On Petrol, Providence and Prayer
I was a
missionary in Africa once. In Botswana, to be specific. One summer, my very
best friend brought her Sunday School class from Texas for a mission
trip/safari. We spent the first week of their trip doing children’s camps in
the villages where I worked. For the second week, we were off to Chobe National
Park in northern Botswana and Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe.
the morning of our departure the nine of us made our way to the airport with
our oversized piles of luggage and supplies. We arrived to discover that our
nine-seater rental van didn’t come equipped with a trailer hitch as we’d
assumed, so American ingenuity married the folly of youth and we crammed all
our supplies plus nine people (three of whom were great, strapping lads) into the
van: three in the front seat which was made for two, four in the middle seat
which was made for three, and two valiant souls who volunteered to ride, flat
on their backs in the 45cm space between the luggage and the roof.
(Incidentally, those two heroes—who hadn’t met before the trip—have now been
happily married for nearly 20 years!)
With our fearless leader—that was me—behind the wheel, we set off for the bush, eager to taste the delights of rural Africa. The journey was meant to take 13 hours, which to us Americans was a perfectly reasonable one-day drive. We travelled, happy and carefree along the A1 toward Francistown, breezing through villages and small towns along the way. At Francistown, we turned left and followed the less populated A3 toward Nata. At Nata we had a little lunch and carried on, now into the 200 miles of unbroken “proper bush” between Nata and Kasane at the northern tip of Botswana. What a delight for my passengers to be hurtling through this barren landscape, ever on the lookout for elephants and giraffes, even here, outside the national parks! What a delight to be so isolated, so alone, so empowered by youth and ambition and ignorance of the dangers that could so easily overtake us if not for the petrol in the tank and the water in our jerrycans.
And what a moment
of fear and trembling for me when, over two hours from our destination, with nothing
but empty bush for 100 miles in every direction, the petrol light came on.
Somehow in my youthful enthusiasm, I had neglected to fill the tank in either
Francistown or Nata. We had about 45 minutes of petrol left for a 2-hour drive.
My best friend, who was sandwiched next to me, shot me a look. I gave her one
back. We said nothing to the others, but both started praying silently. Suddenly,
our carefree adventure had become very, very real.
We flew on toward
our destination: seven of us enjoying the scenery, two of us growing our first
grey hairs. The minutes passed, the miles slipped by, the petrol levels
dropped. We had been below empty for about an hour when I became convinced that
we were driving on the power of the Holy Spirit. Then, at the two-hour mark,
joy! The outskirts of the town loomed, and at the crossroads, the promise of
petrol and salvation. Just as I spied the petrol station about 300 meters ahead
at the top of an incline, the engine sputtered and I rolled to a stop. We were
out of petrol.
everybody out!” I said, and told them the story of how far we’d come on no petrol.
My big Texas lads (and my little but hearty Texas ladies) weren’t daunted in
the slightest. “Let’s get this thing up the hill!” they shouted, and with me at
the wheel, the eight of them pushed that heavily laden metal miracle up the
hill and into the petrol station. We’d made it. Only just.
It was just
a matter of fuel. I didn’t have enough. I didn’t get it when I should have. I
didn’t respect the bush and the dangers it possessed, and I didn’t take with me
what I needed to get myself and my friends safely to our destination.
It has long
been known that prayer is the fuel of mission. Paul knew that his mission was
sustained by prayer, and urged the Philippians (1:9), the Colossians (4:3), the
Thessalonians (1 Th 5:25) and the Ephesians (6:19) to pray for him. If he knew
he needed prayer, how much more the rest of us?
field is a dangerous place, and our missionaries aren’t just in danger from
those who would oppose their message and cause them harm. They’re in danger
from spiritual forces, from disease, from natural disasters, from temptation,
from car accidents, from burnout, from relationship breakdown, and even from
running out of petrol in the middle of the African bush in the dead of summer.
possible that we’re sending our field workers out without the fuel they need?
We expect them to have hardships, yes. The Bible promises that things won’t
always be easy. But if we who stay home are claiming to be obedient to the
Great Commission, but are not praying for those who Go, we’re kidding
ourselves. Prayer is the fuel for mission, and it is our job to make sure our
missionaries have the fuel they need. Otherwise, they may end up having to push
their ministry up a hill in harsh and dusty conditions. Or worse, they may end
up stranded and in real danger.
very good to us that day in the bush of Botswana. It’s never been more than a
funny story about a silly 25-year-old American and a miraculous self-filling
petrol tank. But it could have been a very, very different story. All for lack
Let’s not risk our missionaries’ lives and ministries because of a lack of fuel. We have a responsibility and a call to pray. Let’s commit to pray for them and give them the fuel they need, not just to make it from day to day, but to flourish in even the most barren of places.
Photo by Jacques Bopp.
Is More Prayer the Answer?
Raise your hand if you understand how prayer works. Now look at your hands. If one of them is raised, I’d very much like to meet you, because I have a few questions for you. I just don’t get it. I know it does work; I have some ideas about why God has asked us to pray; but I haven’t the foggiest how it actually works.
How is it possible that I can pray day after day for something—something God has commanded us to pray for in scripture, and something that I know He wants even more than I do—and yet, after years of praying, my very godly request still hasn’t been fulfilled? And yet sometimes, I can pray for something once…just breathing out a prayer…and it happens! The arithmetic just doesn’t add up. The system doesn’t work. It makes no logical sense.
I’ve been reading lately about some of our Christian brothers and sisters in a part of the world where becoming a Christian is dangerous, and where leading others to Christ is, if not always a death-wish, at least a prison-wish, an ostracism-wish, a disowned-by-your-family-and-everyone-you-know wish. Yet, even with all the very real threat hanging over their heads, they’re seeing spectacular things happen. Hundreds, thousands of people are turning to Jesus. Entire communities are leaving their old religious system and becoming Christians. And then those very new Christians are turning around and venturing into new places, hostile places and reproducing what they’ve experienced at home.
And how do they do it? You guessed it: prayer.
They pray and fast weekly for their friends and neighbours who don’t know Jesus. They gather monthly (if not several times a month) to pray ALL NIGHT, interceding for people in their communities. They gather every day at midday to pray as churches or ministry teams. They pray on their own for hours each morning. They regularly have family devotionals and prayer time.
Why? Firstly, because Jesus asked us to. But perhaps more practically, because it’s working! They’ve seen what happens when they pray. They know that God is at work when they pray. So they pray more. And God works more. It’s all very dramatic and obvious what’s happening in those dangerous places, and perhaps the results are more obvious because the risk is greater and the pray-ers are more willing to take that risk because, when you weigh it all together, the payoff is astonishing.
I don’t know how prayer works, but it is clearly part of God’s equation. Which makes me wonder…should we be taking a leaf out of their book? We want God to do amazing things like that here in the UK as well as around the world. We want him to push back our very Western brand of darkness—the apathy, skepticism, materialism and self-satisfaction that blind people to the light that Christ has to offer. Is what we might consider an extreme commitment to prayer the key to seeing God move in larger-than-life ways?
I’m going to stick my neck out and say no. It’s not following a particular pattern of prayer that enables miraculous things to happen. Our brothers and sisters in dangerous places don’t wake up in the morning and start ticking “morning devotion with family”, “midday prayer meeting” and “fast for two meals” off their daily to-do lists. They wake up in the morning hungry for God and desperate to see his love poured out on their friends who don’t yet know him. That passion drives them to prayer, to fasting, to bold evangelism, to selfless devotion to discipleship and mentoring. The supernatural element of prayer is undeniable—we’ve all seen prayer work in ways we can’t fully explain or understand. But following a prescribed pattern of prayer that “works there so it must work here too” won’t necessarily produce the same results in every situation.
What we need is a hunger for God and a desperation to see his love poured out on those who don’t know him. That passion will drive some of us to wildly committed prayer and fasting. It will drive others of us to give generously, even sacrificially, out of our abundance. It will drive still others to teach and encourage and spur God’s people on toward greater and deeper commitment to Christ. And still others it will drive to leave what is familiar and go to the next village or the next hemisphere to boldly share Christ’s love.
Our brothers and sisters in dangerous places don’t sit around praying all day. With the rest of their day they risk life and limb to share Christ with religious leaders, to bring the gospel to villages and towns where Jesus isn’t known, to encourage believers in far-flung and isolated places, to smuggle Bibles across hostile borders. Their passion for God fuels their prayers, and their prayers provide the shield and the power for their bold movements in spiritually hostile places.
So whether or not we ever find out how prayer works, let’s do it, and do it boldly and passionately. God uses it in ways we don’t understand to do amazing and miraculous things. But let’s also cultivate the kind of hunger for him that can only be satisfied by an all-night prayer meeting or a three-hour devotional. Let’s care so much about those who don’t know him that bold evangelism is the only appropriate course of action. That’s when our prayers grow hands and feet, and that’s when things start changing.
Photo by Lesly Derksen on Unsplash.
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.
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.
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’.
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. ~
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.
God According to the Aloe
Confession time: I love my aloe plant. It was given to me by a friend when it was only about three inches high. I’ve watered it and repotted it, and every morning I make sure my bedroom curtains are open so it gets lots of sunlight. I have watched it grow from a wee spikey thing to a, well, slightly bigger spikey thing and have been amazed that something that started so small has grown so much, just sitting there day after day on my chest of drawers.
A few months ago, I started noticing other wee spikey things pushing through the soil. There were four of them in a wide circle around my aloe plant. “What is this?” I thought. “Aloe babies? I didn’t know my aloe was having babies!” And yet, there they were. Aloe babies, right there in the pot, encircling their mother like a tiny hedge.
I left the babies alone for a while, but over time they started to crowd their mum, so I decided to take a risk and uproot them, planting each in its own tiny pot. Now, instead of one aloe plant, I have five.
God has a way of speaking to me about himself through his creation, and my aloe plant is no exception. I was minding my own business, thinking I had one aloe plant. I looked after it as best as I knew how, but all the while, under the surface, things were happening that I couldn’t have imagined. For months, deep below my carefully mixed, succulent-friendly soil, my aloe was putting out roots. When conditions were right, the roots sprouted, sent up shoots, and in time four new aloe plants burst into the world. It was a total shock.
How often does God do things under the surface? Things that we have no clue about? Things we wouldn’t believe were possible, even if He told us? Pretty much all the time, in my experience!
If I think about it in terms of mission, I see God’s character revealed in my aloe plant even more. I imagine just about every missionary you know could tell you a story involving months or even years of praying for and ministering to and loving a group of people who seemed completely impervious to the gospel, only to have God surprise them with what He’d been doing all along under the surface. A hardened tribal leader surrenders to Christ. A household of unbelievers “suddenly” believes. A whole community is radically transformed practically overnight.
It has happened. And it will keep happening. Because God loves a surprise. He loves to see the delight on our faces, and feel the worship rising from our grateful hearts when he moves in ways we didn’t see coming.
I started with one aloe plant, and now I have five. If the aloe babies have babies, that makes twenty. Imagine what the world would be like if God were to multiply by five each prayer we pray for a lost loved one, each person who ventures onto the mission field, each pound we give in support of His work in the world? And what if those were multiplied by five, and so on and so on? It could happen, you know. He’s always working under the surface. And he’s done a lot more than that with much less.
Our job is to keep believing he’s going to move, even if we can’t see what’s going on under the surface. Our job is to water the soil, provide sunlight, and make sure conditions are favourable so that when He does show us what he’s been up to, we’re ready to act.
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.
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.