used as a negative illustration at every missions conference for the next decade.

So what was Jesus doing?  Teaching?

For those being sent out, perhaps he was trying to teach them total dependence on the Great Commissioner!  If they went out completely self-sufficient,  they would not learn to be content with whatever God provided.  Remember Paul’s words, a missionary who also went out with insufficient support–measured at least by today’s standards–but with absolute trust in the One who sent him: ” I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:11,12)

But, if the workers had gone out with all they needed, what would those to whom they were going fail to experience or learn? This is what gave me the most pause for thought.

They would not have learned that to be asked for help is an opportunity to participate in the plan of God.  I’m always a little surprised during this Season of Generous Giving at a few people who are somehow offended when we ask them to participate  with us financially.  Some of them are perhaps like Ebenezer Scrooge and simply don’t believe in charity because they believe so strongly that they have earned and deserve everything they have!  What foolishness!

I suspect most, however, just find it awkward, and they don’t like to be put in awkward situations. Either they don’t think money is something you talk about, or they may not be able to say either Yes or No to the request without some embarrassment–and they don’t want to be embarrassed.

So should someone not hear the Gospel because you are embarrassed?  Or maybe this is a place where God can transform our thinking, to refocus us on others rather than ourselves?

They would not have learned that it is more blessed to give than to receive!  We only know that Jesus said this because the great missionary Paul told us so. It’s not recorded in the Gospels.  Those who received the 72 would not know what God would do for them if they had not offered them food, shelter, maybe money, and sandals!

What would God do to bless us if we gave to support those who are going?  I can only imagine good things–and He is able to do more than we can imagine.

They would not have learned that generosity is at the core of the message proclaimed by those who go!  Can you even imagine a person of peace saying, “Well, I totally accept the message from God that you have brought into my home, but I’m not going to give you a bed or share a meal or offer to give you an extra pair of sandals because if I do, I won’t have enough for myself.” Unthinkable!

The 72 took nothing with them because they believed that people of peace would offer them all they needed to accomplish their mission.  My experience with a lifetime in missions is that some are generous if you ask–but almost no one is offering. 

Now back to my memory of Byron Nelson.  One Sunday in August 2006, I was teaching an adult class at church, talking about LST.  After class and after the aisle had cleared, a large elderly man came toward me on his scooter.  He introduced himself to me–but I knew who he was. It was one of the greatest golfers of all times Byron Nelson.

He immediately  asked me a question which I am almost never asked: “How is your ministry doing financially?  Is there something I can do to help?”  I was literally speechless for a second,  managing finally to tell him that we were always in need of support–a pretty lame answer for such a generous question.

He invited us to come to his home that week and present our needs more particularly.  We met him and his wife Peggy, presented our need, then left them to talk and pray about it.  Within days, we received a check in the mail from the Nelsons–not for the amount that we had requested–but for TWICE AS MUCH!

Here was a man of peace who offered  without being asked and who was more generous than “required.”  He will be remembered by many for golf, but he is known by God for his faithfulness and his generosity!

Go out today–and tomorrow–and offer to support someone who needs your help to do the mission of God.  Offer without being asked–and watch that missionary’s  eyes glisten and voice crack–and know that God is smiling.

 

 

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_foreignmissions2 (1)The fact that foreign missions are hard and getting harder is no excuse for God’s church to be slack in going into all the world. But it does mean that we can’t just pattern future work on the way we have done it in easier times. If your church is still choosing missionaries, supporting missionaries, and sending missionaries in the same way it did in 1960—or 1990 for that matter—then it is time to reexamine your strategy.

While every mission site will have very specific needs, let me offer to you some larger strategies that you need to think about implementing for today’s and tomorrow’s mission efforts.

We can work globally without traveling abroad! American churches have hundreds of thousands of foreign/international people living within ten miles of their church buildings!  Chinese, Bhutanese, Armenians, Vietnamese, Russians, Iraqis, Burmese, Somalis, and Cubans are currently among the most populated refugee communities in the U.S.. Then there are over 800,000 international students in American colleges and universities. Even the local community colleges have significant foreign student populations.

Our churches have begun discovering these opportunities in the last decade. FriendSpeak,a Let’s Start Talking ministry, has been training churches in organizing effective outreach programs to our international population for 25 years now, but has really seen an uptick in the demand from churches in the last ten years.

We are getting better at meeting and welcoming these people into our congregations, helping them with their basic needs (including their English skills) and sharing our faith with them.

But we are missing a great opportunity for global outreach!  If we think globally for a minute, we realize that instead of trying to get these internationals who become Christians in our ministries to become great members of our congregations, we could offer them the opportunity to return to their countries (especially international students) and to be vocational church planters and/or Bible teachers/church leaders in cities and countries that American Christians will never get to—and probably wouldn’t be that effective if we did.

I can imagine congregations large and small reaching out to their international people, some of those people becoming Christians, at which point the church starts planting missional seeds in their hearts for their own people, offers them intensive Bible training as well as church planting/leadership training, and then helps them transition back to their own country or another one until they establish themselves.  If only one-tenth of our congregations would do this, we would double the number of “missionaries” we are sending into all the world in the first wave. They would be going into corners of the world that we Americans may never get to in our lifetime.  Tt would cost only a small percentage of what it costs to send Americans to live abroad for a short number of years, and the chances of a sustained work increase greatly.

All we have to do is think globally instead of locally!

Use the resources of American churches to fund foreign national Christians as missionaries to go places that Americans can’t go!  There are Christian missionaries all over the Middle East—Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan—but most of them are not Americans!  I just had two Christian men in my office yesterday that are doing mission work in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and in Muslim parts of China—but they are not Americans!  In our recent LST project in Amman, Jordan, we heard of 150 Korean missionaries—and we met several of them—most of whom are in Jordan until they can return with their families to the Middle Eastern countries which they fled during recent turmoil.

If we want to go into all the world, we would do well to support the efforts of Christians from other countries who can go places Americans may not be welcomed to for generations!

We must become more collaborative!  Can you imagine that ten churches working together, pooling resources—prayer, influence, people, and money—to do missions in some Muslim or Buddhist country would have a greater impact than if just one church—even a megachurch—tries to do it all alone?  What if all the churches in your city took on a region or a continent—and collaborated—that means worked together—in order to bring the Good News to that part of the world?

I’m convinced that the reason we don’t know about some great mission movements in very foreign places is that we simply don’t get out of the house enough to know what other people are doing!

Our churches can remain autonomous and still be collaborative. Big mission agencies are not the answer; a loving and trusting spirit is what we must learn in order to collaborate.

We need to send Christians to do what only Christians can do! This is just a choice churches make.  We can send 20 people to build a church building in Central America, have a great “mission” experience ourselves, but spend twice as much money getting there as it would have cost to pay a local company to build it. So we have really served ourselves more than we have served the local community.

Muslims do a tremendous amount of charity work all over the Muslim world.  How is our Christian hospital going to be different from the Muslim hospital in the next town?  How is our Christian orphanage going to be different from the Muslim orphanage in the next village?

It is not that we don’t need to bring relief and physical healing to those in need—quite the contrary!  But we MUST remember that “faith comes by hearing the word of God.” We must intentionally plan the communication of the story of Jesus into our humanitarian efforts, or we have done nothing more than what non-Christians could have also done for these people.

And, finally, we need to engender a spirit of fearlessness in our young people and then let them go to places that we are afraid of!  I’m a little embarrassed that the worker in China had to tell us to quit sending our teams with so many “safety” instructions because they were sharing them with the Chinese Christians and making the Chinese afraid to share their faith openly. I had a similar sense in Jordan when American Christians talked about our “bravery” but it was a very safe country to be in; it is those Korean Christians who worked in Syria and Egypt and Iraq who were brave! We’ve got to be strong and courageous and not afraid! And if we can’t do that, then we need to teach our children and grandchildren not to be afraid.  We better resurrect the old hymn Anywhere With Jesus I Can Safely Go if we want to go into all the world!

God has not given us a task that we cannot accomplish!  Let’s prayerfully grow into being a church of great wisdom and courage. That’s how we become missional!

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The Way SignSherrylee and I have been involved in short-term missions for 45+ years, starting with the Campaign Northeast teams that we were on in college, continuing through the Lubbock Christian and Harding teams we received as missionaries in Germany, and then through the thousands of teams that we have sent through Let’s Start Talking since the first two in 1980/81.

Honestly, very few of these teams have had truly serious conflict/problems. On the other hand, almost all of them have had the lesser, but sometimes quite disruptive smaller problems that can diminish the effectiveness of your short-term mission.

For instance: one team member would excuse himself from the missionary’s table at family dinner and go across the street to a kiosk to buy snack food because he didn’t like what the host was serving; or, a couple of college students decided not to be a couple during their project and polarized their team in respective corners; or one student decided his missionary was not working hard enough; or, the worker who volunteered to manage the team’s money and was so intent on being frugal that the team had to eat peanut butter and crackers three times a day; or, one student was jealous of another who had more money to spend—everything sounds really petty when it is isolated into a list like this. The fact of the matter is that ALL of these created big problems for a small group of people—and, to some degree, diminished their testimony!

You can group the most typical conflicts into a few big areas.  If I warn you about these, perhaps it will help you know where you need to focus your preparations. We talk about them as the 5 L’s

Number #1  –  Love

Of course, I’m talking not talking about spiritual love/brotherly love, but about romantic love.  It really doesn’t make any difference which way you go with it because at best love is a huge distraction and at worse a mission trip catastrophe.  And don’t think that this problem is confined to youth group mission trips.  Adult teams can be brought down by Love as well.

Look at all the issues surrounding romantic love that can create problems on your short-term mission team:

  •          Two people fall in love with the same team member
  •          Two people in love break up
  •          Team member falls in love with a local Christian who is not attracted to him/her.
  •          Team member falls in love with a local Christian who is attracted
  •          Two local Christians fall in love with a team member……
  •          Team members falls in love with local Christian who is already loved by another local Christian…..secretly or openly.
  •          Team member falls in love with local non-Christian
  •          Local non-Christian falls in love with team member

Remember that all of these scenarios are played out in a very short time frame, so all the emotions, whether good or bad, are intensified by “not enough time” if the feelings are wonderful, and “too much time” if people are living with jealousy, heartbreak, envy, and anger.

Most good short-term mission trips simply make “love” against the rules—and you know what I mean.  In spite of the rule, it is still one of the most common areas of conflict on any short-term mission trip.

LATE

I really think sensing time differently was one of God’s ways of cursing and dividing humankind at the Tower of Babel. If you have even three people on your team, inevitably one of them has a different sense of time than the other two.

What do we do with either the one who is always late for team devotional, for team meals, for their appointments with local people? OR, what do we do with the person who gets so tense that they explode because the team is ten minutes late for a church service that never starts on time anyway?

The answer is that you convince both types that the problem is not the “one,” who is using a different clock; that person is not going to change during your mission trip! Period. You yourself must change your own response to that person.  Remember that patience and longsuffering are gifts of the Spirit also.  In fact, they are the real gifts. Timeliness is not even mentioned in that list, is it?

LAZY

“I didn’t come here to wash dishes; I came to share the Gospel!”  Yes, we heard these words come out of a worker’s mouth when the missionary wife asked him to help after supper.  You know the person: he’s sitting on the couch while everyone is cleaning the apartment. She’s reading her book while everyone else is setting up for the party.  They need a nap just when the team was going grocery shopping. . . . .Why are they on this short-term mission?

 

LEGALIST

This is a little trickier because it can involve doctrinal or moral issues that surface during a mission trip.  Here’s a relatively common  scenario:  during the course of an off-the-record, after work conversation, a person finds out that another team member (or the local preacher)  holds a very “___________” (supply your own label) view on baptism, or women’s roles, or worship, or grace, or same-sex issues, or  _________________ (insert your own hot button here).  With this information now in the open, some people find themselves wondering about fellowship issues, whether this person ought to be teaching people, about the church or ministry that would send such a person, or if they should mark this person to the rest of the team!! This is a black-and-white person who only associates with people on their approved list.  Mission work of every kind tends to put you in contact with lots of people not on your approved list.  Treat them ALL with respect and love.

LOSERS

Did you know that some people use short-term mission trips to accomplish their own agenda?  They want to travel, they want to meet friends who live abroad, they want to renew a romantic relationship with someone on the team, they want to do research for their next book, or they want to get away from a troubled marriage or a bad relationship.

Almost everyone has mixed motivations, but Losers are those who are manipulating the short-term mission opportunity exclusively for their own personal agenda.  You will recognize them quickly because they are just barely interested in the main activities of the trip, usually choosing activities that meet their own personal goals instead.

Conclusion

If you know the main areas of concern, you can watch for hints in your recruiting, speak to them in your training, and address them quickly during your project.  That’s our next post!

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dutch speed skatersThe Olympics bring out the nationalism in all of us. We love to see the Americans win, stand on the podium with a tear in their eye, trying to remember the words to the national anthem.

But I have to confess something:  I love it that the Netherlands has won 22 medals in speed skating so far!!  I love their devotion to orange! And I love that the king and queen are there in their orange sports attire, cheering their skaters on!

Now Norway has more medals, but I don’t really have the same feelings for Norway. The Russians and the Canadians feel to me like long-time rivals, so I don’t cheer for them either.  I do love to see the Germans do well, but they are a powerhouse country, so they should do well—maybe better than they are doing!

So why do I love the Dutch? I’ll come back to answer that question in a minute.

Let’s move to a different plane and switch from talking about national sport teams to talking about which countries God loves.

Sometimes we Americans think that God is an American and that He loves all the other countries, but just wishes they were like His special country!  That’s pure jingoism—and not really harmless nationalism.

Some people think Israel is God’s favorite country!  But Jesus said, And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham” (Matt. 3:9). God does love the children of Abraham . . . the true ones.

We don’t have to guess about this: here is our final answer!  The final answer is “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son . . . .”  Red and yellow, black and white—and all the colors in all the flags—and all the people standing and singing all those foreign anthems.

So now we can get back around to the Dutch:  maybe if I can figure out why I love the Dutch, then I can better understand what it will take to love the Norwegians, for instance.

From a lifetime of being involved with the world, here are some tips I have learned about how to learn to love the world:

Travel to other countries, but not with a bunch of other Americans. If your only experience in other countries is disembarking from a cruise ship for a few hours, or flying over, traveling to all the sights in a bus with your former classmates or some other affinity group, then you may have had a great trip, but you have not given yourself a chance to really fall in love with other people.

Go to one country at a time—not as many as you can squeeze into seven days.  From the Netherlands you can get to Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, France, and the U.K (by hovercraft) in less than two hours, so it is tempting to use Amsterdam as a jumping off point to “see it all.”  But then you won’t love the Netherlands!

Just within an hour of Amsterdam are Haarlem, Leyden, Alkmaar, Zaanse Schans, Keukenhof, Marken, Vollendam, Delft, den Haag, and a lot more wonderful and fascinating sites and places. If you take a one-hour canal tour of Amsterdam and then leave for the next country, you have missed almost everything!!

Get to know some local people! This may not be as easy as it sounds. Here are some tips that might work for you:

  • Go to church on Sunday.  That’s where Christians are on Sunday, so if you want to meet local Christians, go where they are. Be prepared to accept an invitation to eat with them afterwards.
  • Go with a short-term mission group that interacts closely with local people. In Let’s Start Talking projects, you can sit and talk with locals all day long!
  • Stay at a bed-and-breakfast instead of a tourist hotel.  If you are young and brave enough, the youth hostels are also a great place to meet people.
  • Travel by train instead of by car.  Cars insulate us; public transportation throws people together.
  • Go to a “small” event.  We have gone to high school soccer games, local school performances, local church-sponsored concerts, auctions, flea markets, for instance.  You just have to appear to be open to meeting new people and they will come up and introduce themselves to you.

Learn about the country: history, culture, current events, art—not in order to become an expert, but because we don’t care very much about things we don’t know much about! I hardly know anything about Norway; that’s the problem, isn’t it!!

And here is the big secret I have for you:  you will begin to love every country where you begin to know people who live there!  I’m quite sure that national boundaries have very little to do with why God loves the world.  He loves the world because He loves the people of the world.

One of the comments that we hear often from LST workers coming back from their short-term mission trip is “I used to always pray for all the people in the world, but now I know some of those people, so I pray for them by name.”

If you only love Americans, you have not begun to tap the capacity of your heart for loving people.  God made your heart big enough to love the world too!

 

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NetworksI’m sitting with a small stack of fascinating articles on my desk that revolve around a phenomenon called movement networks.

These articles are all talking about ways of collaborating in order to accomplish goals that are greater than any one organization could ever accomplish on its own.  In fact, sometimes the objectives are so large that they require a movement, not just certain actions in order to successfully accomplish them.

When I think of tasks so large that no one entity can begin to accomplish it, I naturally go immediately to the task of going into all the world with the gospel. 

When I was a boy, I was so proud of our church which sent a missionary to Africa and one to Brazil at the same time.  I don’t know what was happening in the other 170 countries though?

Then as a college student, I joined a ministry to go to the Northeast U.S. We worked in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, Vermont, Connecticut, Delaware, and other heavily populated states, but the 20 of us really didn’t make a very big dent.

I’ve since worked with lots of churches that were very proud of sponsoring their missionaries fully—or not at all!  They were seriously trying to do missions well, and it was these churches that were held up as the model for others.

But I keep looking around and I don’t see us making a very big dent in the task God gave us!  We have to do something differently unless we want to continue getting the same results.

I wonder if movement networking might be something to try.  The studies say a movement is this:

Movement “a collection of persons or groups who come together around a common concern.  Typically their mission is to bring about some type of societal change relative to their concern.”

Movements, they say, are characterized by

  • collective intentional action,
  • continuity of sustained action,
  •  outsider status,
  • scope and scale, and
  • formation of collective identity.

(Zemsky and Mann, “Building Organizations in a Movement Moment,” Social Policy: Organizing for Social and Economic Justice, vol. 28, no. 3, 2008).

It’s the collective nature, the networking, which really fascinates me.  It’s about different groups of people working together.  Could it ever be about different groups of churches and ministries and other organizations working together on behalf of the salvation of the world?

According to these studies, we would need to look for the following characteristics in movement networks:

  • They are multi-organizational, therefore diverse, with all partners desiring to reach shared and mutually beneficial goals.
  • Trust and accountability are achieved through personal relationships, not through creating a single organizational hierarchy.
  • Partners agree on how to communicate and what constitutes progress toward goals.
  • Shared resources from all partners are committed for reaching the shared goals.

Well, this just sounds like a lot of academic ivory tower language unless we could turn it into something concrete.  Here’s my attempt at extrapolating some concrete ideas out of this:

  1. In October 2014, the Global Missions Conference is being held in Memphis for churches of Christ.  What could happen if this conference were the launching point for a fellowship wide conversation on how to go to all the world?
  2. What if there were regional meetings for every American church that cares about missions, every ministry like LST, Great Cities, MRN, and as many foreign Christian church leaders as possible, along with foundations, trusts, and others with resources, and all those wanting to do missions were sitting in the same room talking about what it would take to go to all the world?
  3. What if even some of these found each other to be ready and willing partners and began collaborating?

Please note, I’m not talking about creating a super-organization or any kind of hierarchy of either talent or resources.  But I am suggesting that we ought to be searching for like-minded partners rather than all of us trying to do it alone.

  • Do you think any of us could ever agree on mutually beneficial goals for these partnerships?
  • Do you think we could ever trust each other and be accountable to each other without having to decide who is in control?
  • Do you think we could share resources? Or the holy grail: donor lists?

Is there really only one question keeping us from fulfilling the Great Commission?  Is the only question one of whether we can love each other enough to work with each other?  Whether we can subordinate our own congregational/institutional egos enough to give God all the glory?

Well, I’m willing to talk about it with you—if you will talk about it with me!  Can we just start there?

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immigration mapMost Christian churches/missions organizations have followed the church growth axiom of searching for areas of receptivity to which to send and spend their resources. During the last half century, this strategy has led to a lot of people and resources going to places like East Africa (English-speaking and less Muslim) as opposed to North Africa, or places like all the former Soviet countries—at least for about a decade—until post-soviet materialism took root and the eastern peoples became less interested.

South America, especially Brazil, was a hotspot for American missions for a couple of decades, but that has settled down now as indigenous leaders emerged and no longer need the baggage that comes with American money and Christianity.

Today, China is certainly in the missions’ spotlight, though political restrictions keep people from reporting the statistics that are essential to establishing patterns of receptivity.

India continues to remain high on the list of receptive countries. The poverty and class struggle also keep it on the list for young emergent churches as well.

One of the most passionate discussions in missions centers on the vast populations of non-Christians in the 10/40 window, that is, the countries lying between 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator, including  Saharan and Northern Africa, as well as almost all of Asia (West Asia, Central Asia, South Asia, East Asia and much of Southeast Asia). Roughly two-thirds of the world population lives in the 10/40 Window.

Most of the people in these countries claim the Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist,  Animist, Jewish, or atheist faith, and few of their governments allow any kind of legal Christian activity on their soil.

Christian radio breaks through these barriers, but very few missionaries are called or sent to these sites, and very few churches/missions organizations target them either.

And if receptivity is our sole criteria for resource allocation, then why would we? Any work done in the tough areas of the 10/40 window would likely take decades if not lifetimes to show first fruits—and might cost lives.

What if I could show you both the potential and the freedom to meet, to befriend, to minister to, and, yes, to share your faith with 5 million Arabs?  With over a million Pakistanis, or hundreds of thousands of Iranians?  Would you be interested in using missions resources to reach out to Iraqis, Somalis, Algerians—if you could do it where it was not illegal and under favorable conditions for the reception of the Word?

Europe, known to missions people as . . . well, really not known to missions people because Europe has had its chance and has never been on anyone’s receptivity list.

But I want to say that the new Europe is a place where we MUST be—because that’s where we can speak with much of the world that is otherwise extremely difficult to penetrate.

In 1985, the European Union passed the Schengen Agreement, which allowed for free movement across borders for all citizens of member countries. At the time only ten fairly homogeneous countries composed the EU, but now, with the Agreement extended and expanded, 27 countries enjoy relatively unrestricted movement throughout the EU.

Nine million Turkish people live outside of Turkey in the EU.  Eight hundred thousand Romanians live in Spain. Twelve million immigrants live in France and 40% of those immigrants live in or near Paris.

What does this mean?  This means we ought to send missionaries to Paris, to Spain, to Germany, to the UK, and to Sweden, a country so friendly to immigrants, by the way, that they do not even count them.

The opportunities for the Message in Europe can no longer be ignored for reasons of receptivity.  Think about these reasons for why today is the day to be in Europe with the Gospel:

  • Although some immigrants naturally cluster together and are resistant to integration into their new countries, many more long for new relationships, which makes them more open to a Christian’s friendship than they would be in their homelands.
  • European laws do not restrict Christian work.
  • Going to the west, for many immigrants, is the opportunity to explore new ideas. Christianity is seen as a western idea, so it is natural for some to want to learn about it.
  • Restrictive cultural laws and traditions are usually mitigated, if not abandoned, in their new land.  For instance, most women from restrictive Muslim countries are allowed much more freedom when living in Europe than they would have at home.
  • While social media and other public media are often highly controlled and restricted in their home countries, these immigrants have access to every media avenue (for better or worse) in Europe—which brings opportunity for all kinds of Christian information into their homes.
  • Americans think of immigrants as being primarily impoverished people, but that is not necessarily true of people movement in Europe. I was just reading about a newly licensed medical doctor in Romania who could get no job there, so she immigrated to Germany, which is in desperate need of her services.
  • These immigrants will undoubtedly meet others of their own nationality/religion who have become Christians.  They must deal with this new cloud of witnesses.

Just a couple of years ago, an LST team of mature Christians from Texas spent two or three weeks working with a church in Cologne, Germany.  One of the members of that team was telling us about a Reader of hers from either Iraq or Iran, who actually belonged to a militant cell, but who would sneak away from his group to come and read the Bible with her 2-3 times each week.  He feared for his own safety, but in Cologne, Germany, he had the space to go far beyond what he could have done in his home.

I don’t know what has become of this young man, but I know another story that started just as his has. Almost 20 years ago now, an Iranian man also responded to a simple ad for practicing his English and started reading with a Christian.  Today, he is one of the elders in his church in Cologne, Germany.

Europe is a great mission field!  If you don’t think so, you’ve got your old glasses on! That’s where the world is! The whole world!!

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Chinese Grandmother with GrandchildIn 1925, George and Sally Benson took a “slow boat to China” one month after they were married.  With $35/month support, they were determined to be missionaries.  After skirmishes with the emerging Communist Party in China, they left for a short while for the Philippines, but courageously returned to China as soon as they could and began the Canton Bible School where among other things they taught English using the Bible as the textbook.  The Bensons had learned Chinese using the Gospel of Mark as the textbook, so they found this to be a culturally appropriate and effective method of evangelism.

I just returned from China, where I visited five cities where Let’s Start Talking either works or has been invited to work, helping Chinese people with their English using the Gospel of Luke as the text.  One of the cities I visited was Guangzhou—formerly Canton—where the Bensons worked almost a century ago.

Again I heard the “grandmother stories.”  Everyone who has done any work in China in recent years has heard some version of this same story many times.  Probably a Chinese university student or young professional says, I’m a Christian.  My parents are not, but my grandmother was, and she told me the Christian stories, so when I went away from home and met some Christians, I was immediately attracted to them.

Throughout the centuries, Christianity would thrive for a period of time, then be driven to extinction by anti-western, anti-foreign rulers.  Some form of early Christianity in China is documented as early as 635 A.D. The Jesuits began to penetrate China in the 16th century but were later banned because of a Roman church ruling that Chinese folk rituals amounted to idolatry.

Protestants list Robert Morrison, sent by the London Missionary Society, as the first missionary to China in 1806, but within two decades Europeans were (again) sentenced to death for spreading Christianity in China.  Not until the period after 1860 did Christian missionaries return to China, but because of China’s opening to the west, the missionaries then came in droves!

In 1865, J. Hudson Taylor established the China Inland Mission and became what some historians have called the greatest missionary of all times after the Apostle Paul. I mention the CIM because the Bensons were advised on how to begin their work in China by CIM missionaries Mr. and Mrs. W. C. Smith.

Many Christian missionaries were massacred during the Boxer Rebellion of 1899-1901.  Not long afterwards the Bensons and the first missionaries from Churches of Christ courageously entered China.  This wave of missionaries had a window of just about ten years before the first conflicts of what became WWII broke out and threatened their lives.  Some sent their families to the Philippines and stayed, but most left China.

In 1949 Mao’s Communist won control of China and Christians were no longer welcome, neither foreign nor Chinese.  What pockets of Christians remained in China even through these earliest Mao years were further purged during the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76 when all forms of religious expression were banned and severely persecuted.

These are the years of the Grandmothers!  The 1930s-60s were the years when young girls (and I’m sure there were some grandfathers also!!) who had been raised in Christian families hung on to their faith very quietly while their lives were in danger.

These were the young people taught at the Canton Bible School by George and Sally Benson and all those teachers in the 1930s who stayed in China as war became imminent.

I worshipped in a family church with 75 university students in Guangzhou (old Canton) last Sunday. Scripture was read, songs of praise were sung, and prayers were prayed. One young lady said she was ready to be baptized. When I asked how many family churches like this were in Guangzhou, the preacher just waved his hands to say too many to count! 

While the growth rate of Christianity in China today is breathtaking and while the government seems to be aware but not terribly concerned, surely the history of Christianity in China reminds us that there have been many windows like this through the centuries, but those windows have most often been slammed tightly shut at some point.

  • We should earnestly pray that this window stays open and that the Chinese Christians remain free to follow Jesus.
  • We should give thanks for those early missionaries like the Bensons who took great risks, sometimes gave their lives, to introduce, and re-introduce the Good News for China.
  • And we especially should give thanks for the Grandmothers, often the result of the work of those missionaries, who not only held on to their faith in direst circumstances, but then passed it on—often secretly—to their children and/or grandchildren.

The Christians in China, those who go to China, those who today work in China, and those who pray for China have a great cloud of witnesses who have lived and worked there before—for centuries–who spur us on!

And we can never forget:  “For God so loved the world . . . .:

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