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.