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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- What is your spiritual background and who in your opinion is Jesus Christ?
- On a scale of 1-10, how good are you?
- 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.
On Being a Millennial in Mission
BY KIRSTY, PIONEERS UK MISSIONARY TO AUSTRIA
A typical Sunday in Austria. My colleague arrives 30 minutes late with the food for brunch. There’s a scurry to arrange the tables and scramble the eggs. Small children rush around while a last minute worship practice goes on in the background. Coffee is a necessity. People wander in and take their places around the table. We pray and eat. After worshipping in Spanish I slip out to the kids’ room. Trilingual children fight over lego and then settle down to listen to the story, placated with popcorn. When they excitedly respond to the story and exclaim over the craft idea I found on Pinterest, my mood soars. When they ignore everything I say and it seems like all they want is to pick a fight and annoy each other as much as possible, I feel like a failure.
We head across the street to join the Farsi community for lunch. I attempt to connect with those sitting beside me in broken German. Sometimes a ‘Wie geht’s dir?’ (How are you?) and shared enjoyment of the food is all that is possible. Outside, groups gather to chat and smoke before the service. After countless handshakes and greetings we begin Farsi worship. My phone buzzes in my pocket. Another WhatsApp message. Who’s responsible for set-up for the German service? We need more helpers over at Donauhof. I leave after the sermon, just as they’re calling up those who have asylum interviews that week to pray for them. On the train across the city I check emails and messages, arrange a Skype with a friend over in the US, scroll through Instagram. Another message, from one of the pastors who’s preaching elsewhere this Sunday. She left supplies for hot dogs in the fridge. Can we prepare them for after the German service?
Over at Donauhof, the old Danube hotel we’re in the slow process of renovating, I help with cleaning the toilets and the cafe area. A few people are already gathering, drinking coffee and chatting. The service won’t begin for another hour or so but this is as much a part of church as the sermon. The place slowly fills up. Caught up in conversation, we lose track of time. A little after 5pm we begin worship, this time in German and English. I do my best to follow along with the sermon, looking up unfamiliar words on my phone. Thank God for the Google Translate app. After the service the conversations continue over hot dogs and beer. Plans are made for a midweek dinner. One of our Iranian friends was recently granted asylum and is inviting everyone to a party on Friday night. More food, more community, more shared life. This is Church.
My initial reaction is to resist the label ‘Millennial’, to resist that kind of categorising and stereotyping of whole generations. But then I see how so many of the characteristics of Millennials map onto my experience, the way that I live and think, the way we do church in Vienna. We are a community of students, refugees, young families. Most of us fit into the ‘Millennial’ category. We’re sociable, often spontaneous, easily distracted. We crave newness, flexibility, affirmation. Family and community are a high priority. The church, for us, is about shared life. There are a lot of strengths to the way that we do things. And inevitably there are pitfalls. Inevitably, the way we do ministry looks different from the generations before us. But it seems to me that what we’re trying to do is just to live out life with God in the specific circumstances we find ourselves in. And that’s all any of us can do really.
Photo by Jacek Dylag.
Bible on a Postcard
4am is here! It is time to pray! Not so much the incredible, earth shattering, super-duper, mighty prayers of a prayer warrior though. For me, it is a simple conversation with the amazing God who created me. Tired eyes, tired mind…but a heart full of thankfulness for another day and all its possibilities. “God, this is your day, not mine. Fill it with the things that you desire.”
I check my phone; another text from a Muslim friend desperate for prayer. I’m thankful that they can trust me and confide in me. What a privilege! I used to be an ‘evan-jellyfish’, trying to ‘sting’ Muslims with the gospel. But now I’m learning to love, serve, and share life with the ones I’m seeking to lead to Jesus. The Bible is amazing! I wish I could say that I spend hours reading and studying it each day, but often I just read a page or a verse. Something takes hold of my heart: a promise, a challenge, something for me to share with others….or maybe a simple reminder that I need to stay close to God. Today I read in Psalm 32:8, “I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go. I will guide you.” Wow! I really need that today. How I need heavenly guidance with the challenges I am facing at the moment. I like to learn from others too. I’m reading a book about the life of the missionary Hudson Taylor. What an inspiration! Then I check my emails, good stuff, boring stuff, and more notifications of meetings, meetings and more meetings! Then I am reminded that it is because Pioneers cares.
Then I check my emails, good stuff, boring stuff, and more notifications of meetings, meetings and more meetings! Then I am reminded that it is because Pioneers cares. Fellowship is important, teaching is important. We all need encouragement. I am thankful for the Pioneers family. My area leader is phoning me tomorrow. That will be nice. A time to talk about things that are on my heart; maybe I can encourage him too!
It’s time to take a short journey on the train. I am meeting up with a Muslim for a Bible study. He wanted to kill me at one time, but he had a dream which softened his heart. He now wants to hear the good news. It’s amazing how God prepares hearts. Just before I board the train I notice a guy who seems to be lost. “Asalamu aleikum”, I call to him. He turns out to be a student from Saudi Arabia, on holiday in England. He speaks quite good English, but can’t find his train. I know my train leaves in nine minutes, but instead I choose to help him. As we are travelling in the lift with his luggage, I tell him that I am a follower of Jesus, and that I have a tremendous love for Muslims. He is blown away by my kindness and love. As we reach his platform he insists on buying me a coffee and a flapjack to say “thank you.” Sounds good to me! When he comes back, I remember that I have a New Testament in Arabic in my bag which I give to him as a gift. He is so thankful! Then I shoot off ! I catch my train with just 40 seconds to go!“
I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go. I will guide you.” PSALM 32:8
The Bible study goes well. We look at two verses in the Bible, and see how they can be applied in our lives. We meet in a coff ee shop. We don’t get Bibles out, rather the verses are written out on a postcard. This helps to concentrate on the verses before us. Also there are ‘people watching’. Like Meerkats, other Muslims are around, policing their own community, keeping watch. Having a postcard is less conspicuous. As I head back to the train station, I bump into someone wearing a hijab with whom I have been sharing the gospel. Someone who has been secretly contacting me via text messaging, secretly reading Bible verses and secretly asking for prayer. She faces many fears and challenges, but I know Jesus can handle it. He created planets! He cares and nothing is
As I head back to the train station, I bump into someone wearing a hijab with whom I have been sharing the gospel. Someone who has been secretly contacting me via text messaging, secretly reading Bible verses and secretly asking for prayer. She faces many fears and challenges, but I know Jesus can handle it. He created planets! He cares and nothing is too difficult for him.
As I am waiting to catch the train back home, a Muslim lady comes and sits by me. “Asalamu aleikum”, I say to her. She talks to me for twenty minutes, and is amazed when I share my testimony with her. She is so excited when I give her a copy of the New Testament as a gift. As I get on the train, I get a text message from a friend. He asks how my day has
As I get on the train, I get a text message from a friend. He asks how my day has been, and tells me that he has been praying for me. What a blessing to know that I am being supported in prayer, and that someone is thinking about me! I excitedly tell them about all that has happened that day. Then another text comes through. It is from a Muslim family I visit regularly. A family member in Pakistan has died. They are so upset. That night I take a card round with some flowers. I also take round two MASSIVE vegetarian pizzas for the family. They are thrilled! I do believe John 3:16 is the gospel in a nutshell, but it is a nut that Muslims find difficult to crack. They need help. I want to be a portrait of the Jesus I proclaim. Truth takes time to understand, but love paves the way
I do believe John 3:16 is the gospel in a nutshell, but it is a nut that Muslims find difficult to crack. They need help. I want to be a portrait of the Jesus I proclaim. Truth takes time to understand, but love paves the way.
– Rob, serving with Pioneers UK