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Posts Tagged ‘evangelism’

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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Honestly, the first time I was asked to do a short-term mission trip, I agreed only because I could not figure out a good enough reason to say no. I was in college, so I even called my parents because I felt sure that they would want me to come home in the summer . . . but, in fact, their answer was, “You need to do what you think God wants you to do.”  I finally committed with my heart and not just my head—and I’ve never stopped. Thank you, Mom and Dad!

So here are a few tips about making the decision the first time, and I say the first time because I do believe that if you go once and do something meaningful, you will continue to find ways to go.

  1. Don’t expect all of your motives to be spiritual. I think many people do not hear the call of God because they love to travel, love to experience new things, love to meet new people. Who do you think gave you these desires? For what possible reason could He have done this? Instead of viewing these as personal or selfish desires, recognize their intended use and go!
  2. In two weeks or less, you can change the focus of your life!Especially if you are at one of those critical points in life, where you are trying to decide what you are really doing that is meaningful?  People who are now unemployed, who fear unemployment, who are nearing retirement, who are into retirement and finding it boring, who are disabled from physical work, who are unhappy in their profession with just punching a clock—a short-term mission project can give you brand new glasses to see your life with.
  3. You will never have more fun! Time spent doing the will of God—all day long—will beat fishing, skiing, cruising, touring, hunting—because it is everything you enjoy about these activities wrapped up into the same package, but framed with an eternal purpose.  When you show someone how to pray, or tell them who Jesus is for the first time, or hear them trusting you with the burdens of their heart because you care about them; when you see the light of understanding go on in their eyes, when you see your new friend baptized—and the huge smile on their face . . . it is so much more than a great round of golf.
  4. “Can you afford it” is really the wrong question. The fact is that a two-week mission trip will probably be much less expensive than a two-week vacation.  However, your investment in a short-term mission trip will come back to you for the rest of your life—and afterwards. Can you afford not to go?  (I’m going to write about raising funds shortly, so watch for those tips too.)
  5. Age doesn’t matter very much!Eighty-year-olds have gone with LST on missions. Eight-year-olds with their parents have also gone. In many cultures, age is revered.  Years ago, a man said to one of our older workers, “I’ve never met a Christian with gray hair.” His comment was the result of too many American Christians thinking that short-term missions were just a youth group or college student activity.  A friend of ours in her 70s just lost her husband this year, but she took her grief and her loneliness to eastern Europe to fulfill a mission call. Now  she exchanges the grief with the joy of pouring her life out for Christ and the loneliness with all the people God brings to her.  Her new life and joy is palpable.
  6. Be strong and courageous and do not be afraid!Fear is our enemy. God spoke these words to His people over and over again in scripture. Count them up if you don’t believe me—then do something to overcome your fears.
  7. Don’t procrastinate. Do it soon! Why should you wait? Does it sound like any of the excuses given for not coming to the Great Banquet? (business, relatives, obligations) Don’t surrender your seat at the table because of just couldn’t decide to do it.

 

I’m not particularly proud of the story of my first decision to go, but I did learn something that stuck with me. Whatever your reasons for not going are, if you will simply set them aside and go, your life will be changed because you are right in the middle of the will of God. I know that is true.

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The biggest hindrance to Christian youth and college students participating in short-term missions is their parents. I really hate to say that but after thirty years of recruiting college students for summer mission projects, I know this to be true.

Here are a few thoughts for Moms and Dads to think about to help them be more comfortable with what their young people want to do for God.

1. If your goal for your child is that he/she holds on to—even grows in—the faith you have tried to share with them, you need to let them go when they feel called. A great study done by a psychology professor at Abilene Christian University may be all I need to cite:  His study of 25,000 young people in churches of Christ showed that a “summer mission experience” was the top factor correlating with those students who continued in their faith after high school.

2. Before you ask your child to be “sensible” and …….(you fill in the blank with summer school, job, visit Grandma, internship, etc), you should ask yourself what message you are sending about the place of the kingdom in his/her life. Young people tend to “walk by faith” a little more naturally than we adults who have learned what the worst case scenarios are and who try to cover ourselves with insurance against such.

3. Check to see if you are afraid for yourself or are you afraid for your child. Some parents have not traveled much, never been out of the country, never had a passport (even if you are governor of Alaska!). No wonder you are a bit anxious about releasing your student to go to China or Africa or ………  Millions of Americans go overseas every year—for much less important reasons that sharing their faith.   “Be strong and courageous and do not be afraid.” We have to teach our children Christian bravery.

4. You don’t want to teach your children fear of random violence! One year we had a grandmother who offered to pay her granddaughter to stay safely in Oklahoma.  While the daughter was safely in Germany, the Edmond post office massacre occurred near her “safe” home in Oklahoma.  Unless we want to be crippled by fear, we cannot be live our lives afraid of random violence.

 

5. The best response to your child is to say YES–and to go with them! There is no better activity for Mom and/or Dad than to share some special time serving with your young person in serving the Lord.  Yes, you can do that any weekend at home, but to really step out on faith together, going somewhere very different, meeting people that are very different, but doing the most important task in the world together—there is nothing like it!

Sherrylee and I sometimes wondered if we were ruining our children by taking them with us each summer to do Let’s Start Talking—from early children through their teen years.  I guess I better let them tell you what it has meant to them. . . . but I know that God used it for good, and they are all people of strong faith.  Isn’t that what you want for your children?

 

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I have been directly involved in organizing short-term missions (STM) since I was a freshman in college—45 years ago.  Since 1980, Sherrylee and I have sent over 6000 American Christians on thousands of short-term mission projects in sixty-five different countries through the Let’s Start Talking Ministry.

We have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of short-term missions, but we have always believed that if done well, they were of great value.  For the next few days, I’ll give you some of the things we have learned over the years to help you do short-term missions better.

First, to the church leaders who are asked to send and to support short-term missions, here are a few suggestions for distinguishing the more worthy from the less worthy:

1. Who will be benefited by this short-term mission effort? Some of the possibilities are the Worker, the sending church, the hosting church, and the unchurched/unbelievers that are touched by the work.  Is the work intended to just be a good experience for the Americans going and the encouragement it gives to the local congregation sending them? If so, don’t describe it as mission work. It is edification.  If it is for the hosting church, then it is church nurturing, not missions. If it is for the unchurched/unbelievers, then it is evangelism.  All of these are worthy goals, so decide which you want to support.

2. Does the host really want these people to come? I attended a meeting of local evangelists in a foreign country a while back and the common complaint from all of them was how they felt required to host short-term groups who wanted to come work with them—regardless of whether the group would actually benefit their work—because the group was from a church that supported their work.   It was often assumed that every mission site would love to have a group of 30 people appear on their doorstep, but for many obvious reasons, that is not always the case.  Make sure a real invitation from the site has been issued before you go/send.

3. What’s the purpose and how will it be accomplished? Make sure that the activities match the purpose.  If the purpose is to share the Gospel with people, establishing an obvious way to contact people who do not believe is critical. Then, how will the workers begin a conversation with them? There is room for a variety of purposes, but the activities must match the purpose.

4. What’s the plan for the time on site? The very nature of short-term missions means that good use of the time is critical. Showing up to “do whatever the missionary wants” is simply a way to shift all the responsibility on the local people to do all the thinking and preparation.

5. Have the workers prepared to go? Let’s Start Talking provides all workers with a minimum of 20 hours of preparation. Our college students receive more like 50 hours for their mission projects. There are good resources out there for individuals and groups to use in preparation.  Don’t reinvent the wheel. Use the expertise of short-term mission leaders with lots of experience.

6. Is the cost appropriate? I do not believe at all in the “most bang for the buck” model of missions—but we will talk about that later.  But I also know that spending $3000/person for a five-day short-term mission project when two of the days are mostly getting to and from the site does not appear on the surface to be a wise use of that money.  Church leaders should weigh the costs against all of the outcomes, then make a prayerfully informed decision.

Next, I’ll offer a few tips for those trying to decide about a short-term mission trip—or not!

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Just today, I heard from a friend about a fine young person just returned from teaching in China. This young man was eager to return for a second year, but was very frustrated because he felt like he did not know how to move from being friends with the Chinese to talking about faith in God and Jesus.

 

I also received comments from the “We Need New Words” blog from experienced missionaries and others who also wanted to know how to bridge the expanse between friendly conversations and conversations about God or faith.

 

In other words, we love God and we love our neighbors.  We know how to show compassion to those in need, but we are speechless and frustrated when it comes to initiating conversations with those same people about faith.

 

First, let’s talk about why this might be a problem for us.

 

  • We are afraid of being rejected or looking foolish.  Nothing new here.
  • We have been convinced (by watching TV/movies) that conversations about faith are culturally inappropriate and out of the cultural mainstream.  However, CNN has a religion blog; TV series like “Friday Night Lights” include Christian characters—yes, some representations portray the “Christians” as pretty weird, but the President invokes God and lots of people read Max Lucado. Even American Idol has included professing believers. Christians are not as absent from popular culture as you might think.
  • We have very little experience initiating serious conversations. Most conversations we have are very superficial.  
  • Some Christians no longer believe that trust in God/Jesus is necessary/essential. This comes from either a kind of universalism (universal salvation) or just pure ignorance of the Word.
  • We don’t know how. Nobody has ever taught us how.

 

This last reason is absolutely legitimate. If you have never seen your parents have a serious talk with someone; if you have never had a mentor show you how they initiate a conversation; how can you possibly know how to do this without someone to emulate?

 

OK, here are some examples of ways people get into conversations without being offensive.

 

I have a good friend who intentionally found a reply to a mundane question that often leads to very comfortable conversations about faith.  When someone says, “Bill, how are you?”   he always replies, “Blessed!”   That’s it.  He has done this for years and it is just out of the ordinary enough that people take notice.  Often people seek him out for more information about faith, about his life, about why he said that . . . and there you have created an environment where people ask you about your faith.

 

I think your little phrase could also be an “email signature” that was a good, somewhat neutral Bible verse, like, “Mercy triumphs over judgment” and people will come to you and ask where that came from—which opens the door for a conversation.

 

It might be a lapel pin or a Facebook picture or just about anything that is just slightly out of the ordinary so that people ask about it.  I recently heard about a woman who had JESUS tattooed on the arm that she served tables with in a bar, so that people would ask her about her tattoo.

 

I’ve also found that you can ask people if they go to church somewhere—especially new people—or do they have a church home—in the same sentences as you ask where they work or where the kids go to school.  Just throw it in without blinking and you’ll see that they usually just give you an honest reply that tells you whether to extend the conversation or not.

 

The key is to be intentional. Do something intentionally, and then be ready when someone responds to your initiative.

 

The main thing is to do something! I spoke with a young man from Syria who is a Christian today because an older man from Texarkana, Texas, decided to go on his own and pass out Christian tracts in front of a mosque on Fridays in Damascus!  This young man’s father came out of the mosque, saw this crazy Texas Christian and was actually afraid for him, so he went up to him and invited him to come to his home.  The Texas guy went with him, they became good friends, and eventually the whole family became Christians.

 

I’m not recommending this method of evangelism, but I think it is a great example of God using the foolishness of our feeble efforts to accomplish marvelous things in the lives of the people who are searching for Him.

 

Don’t be afraid.  Don’t believe that no one wants to know about Jesus. Don’t wait for a Ph.D in sharing your faith.  Just think of some small thing to do that might lead to someone asking you if you are a Christian.  That’ enough for today.

 

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We Need New Words!

I’m in Arkansas today, driving to Searcy to work with a small group of young people who have committed to go to Italy for two years in the Avanti Italia program. One of their main activities will include  . . . . I don’t even know what to call it anymore!  And that’s part of the problem.

We used to call it either personal evangelism or personal work. If we did it in a group or in a concentrated way, the same activity was called campaigning.  When I was a boy and my parents were doing it, they called it conducting cottage Bible classes—and I don’t have a clue where the cottage part of that came from, but I suspect it was the same place as in the old song that starts with the line, ”I’m satisfied with just a cottage below . . . .”

Somewhere in the 80s and 90s, any phrase that used the word evangelism took on a negative connotation, so the same activity was described as outreach.  With the new millennium though, we must have needed a new word, so if this activity is talked about at all, it always is described, not named, and it always includes the word sharing.  Faith sharing or sharing my faith seem to have been the most common that I hear.

More recently, the trend seems away from talking about faith and has turned to telling my story, sometimes sharing my story, and if we need to objectify it a bit more, we leave out the my and just tell the story.

Of course, the words we use change with both what we do and how we do it.  Here’s a quick and very subjective description of our methods of doing whatever it is we don’t have good words for!

  1. New people were brought the gospel and converted by the sword!  As the Crusaders went through countries, they converted people or killed them.  The conquistadors/soldier priests did the same thing .  Or your king became a Christian—or a certain kind of Christian–and if you wanted to live in his country, you did too—a la, European Christianity after the Reformation.  This is a quick, though painful way, to make lots of new Christians—or at least church members. I’m not so sure about whether people became Christians.
  2. In the New World,  education was the way people were converted. Schools were started to teach reading, so that people could read the Bible and be Christians. Natives were civilized and Christianized as if those two were one and the same activities.
  3. The 1800s were the time of great revivalism. Great preaching was the means of conversion for most people. Tent meetings and gospel meetings lasted for weeks—months—until all the unsaved were saved.
  4. Over a period of time that spanned the turn into the 1900s, the various denominations in the U.S. began mostly trying to convert each other to the “right” church.  The average Christian was unprepared to deal with someone’s unbelief if that person were a Darwinist or a scientific atheist, but they were prepared to tell others why their church doctrine was right and the others were wrong.
  5.  As rational modernism gave way in popular thinking to the more relativistic post modernism, Christians became less sure that these doctrinal differences should make such a big difference, so we quit talking about them.  But then we weren’t quite sure what to talk about, since almost everyone we knew believed in Jesus . . . and so our words got softer and fuzzier.
  6. Now we are in a time when it is socially inappropriate to try to convince someone of anything.  It’s OK to tell people what you have experienced—share your story—but to try to persuade someone that they should change their story for any reason is considered highly arrogant.

So this is why we don’t have any real words anymore for . . . .

Even this nameless activity is being changed to just living out our story in front of people and hoping that somehow they connect the dots to know that Jesus loves them and died for them. Our time may be the time of the wordless Gospel. 

And if that sounds OK to you, then I wonder if you are OK with your children or your grandchildren never hearing the story of Jesus, never reading the Bible—just watching people do good things—because I’m afraid that we are virtually to that point.

Does faith still come by hearing the word of God? And how can they hear without a preacher? And do we still persuade others because we know the fear of the Lord?  And is the Holy Spirit still a guide to all truth—or just a Comforter?

We need some new words. More and more of our neighbors care less and less about Jesus.  If we are faithful to our calling, we have to go preach and teach as Jesus said in the Great Commission.  We don’t have to call it preaching and teaching if those words are somehow inappropriate . . . but we have to do it!

 

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One of my favorite heroes of faith is the Thai minister of a church in Bangkok, who truly understands that there is not a distinction between mission field churches who are “receivers” of missions and churches who are “doers” of missions.  Although working in Thailand, itself a Buddhist country and the object of mission work, the Thai churches that he has planted are reaching out in Laos and Myanmar—and he has plans and dreams for preaching to the 40 million Thai-language Chinese people.

We know a church in Moscow, less than twenty years old itself, who is launching a mission effort into Istanbul, Turkey. Singaporean Christians are sending missionaries into Cambodia and China, while Christians from Ghana have planted large congregations in Western Europe.

One of the most impressive examples of great churches focusing outside, not in, is the Back To Jerusalem movement among Chinese Christians.  Christians from Mainland China have committed to send each other into ALL the countries of the countries, where 90% of the non-Christians of the world live.

If you go to the question and answer pages for mission efforts like Back To Jerusalem, the first question is always: why are you sending people other places; don’t you have enough to do at home? Every missionary and every mission-minded church has been confronted with the same question.  Here is my answer: Of course, the Great Commission includes home, but who will share the Good News with the billions who have never heard of Jesus, if the biggest churches with the most Christians in every country all stay home??

Great churches—wherever they are and whatever size they may be—understand that they are a part of the call to the Body of Christ to “go into the entire world.” Here are some practical suggestions for leading your church to go into the entire world:

  1. Put the whole world on display. What do your members really know about your own mission work? What do they know about the persecuted church? What do they know about the inspiring mission efforts of Christians around the world?  If your members are ill-informed, then they are uninspired. What can you do to change this?
  2. Talk about world Christians. Many of my personal heroes of faith are men and women that are virtually unknown in the United States. They do not make the lectureship circuits, they are not widely published, they are not center page spreads for Christian newspapers. If you are a church leader, you should get out, meet these unknown heroes, then come home and talk about them!
  3. Avoid protectionism. The era of allowing foreign evangelists and missionaries to talk, to preach, to show their slides in our assemblies has been over for decades. Most leaders decided their members needed protecting, although it may have been more motivated by efforts to keep their contributions at home.  Don’t be afraid. Raise the vision for global work by providing platforms—often—for those who are going out from among us!! Don’t be afraid. The local work will grow as people’s vision for the world grows.
  4. Abandon the idea of “mine” and “God’s”: Our members travel. We fly, we cruise, we RV, we camp, we hike, we backpack, we tour.  How can we give this part of our lives more to the Will of God instead of thinking of it as OUR special time?  At LST, we hear constantly from adult Christians who take their two-week vacation and go somewhere to share their faith that it was work, BUT it was the most re-creational activity they have ever done.  Great churches help their members give all of their life in God’s work.
  5. Great churches have leaders who GO! I really believe that every preacher/minister, every church leader would be a greater leader and better able to inspire if he/she would regularly be personally involved in evangelistic mission efforts—preferably outside of their own culture.

Great churches understand that they are not exempt from going into the entire world.

 

Next:  Great churches understand the relationship between benevolence and evangelism!

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