The Race Marked Out for Us
is a special place any time of year, but it was particularly stunning on Sunday,
the 3rd of November. The sky was blue and endless, the air was crisp
and chilly, and the pavements were packed with bright-faced well-wishers,
cheering their hearts out for the 60,000 runners who had made it into the New
York City Marathon that day. My best friend is no marathoning novice—NYC was
her fourth marathon, so she went into the morning confident. So confident, in
fact, that she’d had no qualms about walking 11 miles the day before, taking in
the sights with her husband and 17-year-old daughter, and me and my new hubby.
and I had risen early on Marathon Sunday to catch her at mile 5, not too far
from where I used to live in Brooklyn. She was running at a steady pace, and
when she saw us at our pre-planned meeting spot, she threw her arms in the air
and started talking a mile a minute. Her eyes were bright and her energy was
high. A great sign of things to come.
off, and we ran for the subway. We had about 90 minutes to get back to Manhattan,
meet her husband and daughter, and make our way to the marathon route to catch
her at our second meeting spot. She arrived not long after we’d settled in, and
though she was still in good spirits, she looked tired. We gave her some food
and a few hugs and sent her off again.
have a planned meeting spot for our third rendezvous, but we told her we’d text
her to let her to know where to look for us. We dashed for the subway again and
ended up in Central Park halfway between miles 23 and 24. But by the time we
settled on a spot, her phone had died and our texts weren’t going through. We
were tracking her progress on the NYC Marathon app so we knew where she was, but
she had no way of knowing where we were, or when (or if!) she would see us
We waited a long time for her to come. When she finally rounded a corner into view, we started shouting her name and waving our arms with glee. She ran to the side, but this time there were tears in her eyes and she dared not stop. “I just need it to be over,” she shouted as she passed us with heavy feet.
We watched her carry on around the bend and my husband looked back at my best friend’s 17-year-old daughter. Her face said it all: she just wanted to be with her mother. He said, “Shall we catch her?” She said, “Yes.” And before we knew what had happened, they sprinted off down one of the many winding paths of Central Park, leaving the rest of us behind. Neither of them was familiar with Central Park. Only one of them had a working phone. They barely even knew each other. But they took off with a common goal. They couldn’t let her run alone.
caught her! They cheered her on from the sidelines again and again the last
three miles of the race—sprinting and cheering, and sprinting and cheering. They
refused to stop until they could see the finish line.
As she was
limping back to the hotel that evening, her finisher medal swinging from her
neck, she said, “All I wanted to do was stop running. I wanted to walk. But
then I saw those two running next to me and cheering me on. They gave me the
strength to keep going.” She crossed the finish line 18 minutes earlier than she
there was a real-life example of how we should be supporting our missionaries,
I lived it in New York on the 3rd of November. You see, my best
friend’s daughter was not a runner before that day. My husband is a runner, but
he’s never (yet) run a marathon. But they saw an experienced marathoner
struggling and they both upped their game to help her to the finish line. They
didn’t make excuses like “I’m not wearing running clothes,” or “I’ve already
walked 10 miles today,” or “I don’t know the way.” They just went. And their
going not only helped my best friend finish the marathon; their going also
inspired her daughter to start running. Now, back in Alabama, my best friend
and her daughter run together.
So let’s get
alongside our missionaries! Let’s not make excuses like “I don’t know them that
well,” or “I don’t have enough spare cash to give,” or “I don’t have time to
pray,” or “I couldn’t possibly do what they do.” Instead, let’s up our game and
get running so that we can all cross that hard-earned finish line together.
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. ~
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’.
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.