Stories from the Field

South Asia: A Melting Pot of Religion

BY ALFIE, A PIONEERS UK WORKER IN SOUTH ASIA

Bells. Today, like most days, our day starts with the sound of bells.

This is not the sound of our alarm clock or our doorbell but of the puja** bells ringing in worship to the Hindu gods. As we step out of our flat, we see the now familiar sight of red and yellow paste mixed with a red flower carefully placed at each entrance to the house. We pass the remnants of the incense burnt earlier this morning in the potted plant by the gate.

Puja. Our landlord’s daughter-in-law has been busy, as she is every morning, ensuring she fulfils her duty of offering puja to the gods on behalf of the household. She carries the burden of the spiritual wellbeing of the family; if something bad befalls them, she simply must not have worshipped enough.

This mindset also pervades the Christians here. One morning a Christian driver let his children sleep instead of waking them in the early hours to pray with him before he set off. Only he and his wife prayed. That day, he was involved in a collision when a motorcyclist made a poor decision and cut in front of his car. The motorcyclist was injured but received no lasting damage. The Christian driver wonders whether the accident would have occurred if he had woken his children to join him and his wife for morning prayers.

Walking through our small town it is impossible to forget that we live in a predominantly Hindu area. There are constant reminders surrounding us – the temple at the end of the main road; the man offering worship at the shrine; the Hindu swastikas that decorate so many houses, calling for prosperity and good luck; the red and yellow paste that adorns the homes, the shop fronts, the shrines, the Hindu statues and the faces of the people we pass in the street – a tika on the forehead of the woman selling us fruit and vegetables or an intricate design on the face of the man walking by.

As we head out of town and travel to a village in the foothills of the Himalayas, we leave Hinduism behind and move into an area of Buddhism. Buddhist prayer flags hang from many houses, large flagpoles stand proud within the village. As we admire the stunning views, we can see them fluttering in the wind, offering up prayers on the householders’ behalf. Having been invited into a neighbour’s home and enjoying their generous hospitality, a peculiar object catches our eye – are goats sacrificed on this object by the head of the household, the witch doctor?

Christians, Buddhists, Hindus. Neighbours, colleagues, friends. All appears to be amicable but below the surface, tensions simmer. Legal proceedings when Hindu neighbours complain the church building is too tall or prevent access unless the church purchases more land at an inflated price; anger when a family member converts to Christianity; new Government laws designed to prevent conversion and prevent foreign influence. Persecution takes many forms. All is not harmonious. On Hindu festival days, most Christians remain indoors to avoid any involvement. Integrated yet segregated.

But there is hope. We met a man, a talented artist, creating beautiful, intricate paintings. He once painted mandalas and other Buddhist imagery but when he became a Christian he prayed that God would show him what he could do instead, as painting was all he knew. A few weeks later, a lady commissioned him to paint a Christian alternative – a mandala incorporating a Bible verse. He praised the Lord! God had given him back his art which he now uses to further God’s Kingdom.

Migrant in Our Midst

BY A PIONEERS MISSIONARY IN EUROPE

The world’s population is on the move. The latest UN figures suggest that 258 million people are currently living in a country other than their birth country. 78 million of these are settled in Europe, where they have joined the millions of descendants of those migrants who arrived in the last few decades. This gives unique opportunities for Gospel witness, as significant numbers of migrants come from countries traditionally closed to the Gospel.

However, not everyone is excited about the growing global movement of people. Most European countries have seen a growth in political parties advocating stricter immigration policies, and greater control of immigration was one of the reasons put forward in support of Brexit leading up to the 2016 referendum. Similar concerns are seen in other parts of the world. In the US, Donald Trump was elected president partly on the back of a promise to put Americans first, and a range of countries throughout the world are introducing tighter immigration policies.

The presence of foreigners tends to raise two significant concerns in the minds of many:

Firstly, there are concerns that migrants and their descendants have an adverse impact on the indigenous population’s access to jobs or welfare benefits. Every job occupied by a foreigner is one less job for an indigenous person, and every time a foreigner accesses welfare benefits, healthcare or schools, it puts greater pressure on these resources to the detriment of indigenous people.

Secondly, indigenous people often express real concerns that foreigners will have a negative impact on culture. Most cultures have an expectation that foreigners will conform to the dominant culture, and a perceived lack of willingness to conform to the host culture (including language, dress and interpersonal interactions) creates confusion or anger, and possibly fear that foreigners will permanently change the culture in a given neighbourhood or city. Members of the host culture can fear becoming strangers in their own country.

Naturally, the idea that foreigners have a negative influence on a country is not uncontested. For example, strong arguments can be made about the benefits of foreigners providing a necessary workforce in the context of an ageing indigenous population. Many will testify to the quality-of-life improvements brought about by a richer cultural tapestry in a given country – who doesn’t like a good curry?!

Nevertheless, concerns about ‘those’ people taking over ‘our’ country can run deep, and the sentiment can impact Christians and non-Christians alike. This has significant implications for diaspora ministry – ministry to the migrants among us. For no matter how great the potential for diaspora ministry might be, it is unlikely to be realised if indigenous believers primarily view those arriving from traditionally non-Christian nations as a threat to their country. Frustrations or fears related to real or perceived negative consequences of migration can often act as a significant deterrent to any genuine attempt to share the love of Christ with the foreigner. It is hard to love your perceived enemy.

However, Scripture is emphatically clear that we MUST love our brothers and enemies alike, and love should be expressed in both word and deed. That does not mean we necessarily must support an immigration policy that provides free passage to everyone wanting to enter our country. But it absolutely means we must seriously wrestle with heart attitudes that are not in line with Scripture, so that we are ready to genuinely love and share Christ with whomever we meet, including those from other cultures.

This is a daunting task, but thankfully the Holy Spirit and Scripture are formidable resources to us and can help us in at least three ways:

Remind Us Of The Grace We Have Received

I live in a neighbourhood that is roughly 70% Pakistani Muslim, and I remember walking down the street a couple of years ago feeling thoroughly frustrated with an aspect of Pakistani culture. I was getting on my high horse about the deficiency of Pakistanis, when the Spirit reminded me that I was a wild olive shoot that was grafted into the true vine (Romans 11.17). I’m not better than Pakistanis. I am not less sinful. My European culture does not make me more deserving of God’s grace. I am on a completely level playing field with Mohammed and Ahmed – we are desperately in need of God’s grace and mercy. Being reminded of God’s grace should act as a healthy antidote to the sense of superiority that can easily be formed by our ethnocentric view of the world. God’s love for the migrant in our midst is as relentless and passionate as it is for us.

Remind Us That ‘Our’ Country Is Not Ours

This country does not belong to us. It does not belong to immigrants either. This country, and every other speck of the earth belongs to God. No population has a divine right to a particular territory. Even Israel’s control of the Promised Land was conditional – obey the Lord and enjoy the land, disobey and go into exile. We don’t deserve to enjoy the benefits of our country. As a continent, Europe has turned its back on God. When we consider the sinfulness of our own lives, and the societal rejection of God, our first response should not be anger that migrants have come to our shores. Rather, we should marvel that God has allowed us to continue to enjoy peace, prosperity and freedom to the extent that we have. This does not take away the challenges of engaging cross-culturally on our ‘home turf’, but it might dampen our misplaced sense that we are being unfairly ‘robbed’ by undeserving foreigners. Exactly what have we done to deserve living where we do?

Remind Us That This Is Not Our Home: We Seek The Kingdom

Christ told us to pray for God’s kingdom to come, for our Father’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Scripture also reminds us that we are sojourners passing through – we now long for, and belong to, a heavenly country. Our desire should therefore not be to see our national culture prevail, but for God’s kingdom to grow. And with that in mind, we should feel free to challenge aspects of any culture that does not conform to our Father’s will. So if an incoming culture shines a light on aspects of our own culture that is not in line with Scripture, e.g. our Western hyper-individualism, then we should receive that influence as a gift and be open to grow.

Similarly, at times, members of different cultures may be allies, where our prevailing Western culture is pushing us down a road we don’t want to travel. For example, my daughters are in a primary school with predominantly Muslim children, and I know their Muslim parents would stand shoulder to shoulder with us if the school wanted to introduce significant teaching on gender fluidity and sexual ethics contrary to scriptural commands.

And of course, there will be times when aspects of a migrant population’s culture run counter to Scripture, in which case we should also seek to find opportunities to influence this culture in a different direction. But in all these matters, our benchmark is the Kingdom of God, not our own national culture.

The growth in migration provides unique opportunities for Gospel ministry among diaspora populations, but without the Spirit’s help, we are unlikely to take them. May God continue to shape us in the image of Christ, open our eyes to His heart for all people and prepare us to reach out in love to the foreigner in our midst. ~

A Veteran’s Guide to FUNraising

BY MARK, PIONEERS UK’S PARTNERSHIP DEVELOPMENT MANAGER

Jill B, retired professional, but more importantly, mum of Lynn and mother-in-law to Piet, who work with Pioneers UK in Southeast Asia, has spent a lifetime raising funds for her daughter and other causes close to her heart. If, like me, you’re wondering how you might ‘do your bit’ for a Pioneers worker you know or for the office team who help hold everything together, then we can take inspiration from Jill’s experience and sense of fulfilment! She sat down (for two minutes!) to tell me about her experiences running stalls and hosting activities…

Mark: What do you enjoy most about your days manning the stand at a village fête or hosting fundraising days at home?

Jill: Meeting so many great people – the sense of working together, the friendships that grow, meeting the donors. Often, I’m told of another good cause someone is supporting and can encourage them in doing so. When fundraising for Lynn and Piet, I hear about other young people doing wonderful things in the world and know that if talking to me reminds them of others’ need of support, lots has been achieved. I’m grateful for the welcome I’m always given, the help offered when I’m on my own, the “good spots” saved for me, the visitors who come looking for me year after year.

Mark: What’s your main motivation for fundraising?

Jill: In many ways it’s to raise awareness – of Lynn and Piet and the work they do or whatever the important cause is. I’ve been to Hope Show [a popular village event in the Derbyshire Peaks] for at least 5 years and visitors often come to catch up on Lynn and Piet’s news and give generously for them. I go to a ‘Senior’ Ladies’ Knitting Group each year with an up-to-date PowerPoint of the family and their work and they ask lots of questions and they too give generously. People sort of ‘take ownership’ of them. The money is always welcome, but the interest and prayers are by far the most important. I always have boards, photos and maps on display. They catch attention too.

Mark: Does it matter to members of the public that it’s a Christian mission you are raising funds for?

Jill: No! The average members of the public identify with them as people who help others to have a better life, to have an income to meet their needs and to give their children a better future than they themselves have known. We have leaflets etc. for anyone to pick up. We’re Gideons too and take pocket sized New Testaments to give away, and usually find that 20-30 of these are either given or just disappear at most public events.

Mark: What advice would you give people wondering where to start in community fundraising?

Jill: Pray about it and then do something definite. Identify with the good cause so that you make all you say very personal –  “My nephew Joe”,  “Tom from our church” etc. Look at your own skills and resources and use these. Perhaps you love walking or baking – turn it into a way to raise money. Grab a stall at a community fair.  Look for others who are (or may  become) likeminded to help and support you. Sometimes you have to be bold and ask or even beg for an opportunity to fundraise or for equipment to use or goods to sell.

Mark: If people are working only by themselves, what activities or events would you recommend they do to get started?

Jill: Just start selling things to friends – plants/cakes/crafts/ handmade jewellery/jams – especially at times like Christmas and Easter.  If you’re a tombola person, hunt out prizes – it’s often surprising how many things you have, still in mint condition, that you don’t use. Clean second hand books go down well – look in charity shops. One charity shop sells me grubby soft toys cheaply – a wash in the machine, a tumble dry, the odd stitch and they’re as good as new!

Mark: Any final words of advice, Jill, before I set up my stall or bake my cakes?

Jill: The main thing is to enjoy yourself and to enjoy all the people you meet – a smile takes you a long way to success! And to remember that success isn’t the amount of money raised – though this is always good – it’s the seeds you’ve sown, all the people you’ve talked to, all the kindness that’s been spread, and much more!

 

Photo by Park Troopers.

From the Ends of the Earth

AN INTERVIEW WITH WAIRIMU
DIRECTOR OF PIONEERS EAST AFRICA

Pioneers: Hi Wairimu! Thanks so much for agreeing to chat with us today. Tell us a little bit about yourself—who you are, where you’re from etc.

Wairimu: I am a Kenyan missionary in my mid-fifties, a widow with one daughter whose family has two sons. I was born and raised in Nairobi from independence after my parents’ migration to the new capital. I coordinated youth and children’s ministry in two churches for a total of fifteen years before going to seminary to study missions. I have worked with refugees in this region for about eight years. I am now finishing doctoral studies in missional theology and development. I am also serving as the first Pioneers mobilisation office director for the East African region.

Pioneers: Who is the East Africa mobilisation office looking to train and send to the mission field? And where in the world are they going?

Wairimu: In theory, we are set up to send people from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan, Congo, Zambia, Malawi, Madagascar and Botswana, based on geographical and cultural affinity. French-speaking people from Congo are often drawn to North Africa; Kenyans seem to have quite an interest in the Middle and Far East. Ideally, they should be able to go to any destination the Lord has called them to if they can effectively raise sufficient and sustainable resources from their home communities. To that end, we normally encourage them to reach unreached peoples within their own country first.

Pioneers: You’ve implied here that one of the challenges in mobilising Africans is the lack of financial resources in the local churches. What are some other challenges that Africans face in answering God’s call to mission?

Wairimu: I have been involved in missionary care for a number of years and have seen first hand the challenges that indigenous missionaries face in part due to negligence and perhaps ignorance on the part of their sending churches and agencies. God has called many people to missions through local missions events, but a large number of them don’t reach their mission destinations because there are very few viable sending agencies and churches, if any,

Pioneers: So as a general rule, the local churches don’t have financial resources to support indigenous missionaries, but are there other ways the African church is contributing, or could contribute?

Wairimu: The church has made some effort in planting diaspora churches (for instance, Kenyan churches in the UK), mainly to meet the needs of Africans in other countries. These are maintenance churches that have potential for outreach, if given sufficient training, motivation and guidance. Church and mission leaders need to support missionary sending much more than they are doing, especially among unreached peoples where the need is great but the workforce is small.

Pioneers: More and more of the global Church’s missionary efforts are coming from the Global South. What do you think are the contributing factors to this increased sense of calling in people from the Global South?

Wairimu: There are a lot of teaching, training, envisioning activities happening in Kenya these days. Kenya is a global missions, business and public service hub so many mission strategies and ideas get tested here first. There is also a growing number of well-discipled Christians who are venturing into missions even though the sending efforts are still low.

Pioneers: What can people in the “traditional” sending nations (the UK, the US, Germany etc.) do to facilitate the sending of Africans, South Americans and Asians?

Wairimu: It would be good if they could come and visit and see that their financial endowment is being used in God’s work, regardless of who uses it. In addition, they could share their expertise and be willing to work under indigenous leadership. The challenges of local resource mobilisation make it difficult to send those who clearly are ready to go but don’t have the financial muscle to sustain themselves. Trade imbalances continue to keep the Western nations rich at the cost of Southern economies so we may never really be able to compete at the same level.

Pioneers: When we think of the word ‘missionary,’ a European or North American face usually springs to mind. But the fact is, God has been calling Africans to missions for a long time. We’ve been told missions runs in your family…

Wairimu: Yes! I just found out recently that my grandmother, who I didn’t get a chance to know, was a missionary. I hope to start writing her story in another year or so. Many intruiging stories are told about her but what is clear is that she and her husband were commissioned to reach many in the Kenyan highlands, she built a church in her compound and was non-denominational in her work. She is my current hero.

Pioneers: What’s going on in the East Africa mobilisation office these days? What do you need prayer for?

Wairimu: I have spent most of this year recruiting and training potential volunteer staff. I have learnt the hard way a lot about the aspirations and expectations of volunteers in Christian service. Those who have experience in the positions we require are looking for jobs and not for volunteer positions. Those who are willing to volunteer don’t tend to have the discipline to learn what they need to contribute meaningfully. I am praying for God to bring those whom he has called to commit to this work. I need urgent prayers for this office team to come together. We are open to staff members coming from any part of the world if they feel called to serve in a mobilisation office in admin and accounts, training facilitation, resource mobilisation, research and publications, and in missionary care.

I have had the opportunity to walk with about fifteen people who expressed interest in being mobilised. It turns out that many of them are looking for paid positions. I am learning that we will need creative sending ideas such as sending people as students, business people and professionals for mobilisation to succeed. Also, we will need locally to engage young believers who are indigenous to their own unreached people to make it sustainable.

Pioneers: Thank you for your insights, Wairimu. You’ve given us a lot to think about! We will keep you and our Kenyan brothers and sisters in our prayers, and who knows, maybe one of us will be called to come serve alongside you to mobilise Africans to the nations!

The Power of the Gospel in the Global South

BY SIMON, PIONEERS AUSTRALIA DIRECTOR

If you hear someone say Western missions is over, don’t you believe it! Western missions (and mission from anywhere) is over when Christ returns, and the end has come (Revelation 22:20-21; Matthew 24:14). That said, there has been a radical shift in recent years in terms of the centre of mission activity.

Until fairly recently, Christian mission was predominantly “from the West to the rest”. Today, the number of cross cultural gospel bearers from the Global South is on the rise… and the rise is significant. South Korea, Brazil and Nigeria are now major missionary-sending countries, and Christians in China, India and Indonesia, among others, are poised to send large numbers of Christ-followers to countries near and far, including to the post-Christian West.

An example of how God is stirring His people in the Global South to engage in mission is seen in the story of Pioneers’ influence in Pacific countries such as the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.

A Catalytic Ministry and the Solomon Islands

In 1886, a small group of indentured Solomon Islanders working in the sugarcane fields of Queensland, Australia, were being discipled by a young Australian Christian woman named Florence Young. This ministry developed into a significant mission when Solomon Islanders returned to their home country with a new message for their people – salvation through Jesus Christ. In the early 1900s, this group became known as the South Sea Evangelical Mission (SSEM), spreading the gospel throughout the islands of Melanesia and giving birth to the South Sea Evangelical Church in the 1960s. This church today has more than 90,000 members.

From Headhunting to Worship in Papua New Guinea

In the mid-1900s, another small Christian mission was formed with a strong vision to engage peoples on the islands of New Guinea. This was a time when tribal fighting was bloody, and headhunting was the norm. Aussies and New Zealanders built airstrips, established medical outposts, taught literacy, started Bible studies and, by God’s grace, established churches. The work of Asia Pacific Christian Mission (APCM) contributed directly to the formation of the Evangelical Church of PNG and the Evangelical Church of Indonesia. It is virtually impossible to count the number of believers in some 700 ECPNG congregations throughout PNG today. In the late 1990s, SSEM and APCM linked arms to become Pioneers of Australia.

From Receiving to Sending

This year, 30 leaders from Pioneers and Pacific churches convened at the request of the Pacific leaders to pursue a partnership for the mobilisation of Pacific Islanders into the  Pioneers global movement. We now have the beginnings of two mobilisation teams forming to support this partnership; several discussions with new workers; and our first Fijian family has recently been appointed to serve among Indigenous Australians. We celebrate new members and partners joining our growing global family.

This is a new era. The Lord is at work in the Pacific Islands – stirring the hearts of His people in the Global South to reach others in nearby countries and in lands elsewhere! It is a privilege to watch this story unfold, and to affirm such an important historic relationship for God’s glory and God’s story in the Pacific and beyond. ~

This. Now. Here.

BY NAM, A PIONEERS UK MISSION MENTOR

Some called me a missionary, others a church planter, still others a volunteer worker, the children in the villages called me “teacher”.

Whichever hat they saw me wearing, I was there because I wanted to make God known in the places where he is least known. Spending the last 4 years in Isaan, Northeast Thailand had been the coming together of dreams and preparation for the prior 6 years.

I spent my days learning the tonal Thai language, teaching English to school children and oral Bible stories to villagers, prayer walking, praying for and sharing love with patients in a cancer hospital. I was passionate to see the driest soils ploughed up and sowed with seeds of God’s word. Every seed scattered was a source of joy, whether or not I saw an immediate result. I knew this was a work of years, not months. I was in for the long haul.   

Yet the time came when everything in me seemed torn. It seemed like God was signalling the close of one season and the beginning of another, back in the UK. It was far from easy, but through months of seeking God, I had a sense that it really was time to return for a period. I struggled then, as I do now, with questions about the future that God didn’t provide answers to. But this February, I returned to the UK with 2 suitcases, having sold or given away everything else. I’d said my goodbyes well and left with many hugs and many tears.

Back ‘home’, the past 5 months have been a re-settling. It seemed God had everything planned, and I felt His hand in so many grace gifts – a time that could have been fraught with grief, conflicted emotions and pain has been painted with joy over and above all those. God has opened so many doors to me that only He could open: work, connections with Thai people locally, places of rest and life-giving relationships. One of these was the opportunity to continue serving with Pioneers UK as a Missions Mobiliser.

As part of this role I recently helped facilitate our Mission: Next orientation weekend. It was a time of stirring up zeal. To give a taster of the innovation and flexibility that characterise Pioneers, we watched video snapshots of how Pioneers teams around the world interpret ‘living out loud’, being contextual yet counter-cultural; accessible yet distinctive. We entered the subculture of skaters in Southeast Asia, and the church planting efforts by sacrificial families in remote Chad and closed Pakistan. When my Thai team’s video was played, it brought my two worlds crashing together and I was in pieces.

At that moment, I questioned this new start again for the thousandth time. Transition stress comes to us all with each new start. Although my personality seems to be well suited to the many and frequent transitions I’ve experienced (21 house moves; 7 country moves), major transitions take a toll. New starts are exciting, but angst isn’t. My passion for the unreached is as great as ever, my desire is for the day when all have an opportunity to hear, when worship rises to Creator God from every language and colour, age and ethnicity. I long to be a part of that – that greatest goal that any of us could give ourselves for, that great ingathering into the Kingdom of God, whatever the cost.

Yet I am just as sure that there is a season for everything, and sense God’s pleasure on this season of returning to my home culture. I know Him personally – this is not some contrived theological argument to make things okay, this is the deep seated peace that transcends my unanswered questions and frequently mixed emotions; this peace that passes understanding, it is real.

He tells me to trust my choice, too. He seems to be a great fan of this free-will thing. While I may wrangle and wrestle over the fear that I may somehow ‘miss it’ (the ‘it’ of His Will, or my Calling, as if it was a single red line through the tangle of choices that is life), Father seems to value my relationship with Him in this over and above anything I do for Him.

Never minimising the importance of a real faith that is lived out by works, He is rather calling me back simply to hear His heart first. And His heart is love. Loving acceptance of who I am, my desires, my choices.

“Live in the present,” He urges gently, insistently. “You hanker after your rose-tinted memories, or live in your dreams and fears of what may be next and after that and after that. But what about this moment? This, now, here, is precious to Me.” He knows my heart is to serve Him, to do for Him, to win for Him. But, He pushes deeper, “Will you be more excited about being with Me than doing things for Me?”

What about the need for harvesters? What about the unreached millions? He knows them each by name. He is passionate for each heart. Whatever part each of us play in His Story, He is pleased. Right now, for me this means praying zealously for those He has laid on my heart; sharing my passion with the Church and helping those who are also responding to His invitation to build the Kingdom, as they take steps to where He is leading.

But as pleased as He is with this, I believe He is already pleased before we begin. We are His children! Will we be abandoned in worship to Him, snatch glimpses of Him through our busy today and just enjoy His presence? Anything else is the outflow of that worship. And so I am re-learning Pioneers’ first core value – the value of passion for God, here, today.

Passion for Mission

BY STEVE, PIONEERS UK DIRECTOR

“I really think we’ve got enough firewood now, Steve!”

Lesley is my longsuffering wife. She had already helped me buy an interview shirt in Alexandria and now we were in Athens preparing for a Skype call with Pioneers UK; including a presentation entitled My Passion for Mission. We had gone foraging in the woods as I’d set my heart on a visual aid! After smuggling a small forest into our room, I built my fire and, while Pioneers grilled me, Lesley repelled room cleaners. (Inexplicably, Lesley had forbidden actually lighting the fire.)

Somewhere in Namibia, while overlanding Africa, we had learned from the previous director that he was stepping down as director and Pioneers UK were advertising. This was a bolt utterly out of the blue! The Landrover was filled with discussion and even prayer all the way to Kenya…but we had arrived at a sense of peace about applying.

Ever since reading Emil Brunner’s famous statement “a church exists by mission as a fire exists by burning”, I have loved quoting it! I’ve made a lot of campfires this last year. Foraging for grasses, kindling, wood…then carefully putting them together is all part of the satisfaction of a fire!  But a fire not actually set alight is a travesty. Plus, no-one remembers sitting round a bunch of unlit sticks!

I know Pioneers is much more than just Islam or Africa; yet the five-times-daily call to prayer reminds that Islam is missionary.  Loudspeakers throughout Africa insistently proclaim that Islam is spreading with passion; sometimes with a terribly extreme passion. Yet, I’m waking up to the stronger, deeper truth that Jesus is very passionate about revealing himself to individuals in people groups whose minds have been blinded by Islam.

All my life I’ve sought to follow Jesus – even if often not very successfully. In recent years, however, I’ve been taken somewhat by surprise by coming to love Jesus himself; not just his church or the Bible or Mission. Jesus’ commission stirs me more strongly than ever. I find I want to be where Jesus is.

Absolutely, Jesus is with his church. I’m learning he is also passionately ‘out there’ – appearing, for instance, in the visions and dreams of Muslims across the world in ways that remind of the extraordinary beginnings of the church. I read recently about a once passionately-Muslim Palestinian whom Jesus found. Authorities might forbid Bibles, close down churches, ban missionaries…but no regime on earth, he wrote, has the power to stop Jesus appearing to people in their dreams!

Stuff like that makes the ears of my spirit tingle! It reminds that I must not put God into a coffin of my theological understanding. I find myself newly stirred. Wakened up by Jesus. In my 50s!!

Of course, a good fire needs the ‘passion’ of wind! I sense there is a breath of God blowing out there. And, somehow, we need to be where it and Jesus is. I believe I have a matured passion for seeing Christians and churches built and blown into fire for Jesus…and their being mobilised, like sparks on the wind, to be out there with him reaching people, planting the church – relevantly, effectively, full of magnetic life…and, please God, with joy in them ‘enough to set a whole kingdom laughing’.

This, I have freshly realised, is my passion for mission.  To light fires. (By the way, one can never have enough firewood!)

Photo by Tirza van Dijk.

 

My Adventures as a Data Input Artist

I’ve always fancied myself an amateur adventurer – up for anything, willing to rough it, and ready at the drop of a hat. To my delight, God’s plan for me has actually involved quite a bit of adventure. They’ve been your basic missionary adventures like going on safari in multiple African countries, rafting the Nile, taking long layovers in Paris and London, scalding my feet on the white-hot marble of the Taj Mahal; that sort of thing. I’ve lived in New York, San Francisco, Istanbul, Botswana, and now sunny England; and I’ve visited more countries than I can count on my fingers and toes. Yes sirree, it’s a life of adventure for me.

I’d always known I wanted to be involved in cross-cultural mission. It was drummed into me from the age of four onwards that anyone who is serious about Jesus would go into ministry of some kind, and for me and my (even at age four) ravenous appetite for adventure, becoming a missionary was the only way to go.

So at the age of 24 I did just that. I became a missionary. And boy was I rubbish at it! I mean, I had a great time getting to know the people, and spending time with my fellow missionaries, and of course going on so many safaris I’ve lost count. BUT I never really got the hang of missionary-ing. I was too selfish. Too socially inept. Too immature. I made a complete hash of it, so much so that there was serious talk of sending me back to America before my two-year assignment was over. I had to beg them to let me stay! They did let me stay in the end, and I learned a lot of important lessons. But on my next missionary assignment – four years later, to Turkey – my emotional immaturity and spiritual arrogance got the best of me, and I left the field in tatters seven months before I was due to go home.

So what does a person do if they’ve failed at being a missionary but still have a call to cross- cultural mission? Well in my case, they flounder for a few years not knowing what to do until one day someone offers them a job in mobilisation. I started working at Pioneers four years ago, and it wasn’t long after I started that the penny finally dropped. Turns out that a call to cross-cultural mission doesn’t mean you’re meant to be a missionary. In fact, it turns out that a call to cross-cultural mission isn’t a special thing, conferred only on those who are serious about Jesus. The call to cross-cultural mission is universal to Christians. We are ALL called!

I loved being a mobiliser. I was able to help prospective missionaries with all the logistics of getting to the field and, better still, I had the very undeserved privilege of discipling and mentoring first-time missionaries through their experiences on the field. I have so much experience with failure and frustration on the field, I was able to counsel my young charges through just about every situation that arose with a simple, “Here’s what NOT to do.”

But now I’ve swapped my mobiliser hat for a communications hat. And that’s where my fancy new role as Data Input Artist comes into play. I get to do lots of interesting and fulfilling things as the communications person for Pioneers, but one of my less glamourous jobs is maintaining our huge database. And for the last couple of months, because of the new data protection regulations, and because we recently switched data management systems, I’ve been neck deep in spreadsheets and consent forms and all manner of mundane mumbo-jumbo. In some ways it’s an important job, but it is D-U-L-L dull!

Why am I telling you about my apparent descent from the romantic life of an African missionary to the woes of being a desk-jockey? It’s not just so that you’ll send me sympathy (and chocolate). It’s because I’ve had to come to terms with the fact—and it’s actually a glorious fact—that because we’re ALL called to cross-cultural mission, everything we do has the potential to impact God’s world for good. We’re not all called to be front-line field-based missionaries. If everyone was called to the field, who would spend those precious pre-dawn hours praying for the people on the field? Who would work in the marketplace or run businesses in order to fund mission work? Who would sit at a desk day after day punching contact preferences into an online database so that Pioneers could connect with those who ARE called to the field? We genuinely believe at Pioneers that all are called. Some are called to send (me!); some are called to pray; some are called to give; and some are called to go.

So for me, the self-styled amateur adventurer, being a some-time Data Input Artist is enough. It’s enough because even if it doesn’t always make me happy, it makes God happy because I’m doing what he wants me to do, where he wants me to do it, all because someone out there needs to know His love. And my database is just one of many tools He will use to tell them.

 

Photo by Markus Spiske.

Millennial Missionary

BY STEVE, PIONEERS MISSIONARY IN ASIA

As a Gen Xer (just barely!), it has been my privilege to lead several amazing Millennials over the last several years in both short and long-term ministry. There is little doubt that there is a significant generation gap between those of us born in the late 70’s and those who are text-book Millennials. It was my first year of university, sitting in a “computer lab,” when a message popped up on my screen from someone across the room. Shocked, I looked frantically around for the sorcerer who conjured up such witchcraft! Electronic communication was just on the cusp, and I had barely missed being culturally shaped by it. What a different reality Millennials have grown up in!

God made all people, “and He marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.” (Acts 17:26) God has graced each generation with unique contributions to gospel work at their appointed time in history. While we must recognise and value the way that God has shaped the next generation to impact Kingdom work, each generation must also be aware of the inherent liabilities that sometimes accompany their strengths.

As I consider the contributions that Millennials have made to gospel ministry in my own mission context, there are three clear strengths—among many—that rise to the surface.

  1. Millennials can effectively minister to Millennials.

Most young people in the world are fully “wired.” This means that a “wired” Western Millennial and a “wired” Asian Millennial actually have significant cultural common ground. They can easily “connect” with each other through texting. In fact, this is often the preferred way of communicating. For non-Millennials, it is difficult for us to feel that we have connected without real face-to-face time. However, Millennials can naturally interact cross-culturally with other Millennials through the medium of technology. In addition, even in a cross-cultural context they share similar values and can understand how the gospel impacts their peers in ways that Gen Xers simply do not see.

The potential weakness Milllennials need to be aware of is the inherent need in gospel ministry for “in person” gospel communication. Evangelism by texting is awesome, but the unreached need to hear the gospel in person from redeemed image bearers.

  1. Millennials catalyse authentic community on our teams.

The desire for authentic relationships is a real gift that Millennials can bring to the field. Many Gen X missionaries can minimise their own need for community and live superficially with other Christians while focusing on the “real” gospel work of missions. Millennials simply do not accept the status quo of flat, shallow team relationships. Adding Millennials to your team can create healthy cultural change on teams as they expect authentic and intentional—i.e. biblical—relationships.

The potential liability with this strength is that Millennials can seek more community than they really need. One of the sacrifices of missions to the unreached is the loss of robust community that one could get back in their home country. This is a cost that Millennials will feel, but it is a sacrifice that will not go unrewarded by our King.

  1. Millennials are bold and open to varied ministry approaches.

When a clear vision is put in front of Millennials, I have always seen them respond with enthusiasm and boldness. We ask our Millennial teammates to do very difficult things—approach Muslim students and talk to them about Jesus! Although they often acknowledge fear, they are willing to pray, trust God for strength and go do it!  This is very encouraging to more pensive Gen Xers. This strong faith is vital if we are going to see the gospel penetrate the unreached. Gospel ministry among the unreached is simply hard work, and Millennials seem to have the faith and boldness to do it!

The danger here for Millennials is that they can be tempted to try too many things for the kingdom. Often they seem to be looking for that “perfect ministry fit.” What can often happen is, Millennials will do amazing ministry for a season, then they will go try another ministry in order to decide what they should do! This can really stunt gospel ministry, especially among Muslims, when the process of sharing the gospel is counted in terms of years not months. The “perfect ministry fit” may be an illusion. What is not an illusion is the commission of Christ to go to the ends of the earth and preach the gospel. If you find yourself doing that, don’t look for a better fit! You are in the center of the revealed will of Christ!

In conclusion, I am so thankful for the influence of Millennials on my own soul, the life of my family, our team, and the work of the gospel in our context. They have been sacrificial servants in the harvest field, and we pray that the LORD of the Harvest will send us many more!

 

Photo by Ali Yahya.

 

What They Want: Ministering to Millennials

BY MARY, PIONEERS UK MISSIONARY TO THE US

I have always loved working with university students and young adults. Probably because after growing up in a Christian home and going to a Christian liberal arts uni, I began to question a lot of what Christians believed. Not finding adequate answers, I made very small and seemingly insignificant decisions to stop pursuing God, church and his plan for my life. These baby steps in the wrong direction put me miles away from Christ (figuratively speaking) and I felt I had very little hope of finding my way back. I was the prodigal daughter that nearly all parents fear raising and only by the grace of God did I eventually turn back to Jesus 16 years later,

This I believe is true for most Millenials. Once they reach their late teens and move away from home and their local church to attend college or university, they begin asking questions about the way they were raised, what they believed and why. They start asking tough questions and finding few answers. It was in part because of this experience in my own life that our family chose to settle in the university town of Heidelberg, Germany with Pioneers. We wanted to get to know students and young adults, evangelise those who were lost, disciple those who were seeking to follow Jesus and finally send them out on mission.

We used spiritual background surveys to start conversations on campus:

    1. What is your spiritual background and who in your opinion is Jesus Christ?
    2. On a scale of 1-10, how good are you?
    3. If Jesus were to ask you why He should let you into heaven, what would you say?

Knowing that the backgrounds of most European college students was some form of Catholicism and works-based religion, we wanted to face that head on and talk about Jesus, God’s grace and our desperate need for the Holy Spirit in our lives every day. We believed if we could get them thinking and exploring the truth claims of Christianity – and if that led to them truly being born again – that they would then desire to be discipled and grow in a local church which would prepare them to take the gospel back home and eventually to the rest of the world.

We heard a lot of interesting answers. Most people we talked to were captivated by the tough questions and grateful to have someone listen to their answers. They told us that growing up with their parents’ religion left them uninterested in following the same path. Still their answers to our questions showed a deep interest in spirituality. We invited over fifty young people from around the world to work with us in Germany. We wanted them to experience the German culture, the language, serve the local church and help us do surveys with their peers as an opening to sharing the gospel. We held coffee house type socials focused only on answering tough questions about Christianity.

In time, we discovered an important fact: Millenials want to be reached. They want us to talk to them, make them think, disciple and pray for them. They want to be mentored by someone older. They want to discover the authentic Jesus and serve Him wholeheartedly. They want to change the world.

Go and talk to one about Jesus and see for yourself.

 

Photo by Isaiah Rustad.