Monday, January 26, 2015

10 Reasons to Stay on the Mission Field

A couple months ago I wrote a blog post listing ten reasons that many have used to excuse themselves from missions service. Although they feel called to missions, one of the listed reasons seemed insurmountable to them and they had not pursued missions. I appreciated those missionaries who are now serving on the field somewhere who emailed after the post saying that they were living proof that some of the reasons I listed were not deal breakers to answering God’s call to missions.

Ironically, about the time that I posted that blog my international travels led me to interact with some missionaries who were discouraged and, sadly, some had reached the point of burnout and were returning home. Others were devastated because a key family on their team had just resigned and gone home. Others felt tossed about in rough emotional seas, wondering whether they should return home also, already mentally packing their bags, and thinking through the steps required to go home. Often the resigning missionaries list dropping financial support, struggles with the language, a child’s educational needs, or a parent’s health as the reason they are returning home—and sometimes it is for one of those reasons. But even legitimate reasons leave behind coworkers who are confused, hurt, and grieving. A former student of mine who had witnessed some families return home from his field of service desperately wanted to know how he could ensure that the same would not happen to his family.

As I deal with those questions I am always painfully aware that I was also one who went to the field, but later returned. Taking that step was not done casually. We sought God’s will as much in the decision to leave as we had in the decision to go to the field in the first place. I learned in that process that although the call to international missions and the burden for the nations is a lifetime calling, God’s guidance to fulfill it is dynamic; it changes throughout the seasons of life. I learned that walking in step with the Spirit of God means we must never stop singing “Wherever He Leads I’ll Go,” rather than, “Wherever He Led I Went.”

But discerning God’s guidance and leadership is not a clear, logical, or obvious thing; we must seek His guidance and leadership. History is replete with Christian leaders and missionary giants setting aside time for prayer and fasting to seek God’s guidance for a new step or direction in ministry. They believed in both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. I know that you do, too. If you are very sure that the step to return is clearly God’s guidance for you, then follow His leadership. But do not leave without that sense of His hand directing you. Since the emotional turmoil and devastation of lives is so huge, don’t break camp and return home without His unmistakable redirection. Let me plead with you who are in the throes of your decision making to keep in mind these ten reasons to stay.

1. Faithfulness to God’s Call

It is wise for missionaries to sit down from time to time and remember what you’re doing there and why you came. Remember that season when you felt the almost palpable hand of God to answer the call and take the step to go. I have counseled many heartbroken missionaries who only remembered their call after they had left the field and turned their family’s world upside down again and returned home. Some will say they never needed a call because they “have a verse.” Well then, remember your verse. Still others have said that they have never been able to articulate the process in their own life as some define a call. For them it was simple obedience, commitment to what they believed was right, and agreeing with an inner sense of “shoulds and oughts.” Before you leave the field, or even begin packing to leave, spend some time with the Lord and recall that reason. Ask Him if you have finished what He brought, called, or burdened you to do. Remember until it stirs your heart again.

2. Language

There are 6,913 languages in the world, many of which have unique dialects or such distinct accents and idioms that each one is almost nonsense to one who hasn’t learned how that group uses that language. One team of Bible translators lived in the jungle among a people group for ten years before they knew the language well enough to begin evangelizing the tribe.  You may argue that language is one of your frustrations, but you are miles ahead of where a new missionary would be. The fluency you have attained is a gift of God, your talent; how will you invest it until He comes? That question isn’t about guilt; it’s about stewardship.

3. Culture 

Just as it takes years to learn a language well enough to communicate clearly, be taken seriously, and argue persuasively, there are many other aspects of “the rules of the game of life” for people groups that require a learner’s perspective and patience. At last you finally know how to buy food and local recipe substitutes to enable you to cook it. You appreciate the music—well some of it—and you even know some of the better musicians. You could give a visitor a brief overview of the history of the country. You can get where you need to go by taxi, bus, or metro—and better yet, you can even get home again. You know when the roosters will start crowing (and you know it’s not at daybreak!). You know how to flow in the rhythm of life and swim with the current. You understand the logic that was once so nonsensical. You know that when an event is announced to start at 10:00 AM that this has nothing to do with a clock. As hard as life may seem sometimes, these life skills you have learned cannot be used anywhere else. You been there long enough that you can do this.

4. Religion

Missionaries have learned by painful experience that a failure to understand the religion of a people you are seeking to reaching and teach will also fail to recognize when they are simply putting a cross on top of what they believed before the missionary arrived. The resulting syncretism may require years to correct. Learning and understanding a people group’s religious beliefs and practices is much more complex than merely reading a book about it before you arrive. You have learned their subtle nuances of honoring departed loved ones and when someone is crossing the line into veneration and worship. This aspect of your target group is the most crucial to the missionary task. You get that.

5. Discouragement is temporary

Too many missionaries leave the field during a time of personal discouragement—culture shock, after a national falls away or betrays them, or when an unthinking missions supervisor (who may be experiencing his own struggles) treats them harshly. Perhaps family at home is going through struggles, or your child is sick with a tropical disease that is unknown at home, or you cannot get past the grief of not being able to go home when a parent passed away. Discouragement is real, and it has long been a favorite weapon of the enemy, but it is only temporary. When you are tried, you will come forth as gold. Stay through it.

6. The needs that brought you there, and the additional ones you have found

The need is not the call, but God may use it to stir you into action. Maybe you heard a missions sermon in your church where the preacher painted a detailed picture of the spiritual needs, or you responded to human needs after a natural disaster or war, or maybe a short term trip opened your eyes to all that needed to be done. Since you have been there, these needs have been confirmed repeatedly, and you have found many more. It’s just that now you are tired and so the need seems overwhelming. Never forget that the numbers have faces, and the faces have names. Let these needs stir your hearts again.

7. Relationships

While you may have a passport, financial support, family waiting for you at home, and maybe even a job lined up, remember that you are not simply going to something, you are also leaving and going away from something—someone(s). The multiplicity of options in the assets column of your balance sheet affords you the ability to leave when you want to leave. But you may be the only missionary some of your contacts know personally. I have found that the relationships we make with nationals and other missionaries are some of the most precious we will ever have. Perhaps that is part of what Jesus meant when He said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”

8. Seeds planted and watered

For most who return before they had planned, it is not because they had finished their work. Do not think lightly of the hard-won gains that have been attained. A good beginning has been made, but think of the untouched communities, the unevangelized areas, the undiscipled new believers, the churches planted but not fully formed, and the pastors untrained. Is it time to go? Consider this work that you have begun with sweat and prayer and remember that many are like newborn babies who still need parents to nurture them.

9. Your kids

For many families that have been on the field any time at all, their sending country is more the parents’ home more than it is the MKs’. Missionary kids grow attached to new cultures more quickly. The missionary community becomes a surrogate family complete with aunts, uncles, and cousins. Your kids are able to minister with you on the field in a way they will not be able to do should you return home. Indeed, in most churches back home you will part company at the Sunday School hour and see each other again after church—they have their own age-graded classes and worship time that is totally separate from the adults. When we were going through a time of discouragement due to lack of visible fruit, I shared with my wife that it occurred to me that our life on the field might have very little to do with us. Perhaps He just wanted our kids to grow up on the field because of what He planned to do through them. Your kids are watching you to learn many wonderful things. They are also watching you go through discouragement, opposition, and faithfulness when you lack necessary resources, and learning how they should handle it in their own lives in the future.

10. What is it that is not being done, that ought to be done, that you could do, and if it were done would result in greater advance of the kingdom and glory to Christ? 

You are the only you that God has ever made. You are a unique mix of flesh and blood, life experiences and education, relationships and preferences, etc. As you consider all of your difficulties and discouragements, please take a few moments to lift your eyes to the horizon and look beyond them. Ask yourself this question above. There is a task you have been uniquely created to perform. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10

You could come up with a list of a thousand reasons to return home, and in the midst of your discouragement cannot find even one to stay. Stay anyway. That line of reasoning would have kept you from going to the field in the first place. If you are having a hard time focusing on the task, let me remind you that your labor for the Lord is not in vain. (1 Cor 15:58) For those who are sick and tired of being sick and tired, for those who are discouraged and cannot come up with a single good reason to stay, take these ten. They are yours along with my prayers. Stay the course. You are heroes. Run hard and finish well. Grace, mercy, and peace be yours in abundance.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

10 Reasons to Expect Great Things and Attempt Great Things

William Carey was a Baptist pastor in England toward the end of the 18th century. Reading Captain Cook’s journals, he was profoundly moved by the spiritual needs of the world. Specifically, he was burdened about the need to convert the peoples of India. However, Carey found that some of the other Baptist pastors in England believed that God would save the heathen in His own time without their help. Carey could not accept the decision to leave them in spiritual darkness. He challenged them through a sermon entitled, “Expect Great Things, Attempt Great Things.”  He led the way by sailing to India in 1792 and launched such a remarkable missionary effort that he became known as the father of modern missions. In that day when many English Baptists considered the work God had given to them to do at home to be sufficiently challenging, going to another continent to minister among peoples of different languages, worldviews, and religions was too great a challenge.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because that mentality is alive and well and sometimes resides within us. Perhaps you wonder why should we go elsewhere when there are still lost people among us, indeed even in our own families. Why invest elsewhere when our own buildings need improvement or expansion? Why go to preach truth in places where people already have a religion and don’t want us to come? Why attempt such an audacious task? What hope do we have of success? What should we expect? The same Bible that spoke to Carey still speaks to us today. Why should we expect great things from God and attempt great things for God?

Sovereignty
There is no danger that attempting what our sovereign God has commanded His people to do will fail. I do not mean that every plan we devise will succeed in ways that we measure as success, but when we are prepared instruments in His hands seeking to bring Him glory, there is nothing that will prevent Him having His way in His world. Never be afraid that the Enemy’s gospel-hostile mean people will prevail against the sovereign hand of God. When you’re sure that that hand holds you, never fear to step out and walk by faith.

Mission
The mission we set out to accomplish is not our own, it is His. The mission Dei, encompasses more than we can fathom, but He shares a part of it with us. When you attempt great things, you are not inventing a missions idea and asking Him to bless it, you are joining Him in His mission. His mission will not fail. You are joining the mission of the invincible, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, omnibenevolent Creator and Ruler of all that is

Authority
In Matthew 28:18, Jesus said that all authority has been given to Him. With His authority He commands us to go to all peoples and obey all the Great Commission. Because He has all authority, no earthly pretender to authority can deny us or stay His hand. There are creative access countries in the world, including some that are mistakenly labeled as closed countries. “You can get into any country, but you may not be able to get out. There is no such thing as a closed country to one who does not care if he gets out again,” famously responded Bible smuggler, Brother Andrew, to a warning that his work was too dangerous to do in Communist countries. Brother Andrew understood that because Jesus Christ has all authority, no government ruler and no human heart can thwart His mission.

Imitation
Many of us live our lives wondering what Jesus would do in various situations we face. A better guide for us would be to look in to the Bible to see what Jesus did do, and then seek to imitate Him. In 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul said, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Christ cleansed the Temple when the court of the Gentiles had been appropriated for the ease and profit of the Jews, He healed those outside Judaism, and said that when He was lifted up that all kinds of men and women would come to Him. Jesus was and is concerned for the nations. Christ came to seek and to save the lost. Imitate Him.

Holy Spirit
We can attempt great things for God expecting Him to do great things through us because of His indwelling Spirit. The Holy Spirit of God lives within us to guide us, empower us, endow gifts, encourage, and bless our efforts to glorify Christ. Christian workers who seek to obey Christ’s command and walk in step with the Holy Spirit go forth in Jesus’ name and authority and in the power and fellowship of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are children of God. Such knowledge provides hope when discouraged, the needed word when we do not know what to say, and insight into all the truth we are to teach to others.

Calling
Everyone is not to be a mega-church pastor, serve in a soup kitchen, plant churches, be a pioneer missionary, or teach in a seminary. The unique and God-given mix of gifts and burdens, life experiences, opportunities, and His guidance leads each of us to the paths we walk in our Christian life. Some are more zealous to know and fulfill their role in God’s plan for the world than others. But no matter how God calls you to serve Him, you can serve Him with all you are to attempt great things. If He has called you to be a housewife in suburbia you cannot glorify Him more by being martyred in Somalia. The highest and best use of your life is to do what He has called you to do in the place He has called you to do it. When you know His calling on your life, embrace it fully in faith and obedience. Jim Elliot challenged the called ones in his generation, "Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation that you believe to be the will of God."

Needs
The world is in desperate need of the gospel, of hope in the midst of hopelessness, and light in darkness. Lost and dying people need to hear the Good News that though God hates sin He loves us and gave His Son to save us. Over half of the world has not heard the gospel. Just in the Americas there are 999 people groups, with over 2/3 of them unreached and over 1/3 unreached of them unengaged. The numbers of peoples who do not know Jesus is heartbreaking. Many others may have heard but have no Christian churches with trained pastors to teach them the truth of God’s Word and help them apply it to their lives. Other crises are growing as well. Flesh trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry around the world. Tens of thousands of children die of starvation and hunger-related diseases daily. Thousands of people die from the lack of clean drinking water. Globally, millions of orphans live in the streets. Amy Carmichael said, “Missionary work is a grain of sand, the work untouched is a pyramid . . . Face it.  Look and listen, alone with God.  Then go, let go, help go. But never, never, never think that anything short of this is being ‘interested in missions'” There are so many needs, so little time, and so few responding to help.

Love
When asked to identify the greatest commandment, Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” If you love the Lord with your heart, soul, mind, and strength, you will want to see the peoples of His world bring Him honor and worship. And if you love your neighbor as yourself, you will want to see them find forgiveness and enter into eternal life, and be at peace with God through Christ. John wrote in his first letter, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” Let us attempt great things and expect great things because of the love of God that the God of love has put in our hearts—love for Him and love for others.

Obedience
We say we love the Lord. But to step onto a plane to leave the land of Walmart, family, friends, and all that is familiar seems a giant leap. Who would do that? Why would they do that? Because He commanded and true disciples obey Him. Prompt obedience has been a characteristic of God’s faithful servants since the days of Noah built the ark and Abraham offered up Isaac. The first disciples Jesus called left their nets and boats and obeyed His call to follow. Sometimes His call to us seems a bit too radical in a world that promotes comfort zones and safety. The last command Jesus gave us was the Great Commission. His word to His church is clear. Is our obedience as clear? Remember that you can say “No,” and you can say “Lord,” but you cannot say “No, Lord.” The minute you do, He’s not; you are. Prompt obedience is a mark of a true disciple. Jesus asked, “Why do you call me, Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say?”

Success
We should expect great things and attempt great things in full assurance that success is certain. Isaiah 11:9 prophesies, “for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” And a confirming repetition comes in Habakkuk 2:14, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” Notice the absence of even a hint of “maybe” or “hope so.” I love the scene that John describes in the Revelation, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”’

We may expect and attempt great things because a successful end is certain.

God’s people make choices daily. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s Decision magazine reminds us of the reality of Joel 3:14, “Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.” What a cause for praise and thanksgiving we would have if the whole world had heard the gospel in a way that they can understand and now dwelled in the valley of decision. But they haven’t. And the sad truth is that God’s people have read the Great Commission, the Great Commandments, and the great compassion of Jesus in the Bible, and many have heard the call to give or go, spend or be spent, yet they remain in the valley of decision. Don’t waver any longer in indecision, if God is the Lord of all, commit today to expect great things and attempt great things. Here are ten reasons to do so. Hundreds more could be presented. Only one is needed. Who will expect and attempt great things for the glory of Christ and the advance of His kingdom?

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Missions Doesn't Stop When a Group Has Been Reached

Originally posted by Dr. David Sills on The Gospel Coalition Blog on 10/23/14

Jesus gave the Great Commission to his church almost 2,000 years ago. He clearly instructed us to make disciples in every people group, to baptize them, and to teach them to obey everything he has commanded. After all these years, more than half of the world’s people groups remain unreached, representing more than one-third of the world’s population. The challenge to reach every people group as quickly as possible resonates in our hearts and prayers, and reverberates in missions conferences. We must reach the unreached because no one can be saved without the gospel.

But subsequent questions easily divide and distract us in our efforts to obey the Great Commission. What does it mean to reach the unreached? What does a reached group look like? And does a people group need any more missionaries once they are reached? Should I feel guilty or mistaken if I believe God is calling me to a group that some consider reached? Discussions about such questions often become more emotional than missiological.

The definition that missiologists often use to describe the term “unreached” is something along the lines of those ethnolinguisticpeople groups whose population is less than 2 percent evangelical, or those groups without a sufficiently strong presence of New Testament churches or numbers of Christians who could carry on the work without outside help. This percentage metric was devised by missiologists simply to have a commonly embraced benchmark to assist them in talking about levels of evangelical Christianity in various missions contexts. However, it was quickly adopted more broadly as a useful way of discerning which groups had the least presence of Christianity and therefore priority targets for missionaries. Indeed, some even used it to decide where missionaries should go to serve, and when others should leave ministries and redeploy elsewhere.

Certainly those groups with populations that are less than 2 percent evangelical must hear the gospel, and we should use all haste to reach them. Carl F. H. Henry said that the gospel is only good news if it gets there in time. Sadly, for about 50,000 people in unreached people groups every day, it does not.

Crucial Questions and Answers

Still, many questions remain unanswered. If a group is more than 2 percent evangelical, that is if it is not unreached, may we call it "reached"? Does reached mean that missionaries should not be there, that the work is considered complete and should be handed off to nationals? What about people groups that have been saturated in animism or some false world religion for centuries that subsequently embrace a gospel presentation? Haiti comes to mind—though the majority claim to be believers, a greater majority still practice voodoo. One thinks of Rwanda that had more than 90 percent baptized Christians when the worst genocide our age has known broke out; almost 1 million were slaughtered by other "reached" Christians. The lifelong task of discipleship should indeed be handed off to the national church, but only after they have been discipled.

Certainly most would agree that faithful obedience to the Great Commission and reaching the unreached is more than a matter of speaking the gospel message and moving on. But how much more? Jesus answered that question. He said to teach them to obey all he has commanded. That statement must not be abbreviated. The task of the Great Commission cannot be compared to running through a large darkened building, flipping on a few switches and announcing that they now have light even though thousands of other rooms leave most people in darkness. If that is all one understands reaching the unreached to mean, then we must agree that the great tragedy of the world today is not that it is unreached, but that it is undiscipled.

We have unintentionally created the erroneous perception that missions equals reaching the unreached. If one’s efforts consist of flipping on light switches and then hurrying to the next darkened room, that is not the Great Commission; it’s only half of what we have been commanded to do. Jesus said we are to teach them to observe all that he has commanded.

What, then, is missions all about? We are to strive to know God and to make him known. We are to reach the unreached and teach the disciples. The role of the Western missionary is often seen to be simply reaching the unreached, flipping on light switches, then leaving the discipling and teaching task to the national church. However, when the national church has not received deep discipleship, theological education, or pastoral training, the teaching cannot be handed off to them. The 1 Timothy 3 admonition that a pastor should be apt to teach does not just mean that he knows how to teach, it also means that he knows what to teach.

Teach Them Sound Doctrine

God has greatly blessed the churches of the West with centuries of Christian reflection on revealed truth. Western theologians and biblical scholars stand on the shoulders of all those who came before them, incorporating the insights revealed and lessons learned from schisms and heresies. All that God has providentially allowed or sent, and the ways that he has sovereignly guided the Western church, has resulted in what we Western believers understand evangelical Christianity to be. Wise stewardship must not treat this heritage lightly but should seek to share it in ways that are biblically faithful and culturally appropriate so that others may know. The core principle of discipleship is that the one who knows teaches the one who does not know (1 Tim. 2:2).

Every people group must have the Bible in a language they can understand. They should have biblically qualified and trained pastors. They should have their own theologians and authors who are well-equipped to reflect on the Scriptures in the context of their people’s worldview and write in their heart language. But this ideal world will not exist until we obey our commission to disciple disciplers, train trainers, and teach teachers. Nationals will one day be the best teachers, theologians, authors, and preachers for their national church—but only after they have been prepared. The background developed through generations of being steeped in pagan worldviews and false religions does not evaporate on praying a prayer of salvation. This is why Christ commanded us to disciple them.

Unchanging Truth in a Changing Culture

My grandfather taught my dad much about life, and my dad embraced this teaching, improved upon some of it, and then adapted it to the new methodologies of his generation before teaching me. Likewise, I learned their values and primary lessons but made adjustments to the world I live in to practice their wisdom faithfully. Many of the missionaries who brought the gospel to Europe had studied the writings of the early church fathers and learned from previous generations, but they made adjustments to embrace new languages and worldviews without changing the gospel. Music and liturgies the missionaries had learned in their past were often ineffective on newer mission fields. The Christianity that came to the New World continued to adapt and morph, but it has remained faithful to the original Word once for all delivered to the saints.

When missionaries share translated books, sermons, and lessons with peoples who have yet to prepare their own, they are not theological imperialists or imposing their particular beliefs on others. They are faithfully sharing truth they have learned with the full knowledge that their hearers will do the same. Reaching the unreached is a lifelong process. The pioneer missionary may begin the process and then change his approach to meet the evolving needs for the rest of his life, or he may plant a church and invite others to come behind him to do the deep discipleship and pastoral training. Teaching those we reach is not an optional component of missions. When Jesus said to teach them all he has commanded, he is saying, “Tell them all that I told you.”

Lost people of the world must hear the gospel to be saved. That is true whether they are in an unreached people group or not. Lost people in reached people groups are still lost, and everyone who dies in a lost condition will go to hell for eternity. Their only hope is to hear the gospel and repent. The task of missions is not simply to reach the unreached, allowing every missionary to define what that means for himself; it is reaching the lost and teaching them to obey all that Christ has commanded.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

8 Essential Components for Discerning God's Will

I know that some people maintain that God doesn’t have a will for our lives beyond our sanctification, but He does. No, we cannot sit down and pray to know it until He reveals a fully developed life plan, but He has put us in the places we are, the times in which we live, the background we have, and given us the personality and preferences we have in order to guide us in right choices.

I believe that He has created good works beforehand that we should walk in them (Eph 2:10), and with Paul, I want to stretch forward to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Php 3:12 NIV) I agree with Spurgeon that “every Christian is either a missionary or an impostor” but I do not think that everyone is to sell the farm and travel to live on the other side of the world. All of us are goers or senders, or in sin! (Rom 10:13-15) It was clearly the role of Barnabas and Saul to be missionaries in the work the Holy Spirit had for them, and it was clearly the role of the church to set them apart and send them (Acts 13:2-3). When people ask me for counsel to help them discern their role in God’s plan for the world, they are sometimes passionate and eager to know. Telling them to read chapter 2 of my book, The Missionary Call, is the more complete answer I wish they would examine, but it is not the immediate answer they want. Let me share with you what I often tell them. These are the eight components you should keep in mind as you pray about God’s will and make the best decision for the next step in your life, whether that is to serve in missions, pursue a particular field of study, move to a new city, etc. These are not ‘8 easy steps to know God’s will for your life.’ They are simply biblical considerations to consider in those moments.

  1. Know God – Some people are more concerned about knowing God’s will than they are with knowing Him. I have been married and growing to know my bride for 37 years, and in most situations of life I can say with reasonable certainty what she would prefer. I know her. Spending time getting close to God is essential for being close enough to hear the still, small voice saying, “This is the way, walk in it.” But how can we know Him? What could we say definitively about Him if He had not revealed Himself to us? Precious little. So, study His revelation to know what He wants you to know.
  2. Know His Word – As you read the Bible you are reading the very Word of God. He speaks to you through the examples of former followers, through His revelation of His heartbeat, His desires, what brings Him joy, and what breaks His heart. As speaks to you, speak to Him in intimate conversation.
  3. Prayer – Speaking our heart to God, listening to hear His guidance, and resonating with it in obedience is exactly what Jesus did, sometimes spending long hours in the night in prayer. Godly examples in Christian history also made prayer the priority of their daily lives. M’Cheyne determined each day not to see the face of man until he had spent time before the face of God. Yet, sometimes we need guidance “with skin on.”
  4. Counsel – God has given you a precious gift in the “gray beards” of your life. They are those who have watched you grow in your Christian life, they have seen you make both and wise and foolish decisions, and they are those whom you have seen making wise and godly decisions in their own lives. There is wisdom, victory, and safety in seeking the counsel of godly men and women.
  5. Life Experiences – Why has God allowed you to have the experiences you have known? He is sovereign over every detail of His universe and sends or allows all that comes to us, knowing exactly what is necessary to conform us to the image of Christ. He may have allowed you to have experiences (mission trips, friends, jobs, travel) precisely for the reason of shaping you to be the person who you are in order to seize an opportunity that is before you. Are your life experiences indicative of such preparation in this choice?
  6. Circumstances – Some might say throwing out the fleece is the guidance they seek, or looking to identify the open doors. Be very careful in this. Remember that the devil is called the god of this age and the prince of the powers of the air; he can manipulate circumstances also. Certainly, your circumstances may be useful. For instance, if you struggling with whether to marry Jane or Jill, but are already married to Sarah, then your circumstances are pretty clear regarding God’s will in that situation! Consider circumstances but only in harmony with these other ways that God guides.
  7. Timing – This component seems sort of unspiritual or irrelevant to some, but it is a crucial one to consider. I know a man who had respected a missions agency that focused in the region of the world that most interested him all of his adult life. He would have gladly taken a job in the mailroom just to get to meet his heroes who served there. In developments that only God could have brought to pass, he was one day invited to serve as President of that agency. It was a miracle, a dream come true, and the opportunity of a lifetime. Yet, as he considered each member of his family at that moment in time, it was painfully obvious that the timing was wrong for them. It would have been wrong for him to accept and bring pain to his family, so he declined the opportunity. While it still hurts him, and while every other light was green, he knows that the timing of the offer was not right.
  8. Desire – What do you want to do? If the last component seemed unspiritual, this one makes it pale in comparison. What do my desires have to do with it? In fact, some erroneously think that if it is God’s will for my life, it won’t be something I would choose. Missionaries who are passionate about serving in the areas where God has called them have sometimes confessed a little guilt about having such joy in it, as if great happiness and desire to do it somehow means it is only my will. But God is able to give us desires that He wants to fulfill in our lives. Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” He is pleased when we find our greatest joy in pleasing Him. Learn to pray, “Lord all I want is ALL You want.” He will give you desires that you may have never had, and then He will allow them to be realized, bringing joy to you both.

How can you know your place in God’s plan for the world?
Are you a sender or a goer?

Clear off the table of your heart and life, lay these eight components there, and ask Him. He has a place for every one of us, and there is great joy and peace in both finding and doing it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

10 Essentials to Pack for International Mission Trips

I travel out of the country regularly and have led around 100 Short-Term Mission trips. I have developed packing lists for each of the kinds of trips that I do and keep them on my phone. I have one packing list for warm weather places, one for cold places at high altitudes, and one for trips where I will be speaking and need to dress up. Obviously, there are variations on the themes, but ten items are found on every packing list and are always with me when I leave the country. Here are ten essentials I recommend that you have with you on every international mission trip.

  1. iPad – I realize that your device may be from another company or you may even describe yourself as my friend does, “a number two pencil in a dot com world,” but my iPad is a tool I put to work on every trip. It enables me to carry maps, contact lists with phone numbers, calculator, currency converter, camera, music, airline apps, Dropbox files, Kindle with 100 of books, photos of my family, language assistance, Bible, hymnal, devotional books, and dozens of other helpful tools. I duplicate as much of this as I can on my iPhone just in case something happens to one device. It would take a dozen articles to describe everything I use the iPad for in my missions ministry and international travel.
  2. Coffee – Okay, I know that coffee is not an essential for some of you, but for those who share my passion, here is some helpful advice. Get a plastic electric kettle that works with voltage from 110 to 240. Some may be happy with packets of instant coffee from your favorite coffee bar, but for the purists among us, try a dirty sock. It’s not actually a dirty sock; it just looks like one after a couple of uses! It starts as a white cotton flannel cone shaped filter that has a metal hoop at the top. Put the filter in a stand and a tablespoon of coffee in the filter. With a mug under the filter, pour the hot water through and enjoy! I can place the kettle, bag of coffee, stevia, mug and spoon in my carry on and then start each day with fresh brewed coffee anywhere in the world.
  3. Travel Pillow - I learned the hard way on a trip to the high Andes years ago that I sleep better with a clean pillow. I was staying in a pastor’s home and his wife had (thoughtfully and with very kind intentions) doused an old pillow with cheap aftershave to make it nicer for me. I had a sick stomach and a headache by morning after trying all night to sleep on that. I bought a small memory foam pillow that fits in my carry on and I take it all over the world. No matter how nice the hotel I am staying in, I push the fancy pillows off the bed and use my small travel pillow and get the same sleeping experience anywhere I am, whether in the Amazon jungle or a 4 star hotel.
  4. Sleep Sack - I have also learned the hard way that beds are not always clean and hygienic. I take a lightweight silk sleep sack with me; it folds up to the size of your fist and fits in a little pouch. It is like a sleeping bag and allows you to get in and enjoy a good night’s sleep without ever having to touch the bed. I know it sounds paranoid, but it is amazing how much better you sleep when you can pop your travel pillow in the sleep sack’s pouch and slip in. You have the comfort of knowing that no critters are crawling on you and any dirt is kept away. When traveling in warmer climates I usually don’t even unmake the bed; the sleep sack is all I need, and it’s easy to tuck away when you get up.
  5. Transformer/converter multiplug – Plug shapes and voltage around the world are easily found by checking the Internet before you leave, but as often as I travel I sometimes forget. I avoid frustration by keeping a small portable transformer with me to use in countries where 240 volts is standard. Even though computers and phones can use both 110 and 240, some 110 devices turn into a paperweight if you plug them into 240 volts. The one I carries has space for multiple devices to plug in, which is very helpful in some countries where there is only one outlet. My transformer/converter comes with multiple plug shapes so I can adapt to any wall socket the country throws at me.
  6. Vitamins and immune system boosters – International travel and ministry necessitates interaction with hundreds of people. Any interaction in public places will have you breathing air and touching surfaces where the unfortunate cold and flu bug carriers have sneezed and coughed. I know it’s gross, but many just can’t help it, so I try to enhance my immune system by staying faithful with my vitamins and taking Airborne to give my body an edge that might help. The dangers of disease in the world today are real and while they cannot be avoided, they should not make us run and hide or dissuade us from obedience to God’s call. Vitamins, Airborne, bacterial wipes, and even missionary cologne (germex) used discreetly, can help international ministry travel to have a happy ending more often.
  7. Preaching/Teaching Bible – I know that I said above that I carry an iPad that has my Bible and devotional materials. I do indeed love using my Study Bible App during my iPad aided quiet times. However, when preaching or teaching in other countries, I prefer to have a hard copy of God’s Word. Some countries are not as developed technologically and using an electronic Bible is suspect for some. Additionally, if we communicate in any way by our actions that our iPad is essential for us, we may discourage those without one from ministry. I love holding a Bible in my hand when I preach and teach so people can see exactly where the message comes from.
  8. Pen and Journal – I find a pen to be helpful for making notes when interacting with nationals, filling out visa forms on the plane, and those times when it might be ostentatious to light up the iPad. I keep a journal in a moleskin notebook when I travel to record names of people I meet, places I go, foods I eat, experiences God allows me to have, and emotions I feel along the way. My journals look like a passport with all the places I get to go. You think you will never forget someone’s name, place, order of events, or any other detail, but you will. Taking a few minutes before bed each evening can not only give you a record of the details but also provide a daily chronicle for loved ones to read what your trip was like.
  9. Book & Magazines – I know that I have my iPad with 100s of titles, but I always carry a book or any magazines that came in the mail about trip time. Additional, many international air carriers still require you to power your phone down in addition to your computer for takeoffs and landings. An easily accessed paperback or magazine can fill the time for me and help my mind to relax. 
  10. Security awareness – Think about possible problems that could arise on the trip, anticipate any crises, and be prepared with a plan. I always have a one-page trip overview, even if it is electronic and on my devices. This overview will have my travel itinerary with flight numbers and times, phone numbers of key people for this trip, hotel names, addresses, and phone numbers. Of course, all confirmation numbers are listed as well. I get short-term international insurance and have the pertinent numbers for that. I took all my credit cards, insurance cards, frequent flier cards, drivers license, and passport and grouped them on the table, took a photo of the lot, and then flipped them over and took a picture of the other sides. This provides me with my card account numbers, and for credit cards the 800 numbers on the back for any need that arises. I keep a copy in my devices and one in the Dropbox cloud so that I can get to the information in multiple ways. I monitor international news as a matter of habit, but especially related to specific countries I’ll visit when a trip is coming up. 

This list may seem over the top but there have been many times when I was thankful for each item on the list. It’s actually easy once it becomes a matter of habit to keep these ten items up to date. They can stay in your travel bag and all you need to do is throw in your clothes. I even keep a fresh supply of all the toiletries I carry such as toothpaste, razor, etc. in my bag so that I don’t forget any essentials.

International travel is hectic enough, even when things go well. Don’t add to your headaches by not being prepared for common frustrations. Add to this list and customize it for your style and preferences and be consistent with it. If you’re like me, you’ll be glad you did.

Monday, October 20, 2014

8 Ways to Redeem That Mission Trip


  1. Reflect – Take time to reflect on your experience, the people you met, the lessons you learned, the insights God granted, and how you are changed as a result. Too much of our lives is spent racing from event to event and we seldom take the time to reflect on what God is teaching us. If you kept a journal, took pictures, or received notes from people related to the trip, spend some time reviewing them. Ask yourself what God taught you about Himself, His Word, His promises, and His people. Notice all the ways that He provided all you needed and protected you and the team. Ask yourself how you can be better prepared for the next mission trip the Lord allows you to take, or how you can better prepare others to go.
  2. Follow up – After reflecting on your trip send a note of thanks and encouragement to those the Lord impresses upon your heart. If someone stands out in your memory as one who helped you along the way, take the time to thank them, letting them know that their “cup of cold water” has not been forgotten, and that you gave thanks for them today. Most importantly, try to recall whether you promised something to someone you met along the way. Team members often tell national believers that they will send an email, friend them on Facebook, or send a copy of a picture, but these promises are quickly forgotten in the excitement of the trip. Sadly, the nationals do not take the promises so lightly. After waiting in vain for the promised follow-up, they wonder what else that the team told them is not true. Take a few minutes and follow up. I remember telling the homeowner of a humble adobe house church in the Peruvian Andes that we would be back the next year. When went back and I knocked on the door, she opened it with a startled look and wonderingly said, “You DID come back!” It makes a difference. Take the time to follow up.
  3. Plan – If you noticed on your trip that a better evangelism or discipleship method is needed, begin research to locate better materials. If your team lacked wisdom culturally or missiologically, seek counsel from someone who knows the area and has experience. Sometimes we see the need for Bibles or devices with recorded audio Scriptures. Planning the next steps will help you get needed items donated or provided way before time to pack for the next trip. If you will need to raise support for your next trip, consider opening a savings account to deposit money over the next months as God provides. Begin casting vision to others who could join your support team. And plan your vacation time to make sure that you will be able to go. 
  4. Pray – Pray that God would continue to teach you through the experience, that He would do the same for the other team members, and that He would bless the national church where you worked. Some say that the best thing about prayer-walking trips is that you can pray on-site with insight. You have that as a result of your trip. Lay it all before the Lord and walk through each day mentioning each place, person, need, and opportunity. Pray for the country, its government, peace for the church, blessing for the members, and for specific needs you learned about while there.
  5. Continue – Don’t stop the fellowship with those you went with if at all possible. It is amazing how God knits hearts together on mission trips. You can feel closer to fellow team members after one week of international travel and ministry than to people you have gone to church with for years. Get together occasionally to pray for the ministry site, to share food made from recipes of that country, to remember the experience, and to plan future ministry. Don’t waste that miracle of fellowship that God has given.
  6. Read – As a result of your new and expanded worldview, you should be reading your Bible and the newspaper with different eyes. Someone said that God cannot lead you based on information you don’t have. Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” The missions education you received on that trip should expand and enhance the way you understand the Bible and global events. Let your life’s experiences color your continuing journey Home.
  7. Build – I love having former missionaries in my classrooms. Many times newer students aren’t really sure what they need to learn. Some think they pretty much know it all, or at least all they need to know. Those who have been on the field come to classroom with a keen awareness of what they need to learn. They build on the experiences gained on the field with all the education they can get. Now that you have been to the field, read or re-read missionary biographies and stories related to that area or ministry. Let your mind soak in their lives and imagine yourself walking in their steps. Use your experience in the places where they lived to help you apply to your own life the lessons God taught them.
  8. Recruit – One of the great blessings for missionaries who work with short-term teams is that those returning church members can help them recruit career missionaries, more team members, and both prayer and financial supporters for their ministries. You can be an advocate for the missionaries you met. While they must remain to do the work God called them to do, you can be their boots on the ground back home to promote and recruit.


Being a good steward of the blessings God gives us includes that we reflect on and treasure them. The wise steward will ponder the steps taken on paths he’s traveled and consider how he could have done better, purposing in his heart to learn from all of this and be more prepared the next time. Someone asked me recently whether short-term mission trips were worth the time and expense, and whether they resulted in more good than harm. I responded that the difference depends on pre-trip orientation, good on-field team leadership, and debriefing afterwards. These eight steps are essential parts of the debriefing that can help us redeem the days and make us wise stewards of grace gifts like participation on a mission trips. The resulting wisdom can be invested in future ministry for global good and God’s glory.


Monday, October 13, 2014

Ten Reasons Why You Can’t be a Missionary


I travel and speak in a lot of churches, conferences, and countries, preaching and teaching about missions or taking teams on mission trips. I lead orientation for mission agencies and serve on their boards. In the process of all of this I talk to a lot of people who are passionate about missions. Some of them are relatively young and in college, seminary, or ministry, others are middle-aged or nearing retirement. I hear a lot of “reasons” that disappointed people believe exclude them from serving in missions. Here’s a collection of the top-ten most-cited reasons why some say they cannot answer a missionary call, and my usual counsel.

1. I don’t have the training I need to be a missionary.

            Don’t be so sure; it all depends on what you are going to do. If you are going to do evangelism, discipleship, church planting, or theological education, of course you need to get training. You wouldn’t go to be a medical doctor without going to medical school. For certain kinds of ministry, I would agree that it would be wise to pause and obtain the necessary training. But don’t consider your time at seminary to be wasted months or simply treading water. At seminary you are digging a well that you and your hearers will drink from for the rest of your life. However, if your missionary service will be through medical ministry, community development, or using skills and education you already have, a solid church background may serve you well enough, at least to begin. Further training is increasingly available via online programs through some of the best seminaries in the world or at home during your furloughs. Many missionaries are self-taught, constantly reading recommended texts to enhance their preparation for missions service. I am a strong proponent of getting all the education you possibly can, but if the door to the field is open and God is calling, then obey Him and trust Him to provide what you need.

2. I couldn’t raise the kind of support I would need.

            This is sometimes a self-fulfilling prophecy for those wavering and wondering why anyone would want to support their family. The understanding that you are not asking others to pay your bills for you, but rather are giving them the opportunity to join your mission team and participate in the advance of the Gospel provides boldness to share your passion, vision, and call. When others see your zeal and excitement about God’s call on your life it is contagious and they become your greatest prayer supporters, cheerleaders, and are eager participants on your mission team. Remember Hudson Taylor’s axiom, “God’s work done God’s way will never lack for God’s provision.” If missionary service is God’s will for your life, He will provide all you need. Don’t despair when financial support is slow is coming. One mission agency president reminded me, “God is never late. He is seldom early, but He’s never late!”

3. I’ve been divorced.

            Again, it depends on what you are going to do and where you are going to do it. Some cultures have strong opinions against divorced people being involved in ministry. Evangelicals in the Deep South are such a culture. Yet, a number of ministers have found places of service in biblical churches there after they have been divorced and restored, even in ministry. Some missionaries testify that they have had a similar experience. But remember, not everyone is going to plant or pastor churches. Some serving in support ministries or community development find that a divorce before they were believers or after abandonment does not preclude a fruitful ministry as a missionary. Talk to several mission agencies that are working where and how you want to serve before you excuse yourself from service. There is nothing in your past that will keep God from using you as He ordains. David Brainerd was dismissed from Yale and thus unable to get the training and ordination he needed to pastor, yet God used him powerfully among the New England indigenous people, and continues to use his “Life and Diary” to this very day. Some disqualify themselves with guilt over the past, saying, “You don’t know what I’ve done.” I don’t have to; I know what He’s done.

4. I have some medical issues.

            What one person calls a medical issue may be a challenge but not necessarily insurmountable. Perhaps your blood pressure is a bit too high, but is manageable with medicine and regular check-ups, or your cholesterol, or a host of other ailments. Some medical conditions may keep you from serving in a high altitude city such as La Paz or Cusco, but be perfectly fine at sea level in Lima or Buenos Aires, where medical care is as modern as in the USA.

5. I have student loans.

            This is arguably one of the most powerful missionary service dream killers—for us, but not for God. One of my students shared in class a few years ago that he and his wife were called to missions. Unfortunately, they had over $50,000 in student loans that they knew would take them decades to pay off. We prayed that God would make a way, but only half-heartedly as it seemed unrealistic to expect. I never saw him again. The next week when he did not come to class, the other students told me that he had shared his missions vision at a local church. A Christian businessman heard his plight and offered to pay off his loans so he and his wife could go to the field. God has His people in many places and He is able.

6. I’m not a preacher/theologian/church planter.

            Moses gave several excuses in Exodus 3 when God called him; among them was the fact that he was not a good speaker. I have talked to some candidates who confess they are not theologians—and I heartily agree with them! But God calls people to a host of ministries and avenues of service. Some of the more introverted types may translate Bibles, repair missionary airplanes, or serve behind the scenes in some other capacity, but the work of missions would not advance as it does without their crucial work.

7. I can’t learn languages.

            I used to say that (and people who hear me speak may still say that about me). One person who would agree quickly with such an assessment would be my high school German teacher. I was terrible and German grammar just would not sink in, but that was all before I was saved and called to missions. When God called me, He gave me the ability to do what He wanted me to do. I love languages now and try my best to communicate clearly and effectively. I have seen people learn a second or third language in their forties, fifties, and sixties. God enables us to do what He wants us to do. He is more concerned with our availability than our ability.

8. Our children are too old/young.

            As President of Reaching & Teaching International Ministries, I am very concerned about the health and well-being of our missionary kids. I know that their parents are as well. MKs are sometimes overlooked in their parents’ excitement when answering God’s call. A baby in good health is no reason to delay following God’s call to the field; in fact, young children are often effective door openers. Your new neighbors see your family as an equalizer that removes a sense of suspicion or even threat that may otherwise exist. Additionally, almost everyone loves babies. They won’t hesitate to give cultural parenting advice that develops relationships faster than anything else. Older children may be legitimate cause for pause and waiting a few years until they are in college, but a teenaged child does not have to be a deal breaker for missions service. Some teenagers have their own sense of calling and are as eager as the parents. Yet, teenage years are often difficult ones. Teens are going through enough changes without having to deal with moving to another culture, learning a new language, leaving friends, girlfriends or boyfriends, and being the new kid on an uneven playing field. Sometimes the ages of our children are legitimate considerations, but give your older kids some credit. Talk with them about your desire to serve as missionaries before deciding you are disqualified because of them. If they sense that they are the reason that you cannot follow God’s call, this could create false and long-lasting guilt for them.

9. I’m too old.

            We knew a missionary in her 70s who had served in Uganda. She came to visit us in Ecuador to discern God’s will about her next country of service since she was sure He was moving her. She decided on Guyana where she could speak English, but earned my admiration and respect for her selfless zeal at an age when many begin to coast. Former IMB President, Jerry Rankin told the story of a man who answered the call to go to an East Asian country at that government’s request to teach English. His kind Christian demeanor and faithful service opened the door for others to follow in his steps. The interesting part of the story is that he was in his 70s when he first went to serve. Moses was in his 80s when God called him to his life’s greatest work. Ralph Winter said that a man’s most effective years of work are after he has reached his 50s. Indeed, by that age you have learned relational skills they never taught you in college. You can read people and situations and suggest wise solutions or strategies to address problems that only the wisdom of experience would know. Do not stop serving God, or stop following His leading, simply because you have a few decades behind you.

10. I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to adjust to the food, dirt, heat, traffic, crime . . .

            The first couple of words in this phrase are really what this reason is all about. In fact, it is more of a fearful excuse than a reason. Very few believers would give the excuse of not wanting to obey God because it is inconvenient, but we will allow fear to paralyze us without feeling any conviction. God has said repeatedly in His Word, “Do not fear . . . be not afraid . . . peace be with you.” I ask people regularly, “When God calls, how will you respond?” You can say No, and you can say Lord, but you cannot say No, Lord! Because when you do, He’s not, you are.  Jesus asked, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46) In the flesh, certainly there are many things to fear, and there are many inconveniences outside of your comfort zone, but don’t let fear or the bother make the decision for you. Do not waste your life on you; it’s not yours. You were bought at a price.

Final Thoughts

It is possible that you have a really good reason that is sufficient for not obeying a missionary call; but I doubt it. If you do have a reason for not going, still the zeal of the most passionate “goer” should be seen in you as a “sender.”

If you hear Him calling, just surrender and say, “Here am I, Lord. Send me.” Let Him be the One to say No if a no needs to be said. He may not, and that’s a thought that could move you right around the world.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Theology & the Great Commission

Guest post by Reaching & Teaching staff member, Jon Deedrick 
Is theology necessary to your life as a Christian? Beyond that, is teaching, understanding, and loving theology a vital component of the mission that Christ gave each one of us – to go into all the world and make disciples?
Working toward a definition
At its most basic level, theology is simply defined from its etymology: a study of God. But, in order to answer my question above, we have go deeper than that. If we stop at the etymological definition, we’re in danger of giving an entirely wrong impression of the importance of good theology. You see, God is not a subject to be sterilely analyzed, like some sort of cosmic lab rat. Nor do we study God to learn facts about him, as if life is a big game of theological Jeopardy and the one who knows the most facts wins. No, we study God to know him personally, to love him personally, and to obey him personally.
Because he is the Lord, Creator of heaven and earth and the Redeemer of his people, God is worthy of our highest worship. God’s Word broadcasts his matchless character and mighty deeds, and so our worship must be be informed by the knowledge of God as he has revealed himself to us. We study God in his Word so that we might better glorify him with our lives.
Therefore, a proper definition of theology connects the knowledge of God in the Scripture to its application in our lives. John Frame’s definition of theology is brief, but helpful:
“Theology is the application of Scripture, by persons, to every area of life” (Systematic Theology, Loc 1241 on Kindle)

Frame continues,
Why then do we need theology in addition to Scripture? The only answer, I believe, is ‘because we need to apply Scripture to life’ (Systematic Theology, ibid).

If this is true, any time we study or teach the Scripture in order to apply it, we are doing theology. When we interpret the Bible verse-by-verse, we are doing exegetical theology. When we trace the Biblical story as a history of God’s dealings with us, we are doing biblical theology. When we summarize what the Bible says about a certain subject (i.e. what the Bible says about redemption), we are doing systematic theology. When we carefully seek how to communicate God’s Word, we are doing practical theology. When we study how others throughout the church’s history have understood the Scripture, we are doing historical theology. In other words, whether you realize it or not, each one of us that studies the Bible is doing theology.

Answering the question
Now that we understand what theology is, we’re ready to answer my question. Is teaching, understanding, and loving theology a vital component of the Christian mission?
When King Jesus ascended into heaven, his marching orders for our mission on earth were clear:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  Matt 28:19-20

The Great Commission clearly includes teaching. We cannot fulfill our mission unless we teach in order to develop mature disciples of Jesus. That is why the Apostle Paul speaks of pastoral ministry being aimed at “the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13). He exhorts pastors to teach sound (healthy) doctrine because healthy doctrine rightly applied produces healthy churches (1 Tim 1:10; 6:3; Tit 1:9; 2:1). The church cannot maximally glorify God without a sturdy grasp and application of sound doctrine. Any time we teach and apply the doctrine of the Scripture, we are doing theology.
Of course, I’ve tipped off the answer to my question several times. “Yes!” Teaching, understanding, and loving theology is an absolutely necessary component of the Christian mission. Yet, we must embrace what theology actually is. It is not a study of God in the abstract. It is the application of the Bible to every area of our life. That is why theology is vitally, eternally important.
So friend, let’s go into all the world and preach the gospel. Let’s boldly announce that Jesus Christ is the King who has died to pay sin’s price and rose to conquer sin’s curse. Let’s urge sinners to repent of their rebellion and invite them to trust in Christ. But let’s also be about the business of teaching, understanding, and loving theology in order to make mature disciples of Jesus Christ.
If you find yourself neglecting theology, you might soon find yourself neglecting your mission from the King. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Report from Panama

Guest Post by Reaching & Teaching staff member, Jason Wright:

“If the Bible truly is the word of God, then we need to seek to understand and interpret it rightly.”

This was the premise that guided our week of training in Panama early in August. About 45 students, split between a morning class in the small town of Capira, and an evening class just a short walk from the Panama Canal, gathered to learn solid principles for interpreting the Bible.

The makeup of these classes varies from pastors serving or desiring to serve in remote places, to faithful women seeking to share Christ in their neighborhoods, to young professionals who want to learn how to study the Bible faithfully. One man, who attended the morning class in Capira, has only been a believer for two months. Yet, here he was, learning to interpret Scripture faithfully and apply it rightly. I was struck by the consideration that if every new believer learned these principles, how healthy our churches would be!

We began each day by teaching biblical interpretive principles and why they are important. However, from the beginning, we reminded the participants that we were there for more than just teaching head knowledge. We wanted them to practice what they were learning and by applying it we prayed their hearts would be drawn closer to God. Each day we assigned the class a text from the Bible and asked them to apply the principles we were teaching. This was truly encouraging to witness! Here were Christians from various backgrounds and education levels studying the Scriptures deeply and seeking to understand them rightly. There were times when this was a struggle. But, as their understanding grew, you could sense a renewed passion to study and apply the Scriptures.

In addition to biblical interpretation, one of our teaching team members, Andres, taught on the spiritual discipline of evangelism, specifically the biblical motivation for evangelism and some practical things to consider. Here again our goal was not just to give head knowledge about evangelism but to see that knowledge lead to action. On the final day students were able to share stories of opportunities they’d had to share the gospel recently. Praise God for their faithfulness!

Panama is a country made up of various indigenous tribes. Some of these tribes extend into other countries where those groups remain unreached with the gospel. At least two of these tribes were represented in the training sessions. Our hope is that not only will they take what they are learning back to their own communities, but also that God will use them to take his truth into neighboring countries and into unreached tribes.

We are reminded then, of the vision of Reaching and Teaching Ministries that comes from 2 Timothy 2:2 where Paul writes this to Timothy, “ . . . What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” We pray that God will allow the principles taught this week to be repeated and taught over and over again and that the church in Panama, and beyond, will be strengthened.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Training Pastors in Belize: Lessons from a Missionary

Guest post from Reaching & Teaching staff member, Cohen Ezelle:

I remember when the Lord first started giving me the desire to train pastors and church leaders. I was in my mid twenties, in Bible College, and working in landscaping full-time. Needless to say I would come home physically drained after sweating in the hot sun all day. But school was great and I was enjoying my studies and growing from them. Yet, sitting in my chair at night, doing my homework, I couldn’t help but think about the average bi-vocational pastor in Central or South America who had to work just as hard as I did, but wasn’t receiving any such education as I had the privilege of receiving. It was then that the Lord made clear to me that if someone didn’t take them the training these pastors wouldn’t be trained. They would continue on in their inaccuracies or possibly even their heresies. I knew there must be pastors and church leaders out there who longed to be trained in the Scriptures, but their lack of funds, facilities, or adequate transportation kept them from getting it. I wanted to take it to them . . . badly.

My wife and I had already been on three short-term mission trips to Belize at that point, but our ministry approach was broad and diverse. This zeroing in on teaching and training pastors and church leaders made perfect sense. Healthy shepherds make healthy sheep, which makes healthy churches. Healthy churches make healthier communities and villages, and thus the nation is gradually changed for the glory of God. In this way His Kingdom will come and His will be done. It was so clear and seemed so obviously simple.

After Bible College I had another privilege afforded to me . . . seminary. And what a privilege it was. My focus was clear and I was determined to gather as much Bible knowledge as I could for my own personal holiness and for the good of my future students. It was almost like a Macedonian call was ringing in my head, but it was Belizean of course. “Come to Belize and help us” was the imagined plea from my students I had yet to meet. Yet, it drove me on. I would make theologians out of those Belizeans and they would turn that little country upside down, so I thought.

Years later after language school, more children, and two international moves we finally arrived in Belize as full-time missionaries on July 31st, 2009. I remember almost thinking, “Now, we’ll see some changes in Belize.” What humility. I thought I had the key to fix all of Belize’s problems. And I actually did because I was armed with the powerful gospel of Jesus Christ. But as a new missionary I didn’t realize that there were many unknown obstacles waiting to show themselves over the next 4+ years.

First, there was the obstacle of overcoming the stereotypes that previous missionaries had left behind. Missionaries aren’t perfect and some can even exhibit down right shocking behavior. It takes time to show you’re different from those who’ve erred on one side or the other. Months passed before one gentleman in our church trusted me enough to even have a short conversation with me. Or on the opposite side, one man told me that I wasn’t a Christian and shouldn’t even go to church all because I wouldn’t give him the money for which he incessantly begged.

Second was the obstacle of cultural norms. Where we served in Belize it was common to only receive the information the person wanted you to have, especially if being full transparent would show him to be uneducated or guilty of sin. Understanding how to listen and what questions to ask took time and skill. Most Belizeans really wanted to please us, so we were often told what they thought we wanted to hear. This made it especially difficult to truly diagnose a person’s spiritual health and know where, or what, to begin teaching them.

Third was the obstacle of the lack of literacy. Thankfully, the education system in Belize has improved from what it was many years ago, but the nationals are only required to go through 8th grade. High School must be paid for out of pocket. Therefore, not everyone can go, especially not many of the indigenous Mayan Indians who have managed to find themselves toward the bottom of socioeconomic levels. But the indigenous people made up the bulk of the population where we served in Southern Belize. So as far as averages go, literacy was low.

My original plan of entering the country with Bible guns blazin’ quickly found me shooting blanks. People weren’t lining up to be trained. Finding the ones who really wanted it was hard. Overcoming the misunderstandings about who a missionary really is and what they’re actually supposed to do took time. And learning to teach at their level took great care and finesse. For example, when making the point for a literal six-day interpretation of creation and that dinosaurs must have lived alongside humans, one of my students asked, “What’s a dinosaur?” Granted, this extreme lack of education was not the norm, but it did happen, and taught me that I could not assume anything in my teaching.

My experience of training and later graduating the thirteen students God gave me was more than rewarding. They learned so much and many of them grew beyond my expectations. But it all went much differently then I thought it would years ago sitting in my sweaty work shirt in my chair doing homework. It was a much smaller, harder, and slower work than I originally planned. But, when I flew away from Belize on March 11th, 2014 no longer a full-time missionary, I was confident that I had taught the ones whom the Lord had put on my heart, those who had called in my ear so many years before.

Many people in the world today will not receive the proper Bible training they need in order to be faithful pastors or church leaders unless we take it to them. That’s simply the truth.



Monday, June 23, 2014

Refuge

I'm writing this while flying from Belém to São Paulo for a few days of meetings with IMB missionaries and Brazilian Baptist leaders after spending two weeks in the Brazilian Amazon with a team of students from Southern Seminary and the College at Southern. We joined International Mission Board missionaries Rob and Jenny Patterson and Clyde and Carol Schulz to assist them with Chronological Bible Storying among the Quilombolas.

The trip was twice as long as most of my trips, required sleeping in a hammock most nights, and carrying everything you will need from village to village. The most challenging part of the trip for me was that Brazil uses Portuguese rather than Spanish, thus rendering my communication skills to understanding only 3-4 of every ten words and a speaking ability of even less. But our IMB missionaries and Brazilian translators were gracious and patient to help us at every turn.

We traveled by plane, car, bus, and boat over hundreds of miles of this vast, green wilderness. We slogged through mud and rain, wearied under the scorching sun and smothering humidity, and fell into our hammocks at the end of long days, but it was a wonderful experience—not simply because of the jungle paradise of monkeys, parrots, macaws, sloths, pink-footed tarantulas, and a thousand shades of
green. Rather, it was a wonderful experience because we saw how God is working among our Brazilian brothers and sisters. We loved meeting Quilombolas and working with them to reach others. We were thankful to see how our IMB missionaries are working among them.

Our SBTS team of seven students and one professor joined IMB missionaries to begin the work of Bible storying in two unreached areas, and helped in another area where storying had already begun. We divided into teams and went to the scattered homes throughout the jungle telling the story of creation and then following up with the story of the fall on subsequent days. We traveled to three different communities for storying, and I had the privilege of preaching the Gospel in a fourth town. Brazilian Baptists welcomed us as family, opened their home for us to sleep at times, to watch the World Cup games (when Brazil was playing!), and graciously prepared meals. Many of those with whom we worked share a passion to reach these Quilombola areas for Christ.

Quilombolas are the descendants of African slaves who escaped from harsh slavery through the centuries. The people group is referred to as Quilombola, but each settlement is a quilombo. When Quilombolas finally received official freedom from slavery, that was about all they received; they did
not receive guarantees of rights or property. They are petitioning now for the legal ownership and rights of their land, and the government has established a process for them to follow. After initially enslaving indigenous people, land-owners began bringing Africans as slaves to Brazil. While many African religions and customs continue among the Quilombolas, a syncretism of Catholicism, indigenous animism, and West African spiritism is most common in these areas.

In the mammoth Brazilian state of Pará, twice the size of Texas, there are almost 500 quilombo communities. IMB missionaries Rob and Jenny are currently working in about twelve of these after four years of efforts. The very name quilombo is virtually synonymous with isolation in Brazil, so much so that many Brazilians believe that Quilombolas are more a part of their history rather than significant numbers of peoples today. Some Quilombolas shared that they feel that they were thrown away and forgotten. However, running throughout Brazil are between 5,000 and 6,000 quilombo communities. The name quilombo is a Bantu word from the West African slaves that means refuge. A quilombo is a city of refuge.

Free men and women were kidnapped from West Africa and brought to the Americas as slaves. Some eventually escaped their harsh conditions, and sought and found refuge in the Amazon region. They not only had to escape and survive, they had to defend their quilombos from attacks and efforts to recapture them--time and time again. Defending themselves was not enough, many of these communities courageously went on raids to deliver more slaves and bring them to freedom in these refuge communities. Anyone who came seeking freedom was welcomed.

Like many people in Central and South America, Quilombolas have mixed Catholicism with West Africa spiritism and the animism of the indigenous peoples among whom they lived and very often married. Sadly, there is no legacy of the deep spiritual traditions of Christian belief expressed through
music. Evangelical Christianity was never proclaimed and embraced among them, and so they never knew a profound belief in Christian truths that holds tenaciously to the hope Christ offers. There is no legacy of Christian stories, powerful preachers, faithful churches, or the powerful inspirational music that epitomizes fervent faith in a rescuing Redeemer.

I am intrigued by the Bantu word that they chose and used for the name of their communities: quilombo, "refuge." I think it was providential. I believe that God will open the eyes of these people whose ancestors sought refuge for centuries, scratched out a living and survived in the wilds of Amazonia, who are still striving today and they will see their spiritual oppression and bondage to Satan, and turn to Jesus Christ as their Deliverer. O may each of these communities become Cities of True Refuge and may they join Jesus to seek and to save that which is lost! Amen.