2008 January

A key part of our ministry is building relationships with the people God brings to us. God has often used us in ways similar to His use of Joseph in the Old Testament. Not so much in the “Pharaoh-naming-us-Vice-Pharaoh” sort of way; more in the sense of “I had a dream, what do you suppose it means?”

Our friends often confide in us concerning their struggles, fears, and dreams. This confidence gives us the opportunity to speak into their lives from (what we hope is) God’s perspective. Like Joseph, we try to give God the credit for any insight we might have to share.

One thing that strikes me about Joseph’s story, and about ours here in Western Europe, is that God doesn’t always communicate by speaking truth to His people and sending them to tell other people that truth. Sure, that is a common occurrence throughout history (God told Moses to tell another Pharaoh…, God told Jonah to tell the people of Nineveh, all the prophets, etc.) But here, God reveals truth to Pharaoh, who in turn seeks out God’s man for some help in interpreting that truth.

Joseph had built a reputation (at least in the cupbearer and baker communities) as someone who could interpret dreams. God used that to put him in a position to speak to Pharaoh. Many of the conversations we’re having now are not resulting in individual salvations or churches being planted. Instead, they are being used to build our reputation as God’s people in this culture.

“You want to know who has some insight into that sort of thing?” I imagine them saying behind our backs, “you need to talk to those believers.”

God is revealing truth to them. Within the culture there is a great conversation about these truths- life, death, guilt, love, peace, justice. These are deeply spiritual issues that aren’t being forced on them by outsiders. Unfortunately, like Pharaoh, the people of Western Europe do not recognize that the truths they struggle with have been revealed to them by the Most High God, the Author of all truth. That’s where we see God using us; people are asking us for our opinions about life-changing truths.

Research and immersion put us in a position to recognize and call attention to truths in the culture. Relationships put us in a position to participate in the conversation. I like to think of it as “Prophecy by Proxy.”

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When it comes to promoting missions and mobilizing missionaries, we rely on photos. In casting a vision for what God is doing around the world to bring people into right relationships with Himself, a picture really is worth a thousand words.

Or, in my case, about four blog posts.

It’s unfortunate, but we often fall into the trap of resorting to stereotypes to illustrate our work. You’ve seen the photos; a thin, wrinkled old man, whose dark skin contrasts with his cotton beard, reaches for the Bible offered by a tall white fortysomething in khaki pants. A small group of smiling black ragamuffin children playfully hug a white lady with her hair in a bun.

I would love to see missional churches pay to send poor, inner-city believers from the States to minister to poor, inner-city families in other parts of the world.

I think that if we were serious about incarnation, it wouldn’t be so easy to tell the difference between the “Missionary” and the “heathen” in a picture.

We often have people express interest in coming for a visit to “see” our ministry. Some are church planters from the States, some are pastors of existing churches, some are missionaries in other places. We’ve had seminary students write papers on us, journalists write articles about us, and at least one grade school kid interview us for a class project. We’re thankful when anyone shows interest in our work here, and flattered with all of the attention. Nevertheless, everyone who comes to observe our work first-hand sees pretty much the same thing: not much.

Our ministry is entirely relational. How many American pastors and missionaries can I introduce my friends to before they really start to feel like projects? We don’t identify ourselves as missionaries. How many creative ways are there to explain how I know these strangers who are always passing through?

We spend time with friends in parks and cafes. Since we’re planting simple churches, we don’t have a building. We likely never will. We don’t have an office (though we could really use one). Our team meetings take place in our homes.

Like I said, there’s not a whole lot to see.

Some people understand that there isn’t much to see. Some leave disappointed. At least two have accused us of “hiding” our ministry from the “public;” one praising us for protecting and nurturing our fragile relationships, the other criticizing us for avoiding accountability. It wasn’t some conspiracy to keep people from seeing our work- there just nothing to see.

Acts 28:28 “You may be sure that God wants to save the Gentiles! And they will listen.”

This verse in Acts really bothers me. Paul is being quoted here, and it just doesn’t seem to make sense. It doesn’t make sense because of the passage that comes just before it, where
Paul quotes Isaiah the prophet:

“You will listen and listen but never understand. You will look and look, but never see. All of you have stubborn hearts. Your ears are stopped up, and your eyes are covered. You cannot see or hear or understand. If you could, you would turn to me, and I would heal you.”

So I’m trying to get this straight- God wants to save the Gentiles. The Gentiles will listen. They will never understand (it actually says that part twice!)

Here’s why I dislike this passage so much- I have seen this to be true among the people of Western Europe. God wants to save people in Western Europe. He has brought us here to minister to them in love. He has a plan for them.

They listen. I’ve sat down to coffee with a national and talked about my faith for literally hours. They listen!

They do not understand. “That’s great, for you” they say. “I guess that’s one way of looking at it.” “We have tried Christianity- look where it got us!”

If they could understand…
So many times I see hurting people who are desperate for healing. If they could understand, they could be healed. But they don’t, so they aren’t.

This verse bothers me because, despite all of my efforts, it is true.