A Lesson in Community
I must’ve looked a bit funny, my bike crumpled beneath me, picnic-laden backpack askew, lying on my side in the middle of the road with one knee digging into the asphalt and the other in the air. But no one dared laugh. The people around me were all wide-eyed, mouths hanging open, stopped in their tracks, thanking the sweet Lord they hadn’t just witnessed the horror of a cyclist getting squished by a bus. It was only a skinned knee and a shattered ego, and all I wanted as I picked myself and my bike up off the road was to disappear into anonymity.
You see, on this particular day, I’d decided to be brave. My soon-to-be-husband, a keen cyclist, had been trying to get me to use my bike more in town, rather than walking or driving. He’d taken me on several bike rides on country lanes in the Peak District and in other parts of the country, and I’d followed him through Sheffield traffic plenty of times before. But whenever he suggested I meet him somewhere in the city on my bike, I always balked. I was too afraid to brave the traffic myself. I was too unstable, too road wary, and not very quick-thinking on wheels. So I’d always say no, forcing him to come to my house first before I would go anywhere in town on my bike.
But not this day. This day I decided to be brave. I was going to meet him at the Botanical Gardens for a picnic, and as my car was being fixed and the Botanical Gardens was close to his office, I knew what I had to do—I had to ride my bike on my own. My route took me through neighbourhoods and along little-used roads, and though I was nervous, things were going well. (Not counting the moment I had to stop at the top of a hill and instead of putting my feet down and putting on my brakes to keep from rolling backward, I grabbed a bollard and hung on to the bike with my knees—it was very unglamorous, and elicited a smirk from at least one passerby.) Unfortunately, my route also took me along one of the busier streets in Sheffield, and getting into the Botanical Gardens required a right-hand turn across oncoming traffic.
I attempted to balance there in the right-hand lane, waiting for a gap in the traffic. I’d signaled appropriately so that the people behind me knew my intention to turn—but the traffic kept coming and I became more and more unstable as I slowed down. Unbeknownst to me, a bus had come up behind me and decided not to wait. He silently crept up behind me and came around my left side, very close to me. The bus startled me, which threw me off balance and the world slipped into slow motion. I knew I was going to fall into the bus. I was getting closer and closer, and I was praying that God would hold me up until the wheels had passed me. And He did. As the back wheels drew even with me, I fell into the side of the bus and ricocheted off it and onto the road.
Everything came to a halt. Traffic on both sides of the road stopped. Pedestrians froze in their tracks. The bus, full of passengers, pulled over to the side of the road, and the trembling bus driver alighted, certain that he’d killed me. It took a substantial amount of reassurance to convince him and the others who stopped to help that I was indeed fine except for my skinned knee and my bruised pride.
I was shaky for a while afterward, and I’m certainly not keen to do any more solo city cycling just yet, but I learned an important lesson: We need each other, don’t we? I don’t just mean that I need other people to lead me through traffic on my bike because when I go by myself I get hit by busses. I mean, we need each other. We humans. We Christians. We obeyers of the Great Commission.
The fact is, I’m not road ready. I’m not prepared, mentally or physically to ride solo. Maybe one day I will be, but it will only be because I’ve been taught and guided and helped by someone who is more experienced than me. And even then, it’s generally better not to go on my own. We individualists place a high value on doing things ourselves. From the two year old who insists on pouring her own milk out of a jug that’s as big as she is, to the project manager who genuinely believes that to get something done right he has to do it himself, we are all victims to one degree or another of this belief—this lie—that we can do it by ourselves.
The fact is, we weren’t made to be individualists. We were made for community. Made to help and guide and learn from and bless each other. When it comes to our call to fulfil the Great Commission, it’s even more vital that we do it in community. The church was called AS A BODY to take the Gospel to those who haven’t heard, and it is a call that each one of us is meant to heed, according to our gifts.
My fiancé wasn’t with me when I got hit by a bus and ended up on the road with a skinned knee. But a lot of other people were there. The man from Sheffield council who stood with me, talking with me until he was sure I was ok. The women who stopped and offered to get me a drink. The bus driver who was prepared to kick everyone else off his bus and drive me home, or to the hospital. Even the drivers who managed to stop in time and not run over me as I lay on the ground. People were there. And had it been worse than a skinned knee, people would have looked after me.
The moral of the story is twofold, I suppose: 1) I should wait until I’m road-ready before I strike out on my bike alone in city traffic and 2) If I do get hit by a bus, it’s much better to do so in a crowded area, where people are ready to look after me.
And as for the Great Commission, let’s do it together. Let’s learn from and follow the people who are more experienced than us, and let’s make sure we have plenty of people to walk beside us as we carry the Gospel to those who haven’t heard. Then, when we bounce off life’s busses and skin our knees, we’ll at least have someone to help us up.
Photo by Carl Nenzen Loven.
A Hobbit, A Stump, and The Great Commission
I recently had a mildly heated disagreement with someone I love very much. It was about halloumi. Yes, halloumi, the squeaky Mediterranean cheese—whether or not it should be pre-fried before going inside a toasted sandwich. A few weeks before that, the same loved one and I had to carefully pick our way around a disagreement about whether or not a certain stump (which had dropped its bark as it dried out in my spare room) actually NEEDED to have bark on it. And just last weekend, I only narrowly escaped using the phrase, “I’m the bride and we’re doing it my way!”
That’s right, I’m getting married. That means that, as an (in)famously organised person, I currently conduct my life at the helm of the kind of To Do Lists and spreadsheets that would make normal humans quiver with fear. I have a LOT to do in a short space of time, and much of it is, frankly, ridiculous. Like sewing pillowcases together with 2-ply twine, spending endless hours removing adhesive from glass jars, and yes, gluing the bark back on the aforementioned stump. My To Do List includes finding items such as Nerf gun bullets, bricks, weathered wooden planks and a badminton net. I wake up in the middle of the night, haunted by thoughts like, “I need to find more recyclable fishing line!”
Slightly complicating things, I’ve got a little voice in the back of my head telling me that if I were only free to plan MY wedding day on MY own, without someone else’s opinions getting in the way, I would’ve been finished planning by now.
But we all know that’s not true. My days (decades!) of managing my life on my own are at an end. The simple truth is, as much as I’m inclined to, I cannot and should not attempt to plan this wedding alone. And even more importantly than that, my soon-to-be husband and I cannot and should not attempt to do marriage without help. It’s just too big for us to do alone.
In fact, the older I get, the more I realise that there are lots of things I’ve attempted to do on my own that would’ve been far better had I actively included other people. My first foray into missions 20 years ago, for instance. I chose to go with my denomination’s internal mission agency because I knew I wouldn’t have to raise financial support. I wasn’t required to gather a prayer support team; I wasn’t even required to get much endorsement from a sending church—just a form stating I’d been part of the denomination for two years. So I went off to Botswana with no financial or prayer supporters and no committed sending church. This fiercely independent self-described super-Christian skipped off to Africa for two years ready to save the world singlehandedly. The result was somewhat, er, anti-climactic (if not a bit of a disaster).
I don’t think I’m alone in my tendency toward Go It Alone delusions though. Our Western individualism often gets in the way of our ability to discern a better—dare I say, more Biblical—way of doing life and mission. Perhaps we need to re-evaluate our narrative. Take the Lord of the Rings, for example. Who was the hero of that story? Most of us would settle on one of three people: Frodo, Gandalf or Aragorn. But I’d like to throw someone less obvious into the mix: Sam Gamgee. Without Sam’s patience, courage, strength, loyalty, vigilance and steadiness, Frodo would never have made it to Mount Doom, Aragorn’s kingdom would’ve been overrun and Gandalf’s power would have faded. In my opinion, the crux of the story lay on Sam, the gardener. (And if none of that makes sense to you, get thee to a bookshop immediately.)
It’s too easy (and a bit lazy) for us to think of the people who are called to leave home and serve Christ cross-culturally as the heroes of the story—a story that the rest of us sit back and watch unfold on the other side of the world. I can tell you as a one-time Goer, the real heroes of the story are almost always, like Sam Gamgee, unsung. The heroes of the story are the children who keep missionaries in their bedtime prayers, and the small group leaders who encourage their friends toward mission, and the grandparents who give £10 a month to their grandson serving in Mongolia. The real heroes stay in touch with the Goers while they’re on the field, and listen when they’re discouraged, and send them care packages. It doesn’t feel like much, does it? But if you add up all those bedtime prayers, listening ears, shoulders to cry on, boxes of Yorkshire Tea, inspirational sermons, notes of encouragement, £10 notes month after month, and open arms to come home to, suddenly we become a force to be reckoned with—and the Goer finds him or herself at the breaking edge of a missional tidal wave.
The simple fact is, we need each other. Givers, Pray-ers, Senders, Goers. Carrying the message of Jesus’ love to the remaining unreached peoples of the world is too important for us to let our Goers do it alone. They cannot and should not venture onto the mission field without the rest of us actively and purposely behind them.
Being on mission together as the whole church isn’t easy. We have disagreements and differences of opinion. It feels less efficient at times. We sometimes argue over things that, in retrospect, seem as silly as whether a certain stump NEEDS to have its bark or not. We may sometimes even be tempted to shout, “I’m in charge and we’re doing it my way!” But if we can manage to stay on track, to do our best, to lean on each other, to forgive each other (and ourselves), and keep going, the end result will be a partnership that will proclaim Jesus to every people group on earth and will ultimately finish the Great Commission. And just think of the party we’ll have after it’s all over! I think it’s worth it. Don’t you?
Photo by Sven Scheuermeier.
The Great Reversal
BY DR DAVID SMITH
During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries huge numbers of people left the shores of Europe in a vast migration which was to change the demographics of the world forever. Some of those who crossed the oceans did so in search of a new life with better prospects than seemed available to them and their children in the industrialising societies at home.
Very many others went not by choice, but either by necessity, driven by extreme poverty or famine, or by force in the case of convicts transported to provide labour in distant territories now brought under colonial rule. It has been estimated that by 1915 some 21 percent of the European population had been relocated to lands overseas and this white diaspora now occupied one third of the inhabited world.
William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, devised a detailed plan of social action to remedy the huge problems facing Victorian society and in his book In Darkest England and the Way Out he illustrated this with a poster which showed emigration as a key component of his vision. We see ships steaming away from Britain, carrying domestic servants and thousands of the poor and oppressed people who have been rescued from urban slums by the Army’s work of redemption to a new life in British and other colonies. This highlights the fact that the global spread of Christianity, and its later emergence as a world religion, occurred in parallel with this enormous migratory movement and was in some sense made possible by it.
In the 1960s I worked as a humble bank clerk in the City of London at the time that the S.S.Windrush docked at Tilbury with the first group of West Indian immigrants to Britain. From the start there was resentment and suspicion of those who came, and I remember the impact of a poster which appeared on the London Underground with a picture of the cheerful arrivals depicted as saying ‘We are HERE because you were THERE’. As that first trickle of incomers became a flood, people from Africa, India, China, and countless other places might have repeated that statement, reminding white Europeans and North Americans that the migratory movement now flowing from South to North represented the reversal of the earlier mass movement of peoples fleeing poverty and despair in the modernising West.
Where and how does the mission of the people of God fit into this picture? The question is far too big for this article, so I limit comment to a single observation. If what has been called the Great European Migration was the context within which the nineteenth century missionary movement was possible, then the present reversal of the global flows of human population must also create situations within which God’s purpose of grace is being worked out. Jehu Hanciles points out that the extraordinary influx of immigrants to Western societies has resulted in ‘an unprecedented volume and diversity of religious expressions and practices’, while also transferring non-Western forms of Christianity into the heart of a multitude of secular, Western cities. A missionary movement which continues to operate within structures and visions which belonged to the first great migration cannot possibly meet the challenges and opportunities which are presented by the Great Reverse Migration. As Andrew Walls says, ‘The missionary movement entered its old age as the Great European Migration came to a close. Under the conditions of the Great Reverse Migration, it is now in the process of transformation to something else, with the non-Western world increasingly assuming a sending role and producing the missionaries’.
Giving and the Great Commission
BY MARK, PIONEERS’ PARTNERSHIP MANAGER
Last year I had the pleasure of meeting Peter Jones, a lifelong SUM, Action Partners and Pioneers UK supporter from Southport. Recently I invited him to look back over his life supporting missionaries and share his views on giving. Here’s what Peter had to say:
“I first came into contact with Sudan United Mission (SUM) when a man called Peter Heaps came to speak at our school Christian Union. He even joined in our houseparties. I remember him helping us new Christians, only 14 years old, with our burning questions like, “Should I tell my mum and dad I’ve become a Christian?”! It was just a natural thing to support him when he went to serve in Nigeria.
I went to an SUM Houseparty where we were asked, “Are you willing to go anywhere for God?” I thought, “No!! You will have to make me!”
Two weeks later I was asked to go and work at my company’s head office in London! The day of the interview my Bible reading was Isaiah 55:12, “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace!” I went, eventually becoming an insurance underwriter and without being ambitious, was given promotions and senior management roles over the years. It was just the grace of God, not me!
In 1977, when I was asked to manage my company’s work in Thailand, I said, “Only if I can visit my OMF missionary friend from church, in the Philippines.” It was such an insight. Then the same thing happened a few years later when I was sent to Lagos, Nigeria. I got to see Eileen Veasey (SUM) for week – it really helped me to understand how important missionary work is.
You know, I’m a very average person who’s just had sufficient so I can support someone else doing a job that I can’t do – just like supporting my church minister – it just seems natural!
I remember reading a book where the author asked, “Why should I only give 10% to God?” It’s all His anyway. Far better that I keep a little and He gets the rest.
Although personal friendships have always been what started me supporting a particular charity – and I support a few – I notice that even though workers move on, retire or pass away, that charity still needs support. So I tick the ‘where it’s most needed’ box on their slips!
When I’m deciding to continue supporting a mission and not just the friend, I look on the Charity Commission website and check how they use people’s gifts – it’s the insurance man in me! Pioneers is excellent – low overheads, careful spending. I know they’re a safe pair of hands.
And when I die? What then? Well, in Deuteronomy it says, “…for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth” (Deuteronomy 8:18). I think it should go back into God’s Kingdom rather than the government’s coffers! So I’m leaving legacies to the main charities I support, including Pioneers. It’s just good stewardship.”
Photo by Alyssa Kibiloski.