Does the Bible Even Talk About Missions?

 

Yes, it does.

I found what is probably an exhaustive list of Scriptures that either directly or indirectly relate to missions work. There are around 150. I was simply going to copy and paste the list into this blog, but it’ll save on space if I simply link to the Web site itself. The reason I hesitated linking to the site is because they used the phrase “global harvest of souls” – um, perhaps I’m overly selective in word choice, but that phraseology rubs me wrong for some reason. Still! …no reason to waste a good resource due to semantics, right? Enjoy:

Verses on Missions

 

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Having Returned, I am Changed

It’s difficult to describe precisely what transpires in the soul when it falls in love with a person, so imagine my amused effort as I attempt to describe falling in love with a nation. I did – let’s start there.

It’s fascinating, really, contemplating the sovereignty of God in it all. Before I left, I prayerfully knew how my love story would unfold. I already possessed a pass100_1078ion for the people and their plight, but I knew nothing of their culture – firsthand, at least. So the ambiguity of whether or not it could be true love didn’t lie in the country but in the country’s idiosyncrasies, if you will. I promise you this: I had a good hunch that I’d treasure those, too, but I wanted to experience them and pray to God around them before I jumped to conclusions rashly.

Our flight landed in a large city fairly early in the day, though we had been traveling for nearly a 24-hour period and were all tired. I’ll write about our daily adventures and evidences of God’s hourly activity in a future entry  – today’s entry will give an overall picture of how my heart changed in two weeks and share observations I made about the country’s tics (most of whi100_1282ch you might find humorous!).

When Christians go on missions trips, most of them excitedly say upon returning that it changed their life, or perspective on life, in some measure. I think – and I might be wrong here – but I think there is a difference between an envisioned change and an broken change. The former strengthens the Christian’s life on the home front; the latter, however, breaks the Christian’s heart for the foreign culture irreparably. It’s a love that begins with heartbreak, which can occur in a moment or over time. Neither post-trip effect is better or more holy than the other, but I think they’re simply different experiences that demand different courses of action in order to best glorify Creator God.

For me, I believe my love began with heartbreak, and I can truly proclaim that one day I will live in this country, Lord willing. I want to jump out of my chair and scream “Praise Go100_1328tud!” just thinking about it! Ah, the excitement is definitely not containable. As I stated earlier, I supposed this would be the result of walking the streets and talking with the people, smelling the smells and tasting the food. But it’s indescribably encouraging to have God confirm a passion years in the making, and He did. This country is statistically one of the darkest regions in the world, and God wants it back. He loves it, and I do, too.

And yet if all I have is love without follow through, I’m useless. You know what they say about good intentions. Here is an excerpt from my trip journal after a group devotional:

How do we break through generations and generations of Christlessness? I wrote ‘love’ as the answer in my blog, but it’s so much more focused than that. It takes dedication, a clear and focused spirit, pinpointed passion and a CONVINCED persuasion that God will be found in this place – Christ will be worshiped. Do you doubt it? Then this place is not for you.

Another entry I wrote very early into the trip, the day we split into two smaller teams:

So many strange feelings surge through me now that I’m here, strolling the stores and interacting with the people. As much as I love it, I’m scared by it, too. I could really live here, work here. This country could be my residence, and now that it’s tangible, the thought process attains a whole new depth and pertinence.

At first, when I arrived, I was enchanted as one would expect, of course. It is, culturally speaking, a very beautiful place. The darkness didn’t truly burden me until this afternoon as I listened to a native Christian share his testimony. He is now on trial for “offending the national way of life,” or some other obscure description lawfully condemning non-Muslim practices; and he and two others face jail time. The reality of depravity and spiritual warfare shock-burrowed into my heart deeper and deeper throughout his translated testimony, which involved visions. (Many testimonies do in this country – so few Christians are going, Christ is reaching into their hearts Himself. He loves them.) He made a brave choice fourteen years ago, choosing to follow Christ regardless of the consequences. He and others like him are my heroes….

For so many years, there’s been virtually no witness; it’s suffocating! Could I really live here? Do I have what it takes? Am I strong enough? Of course I know the obvious answer to that question is, “No, I’m not strong enough and it’s Christ’s strength in me who makes anything possible.” But He also doesn’t give us more than we can bear – can I bear this? These are serious questions demanding definitive answers, and so I hope to maximize the rest of my days in search of them.

So what helped me transform questions into direction? It’s difficult to say, really. No single experience determined it. At one point, as we were leaving one city for another, I broke down sobbing with a burden for the people unlike I had yet felt it, but I didn’t find direction in the tears. Again, there were two afternoons in which we climbed mountains and looked down on cities, but I didn’t find direction in the vision. I think I found direction in t100_1322he need, plain and simple. Nobody is there. Somebody needs to be. Whenever we hear ourselves say out loud, “Somebody needs to do something,” chances are, that somebody is us. God’s given me grace to love them, so  let my love be practiced, direct, and relational. A worker who has lived in the country for three years said at one point as our team looked over a city (and I paraphrase, forgive me), “There are over 200,000 people here and not a single Christian witness. That is intolerable.”

Truly, it is intolerable. Another friend of mine noted, “People say, ‘Why are you going overseas? There’s work to be done in America!’ But at least the work is being done in America; there’s nobody here.”

So point blank, the passion in my heart is not a brief explosion, though it’s felt like it at times. Rather, it’s an ember faithfully burning, and I pray the fire stands the test of ti100_1233me. It’s already lasted two years, and now that I’ve met the people face to face, I doubt God will redirect it any time soon. I pray with all my heart that He grows in me a stronger spirit and more deeply rooted faith so that when the time comes, I might serve these people effectively, and humbly.

Of course right now I see my calling is stateside, at least for the next year and a half. I’m committed to pursuing my MBA beginning in the fall, and I’m absolutely thrilled about the prospect of more school. I’m also going to be lead ing a girls’ Life Group when the new semester starts, and I’ll be moving out of my grandparents’ home, too. Clearly, my work in Cookeville isn’t done yet, and that’s okay. Exciting, even! But I see each commitment here as preparation for there, the place that possesses my long-term passion – and I plan on being intentional in my personal preparation. Perhaps I’ll teach myself the language in this interim. I hope to! There are so many opportunities for growth before me, and I pray I’m a good steward to them all. Most importantly, I pray I’m faithful to my ultimate joy, and that is Christ Himself, without whom I wouldn’t be who I am, and to whom all glory goes for any good in my life.

“And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light…. Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”

– Romans 13:11-12,14

Now I’m going to enter a segue! Below are interesting cultural observations I jotted down all throughout the trip. Most are humorous!

Cultural Observations

  • Converse shoes are everywhere, even in small cities. Even covered women wear them!
  • Traffic rules as I know them don’t exist. It’s a free-for-all circus where each vehicle must find its place every second as it gets to where it needs to be. Veering, honking, cutting, merging – every car deserves the right of way, from the looks of the harried zig-zag dance dance. “Watch out for the yellow ones!” says Buddy the Elf. “They don’t stop!”
  • Their diet is my dream regimen: cheeses, olives, lamb meat, fruits…. I craved salty foods at first, but I quickly got over that.
  • The people are beautiful. The Central Asian complexion and hair is the most beautiful complexion to me.
  • Cleanliness is not next to godliness here. There are certain patches of the cities where foul smells are prevalent.
  • The people are feisty, loyal and territorial.
  • Cats roam freely and are street savvy. They’re nationally treated well in honor of a great leader who preferred them.
  • Salesmen try to rip off Americans but give those who speak their language good deals. Not me. I got the prices I wanted.
  • So far, the only people  who have spoken English have wanted to sell me something.
  • Most, if not all, clocks are on military time, and everything is metric. Gosh, America, get with the program.
  • Coke tastes the same here, but Diet Coke is called Coke Light, even on the can.
  • Nobody wears flip flops here!!
  • Building codes probably exist here, but if so they seem to be as flexible as driving laws.
  • If the Holy Spirit were just for New Testament times, I truly believe that the infinitesimal number of national believers would be cut in half, at least. Christ visits these people in dreams more than I’ve heard of anywhere else. Praise God that the Holy Spirit is active! There aren’t enough workers here, so Christ is going Himself. How humbling and huge is that? Lord, let us join You in Your work!
  • There are virtually no bugs here, at least in the more northern areas! The windows have no screens, but we can still sleep with them open.
  • There is no ventilation system in the hotel rooms or bathrooms.
  • You get used to squatty toilets. Trust me, you do.

Leaving in Less Than Two Days

Well, friends, the time has nearly come for departure. It’s an amazing feeling to know that by riding on a plane, I’ll be flying towards a years-long personal dream. Unbelievable! My team leaves Nashville at 6:30 in the morning and flies into JFK; from there, we’ll take a 10- to 12-hour flight into our piece of Central Asia. Sound amazing? Absolutely. 🙂

I’d like to ask you to join me in prayer now; I doubt I’ll write another post until after I return on May 28, so please take the time between now and then to learn more about Central Asia and pray for my team and me. As I stated in a previous entry, “evangelism” is not our goal, if we’re arguing semantics. Rather, our goal is to develop relationships with the local people and conduct ethnographic research in order to learn how best to serve and reach them with the Gospel.(please read the entry titled “Conference Call, Evangelism, Etc.”
for more information.)

 

virtualprayerwalkshttp://centralasia.imb.org/pray/prayerwalk.html 

 

The IMB also provides a monthly Central Asia prayer letter. If you’d like to subscribe, click here.

THANK YOU to all who are supporting prayerfully and financially!! Here I come, Central Asia! Here’s to Christ, realized dreams, and answered prayers!

 

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Guess What?

I’m getting sooo excited!!!!

😀

Conference Call, Evangelism, Etc.

Today the River’s Central Asia team met after church, as we always do, and today was a particularly special meeting: We held a Skype video conference call with a missionary from the area we’ll be visiting. He shared about topics like ethnography instruction, prayer walking, and building lasting relationships with the native people. The call was primarily in question-and-answer format. Ahh, technology never ceases to amaze me. 🙂

After the whole team spoke with him, we split up into our two teams: ethnography and prayer walking. Oh, just fyi: I’m on the prayer walking team! I don’t think I’ve mentioned that yet. The prayer walking team is slightly larger than the team who will be conducting ethnographic research, and we’ll be in separate cities during the middle portion of the trip. So, back to the conference call. The ethnographers-in-training stayed and talked with the missionary for a longer period of time, and our team went to a different room and discussed our separate responsibilities.

The more I think and pray about the trip – the more I talk about it – the more excited I become! A friend asked me why I want to go to Central Asia, and I responded: because I love the people. More accurately, it’s because God’s given me a love for the people. They’re beautiful to me, and I’m thrilled that I could play a part in God’s plan to reach them with His love, too.

As I was praying with one of my teammates today, I prayed about God’s heart for salvation. (He truly does want all people to come to a saving knowledge of Himself, and He’s made it incredibly easy for all peoples to approach His throne in full confidence through His Son.) God has a heart for salvation, and He also has the power to save. We as Christians might have a heart for salvation, too, but we have no power to save people. That’s God’s prerogative alone. So our efforts to reach and love people require two things: (1) We must realize it is God who saves, though we can point people to Him through our words, deeds and lifestyles; and (2) We must be purposeful and intentional, using our time wisely, seeking opportunities to represent and share our glorious God’s truths.

In Central Asia, evangelism looks nothing like what it looks like in America. In fact, when arguing semantics I daresay that “evangelism” isn’t the appropriate term for the Christian’s duties in the region. In America, actions associated with straight-up evangelism might include outreaches (fantastic), street preaching (I’ve seen it abused), Christian-themed T-shirts (don’t get me started on those…), etc. You can name something else categorized as evangelism, I’m sure. In Central Asia, however, throw it all out the window.

Suddenly, you the Christian are not the majority. You’re one of just over 3,000 believers in a nation of tens of millions of people. Your “religion” is associated with historical enemies of the nation, too (e.g., Crusades, etc.). What do you do as a Christian when you begin below ground zero… in a foreign land?

You love.

As a matter of fact, in its most simplistic terms, missional evangelism = love. Without love, Christians really are the enemy, and a hypocritical one at that. Even though my team is short-term, I’m good friends with people who will be moving to the country permanently next year. If you were to ask them about their strategy (again, in its simplest form), they would tell you it’s about being a presence, being purposeful, making oneself available and intentionally conveying the love of God with people who have never known it.

I pray for opportunities in which I can talk with a native person or two (or three!) about their beliefs… and mine. I pray I have the chance to draw them out and learn about what they love… and perhaps share what I love, too. I hope I can develop in even one mind an accurate image of a Christ-loving human being, and in so doing plant seeds that offer hope in darkness.

Please support my team with prayer as we grow closer to leaving for Central Asia. It’s not us, but God who works through us, and in that we find comfort. Still, we are called to strive, to seek the Lord in humility, and to live as lights wherever God calls us to shine. For you, it might be your job or family. For my team – even if it’s for a short time – it’s Central Asia. And so we follow on the wings of grace and prepare our hearts and minds to serve.

Pray for us.

Introduction from the Heart

Hi, friends!

For those of you who haven’t heard, I will be going on a missions trip to Central Asia on May 17-28 with my home church, The River Community Church. This blog will chronicle the days leading up to (and following) my departure.

To start us off, I thought I’d post the basic information I sent out in my support letters so you can develop an accurate image of what the trip will entail.

central-asia-header

Central Asia, home to many centers of Biblical history, comprises all or part of 14 countries and is statistically the most spiritually dark region in the world. To illustrate, only .016% (.00016) of all Turkic and Persian people in Central Asia are Christian; that is, there is only one Christian out of approximately 6,800 people.

  • In Central Asia there are more than 500 distinct ethno-linguistic people groups and population segments.
  • About 100 of the 500 people groups that live in Central Asia have access to
    the Gospel.
  • The other 400 people groups have none.
  • All people groups are unreached, meaning the number of evangelical Christians within the population totals less than 2 percent.

For over two years now, Central Asia’s darkness has weighed heavily upon my heart. My awareness began as a mere curiosity; over time, however, the curiosity developed into a passion, and the passion quickly developed into a burden. My spirit is completely on fire for the people groups in Central Asia, and I crave to see God’s glory proclaimed in the region.

My home church, The River Community Church in Cookeville, TN, is pursuing long-term missions in the region; even now, future Central Asian missionaries are in its congregation, preparing to move permanently to an undisclosed country in mid-2010. My short-term missions team will serve in an exploratory role, conducting ethnographic research and prayer walks in five cities of the targeted country. I, too, am prayerfully contemplating a permanent relocation; while this is a future goal, this trip offers the opportunity to explore the country I might one day call my home.

Due to the country’s – and region’s – suspicious outlook on and reaction towards Christians, The River’s missionaries are not permitted to share the country’s name. This alone speaks of how desperately the region needs a Christian presence.

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Turkish dancers
Turkish dancers
Woman in the North Caucasus region
Woman in the North Caucasus region
Husband and wife in Azerbaijan
Husband and wife in Azerbaijan
Horse racing in Afghanistan
Horse racing in Afghanistan
Ice skaters in the Stan region
Ice skaters in the Stan region