In missions, there is a lot of discussion about reaching the unreached peoples of the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Depending on what source you read, there are anywhere between 5,000-7,000 unreached people groups around the world. This amounts to roughly 2.7 billion people. There is an area where most of these people call home. In global missions, this area is commonly referred to as the 10/40 window (located between 10 and 40 degrees latitude north of the equator) which is comprised of northern Africa, the Middle East, and most of Asia. Many missions sending agencies focus on sending their missionaries to these areas of the world. These countries are typically dangerous to Westerners, especially to those who are preaching the Gospel where some can be kicked out of the country, imprisoned, and in some cases face execution. There is a large need for Christian workers to go to these hard to reach places and introduce the abundant life of Jesus Christ into these people's lives for the first time… offering them salvation, hope, and joy that comes through having faith in King Jesus.
But, what about the billions of people around the world that do not fall into the 10/40 window? There are many countries in the world that are considered "reached". But, many of these countries have such a low population of believers of Christ that they are really no different than some unreached countries. In many of these countries that have been reached, generations have since passed and now we have a new segment of society of either unreached people groups or devout atheists. For example, here in the country of Albania where we serve it is considered a "reached" country. But, the percentage of born-again, truly transformed believers of Christ is nearly infinitesimal (less than 1%). Right out the front door of our house there are hundreds of people in our neighborhood who have never heard the Gospel before. But many of their parents or other family members have seen the Jesus Film many years ago. When Communism fell in 1992, missionaries from the West flocked to Albania eager to introduce millions of Albanians to the Gospel of Christ for the first time. This, after being closed off to the West for 40+ years. Every village in Albania had been essentially reached. There was even an influx of thousands of newly professed believers of Christ. And, Albania was figuratively checked off the "unreached" list by many missions sending agencies. As a result, many of these missionaries left, with little or no follow up. Many churches that were planted early on have since died out. And now we are once again back to square one, a country with a very small population of believers and with a large segment of society whose generation today have never heard the Gospel.
And, of course there are countries that have long ago been considered Christian countries, once beacons of light to other countries around the world sending thousands of missionaries to the darker recesses of the world. Most of these "Christian" countries exist in central and northern Europe, but also including North and South America. However, in these countries we are now actually seeing a reversal of people coming to faith, where the Christian population is actually declining and many are leaving the Christian faith and the church they once grew up in. Many have become disenfranchised with traditional “Churchianity” and are embracing alternative religions or no faith at all. For the first time last year in America, Protestantism was no longer the dominant religious faith, being outnumbered by a combination of other faiths or no faith at all. As a result, missionaries from other countries like South Korea and Nigeria are actually sending Christian missionaries to the US and Canada, introducing Americans to Christ and involved in new church planting efforts around the country. And in Europe, in countries like The Netherlands and Germany, churches are now being converted into mosques, museums, and market places. And, some of the highest populations of atheism are no longer found in Communist countries, but in places like Czech Republic, Estonia, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, France, and The Netherlands.
So, what do we do with all of this? What do we do with the declining population of those who profess a faith in Christ? What do we do with the increasing population of atheism? Well, global missions should truly remain global, not confined to a certain segment of the world's population; encompassing the entire globe, not just a focus on the "unreached" people groups of the world. I propose we open the window a bit more. Let's not limit it to the 10/40 window. Let's open it up 20 degrees more to include the former "Christianized" countries of the world such as Europe and North America. The way I see it, if we don't open the window, we will be calling America and Europe "unreached" countries 25-30 years from now. And, I mean that literally; where generations will have passed, and newer and younger generations will have never heard the Good News of Christ.
This leads me to another question. How do we reach those who are already reached? How do we reach out to those who have indeed heard the Gospel before but for whatever reason have chosen to reject its message? My guess, and I’m not claiming absolute certainty on this, is that many of these “reached” people are hearing a form of Christianity that is both westernized and institutionalized. A form of Christianity that finds it basis from an Enlightenment-era form of reasoning, focusing more on morality, debate, the afterlife, and following a list of do’s and do nots. And, I don’t believe this is the same Gospel message that Christ taught. People need to see love in action. Not only do they need to hear it through proclamation, but it needs to be modeled and demonstrated through our lives and our actions. They don’t only want to hear what you have to say unless they truly know you care about them… now. People want to know how can a belief in Christ possibly benefit and change their life now, here, while on earth. One of my favorite quotes that I think best encapsulates the paradox of abundant life now and life after death is this:
“Few people are interested in a religion that has nothing to say to the world and offers them only life after death, when what people are really wondering is whether there is life before death.” (Shane Claiborne)
We need Christians to not only mobilize around the world to distant and far off countries, but to remain in their own cities, towns, and villages. We need Christians to share the Gospel through both word and deed in their communities. And, I don't mean the stale, institutionalized form of Christianity to be propagated. I mean, the get-in-the-trenches, get-your-hands-dirty form of missions. Where we no longer focus on rules and morality, but focus on helping others, loving the least of these, and bridging the gap between the haves and have nots. We need to stop obsessing over immorality and obsess with loving others no matter who they are. And, I’m willing to bet this will require leaving the comforts of our own environment and our own biased socio-political ideologies. We need to bring the Light to the darkness and not expect the darkness to be the Light before we bring it.
A couple of examples come to mind of what it looks like to bring the Light of Jesus Christ to people through both word and deed:
I am reminded of my friend Don who lives and works among a shunned people group called the Roma, otherwise known as Gypsies. He has relied solely on faith to open a workshop in the slums of Tirane, Albania, enabling local Roma and Albanian men with new works skills and an opportunity to provide a better income for their families. At the same time, he spends time investing in the spiritual lives of these men through sharing the Gospel and conducting small Bible studies in his home or workshop.
I am reminded of Pastor Jeony who also lives and works near the slums in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. He has helped facilitate a school program that enables children and their parents to receive an education and job skills, allowing them to leave their lives working in the disease-infested city trash dump. This educational program doesn’t go without hearing and learning about Christ. Each morning the children gather at the school to sing praises of worship to Jesus and learn more about God through the reading of Scripture.
Closer to home I am reminded of Shane who essentially moved from the comforts of his middle to upper class background and decided to live among the homeless of Philadelphia. This led him to start a new community revitalization project in what many would consider a gang-infested, drug-laden, and impoverished neighborhood. He, along with several others helped restore what was dismissed as hopeless, into a newly revitalized beautiful community where the homeless now live and thrive. All of this was accomplished alongside the teaching about God’s love, grace, and salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
Faith in action. This is how I believe we reach the reached with the Gospel message. There is certainly a place for the public proclamation of the Gospel, especially in unreached countries. But, in places where the Gospel is already being promulgated in churches, on TV, the radio, and bookstores; love in action is where people will truly see who Jesus is. And, this is what I believe the new wave of missions is to look like. Incarnational and holistic approach to ministry. Bringing justice where there is injustice. Enabling the poor to leave poverty. Reaching out to the disenfranchised, the unloved, and the oppressed. Helping men, women, and children see themselves for who they are, loved by God. Restoring them into the people that God intentionally desires them to be… created in His image, reconciled, rescued, and redeemed. Not for just the life after we die. But, for the life here and now. Making all things new. And, bringing God’s kingdom onto earth just as it is in Heaven.
In 1986 when I was a senior in high school, a new movie was released all across theaters in America. This film portrayed a life that became the envy of just about every young man. It involved cool motorcycles, hot babes, and fast jets. If you haven’t already guessed, the movie was “Top Gun” starring Tom Cruise and a relatively unknown actor at the time named Val Kilmer. After seeing this movie several times I knew this was the same life that I too wanted to live, especially if it got me fast motorcycles and Kelly McGillis. While some of my motives may have been naïve and driven by a high level of testosterone, I knew for certain that I wanted to see the world and receive my college education all the while defending this great country of ours. And, with the support and encouragement of my family and friends, I signed up for active duty service in the United States Air Force.
While I didn’t quite become the studly pilot portrayed in “Top Gun”, I did become an Air Force medic. I had received many decorations and awards during my tenure, shot expert marksman on both the M16 and .38, went through medical training school, and was well on my way to what seemed like a successful career in the Air Force. Most of my time serving in the Armed Forces was spent during times of relative peace. However, on August 2, 1990, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded the tiny nation of Kuwait. As a result, America revved up its military engines preparing and deploying thousands of its troops and readied its war machines in what was known as Desert Storm/Desert Shield. American patriotism skyrocketed and the war drums all across America were beating steadily. I, and thousands like me were ready to do combat and if necessary draw blood. In the middle of this huge operation, I was put on 24-hour standby while stationed at Fairchild AFB, WA. With my bags packed, immunization records updated, power-of-attorney and Will signed and notarized, I was ready to go… just waiting for the phone call from my commanding officer. Well, I did receive the phone call, but it wasn’t to give me the green light to go. Instead it was to notify me to stand down because the war had ended. Iraq had surrendered and pulled out of Kuwait. I was totally disappointed. After all, this was one of the main reasons why I signed up in the first place.
Six months later, in October of 1991 while on temporary duty assignment at Sheppard AFB, TX something happened to me that forever changed my life. I had a chance encounter with Jesus Christ. And, this jolted my world. As a result, I was drawn to my knees asking for forgiveness, repenting, and surrendering my life to Him. It was at this time that I promised I would forever serve and follow after Him. Over the next couple of years as I continued to be transformed while growing in my faith I began to think more about and understand what it means to be a disciple of Christ. By my first year of being a Christian I had read through the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation, seeing how God’s plan of redemption and reconciliation unfolded from start to finish.
It was during this time of growing, reading Scripture, and being discipled that I was first introduced to the non-violent ways of Jesus. I soon began to have difficulty reconciling violence and the use of guns, military service, and war with Scripture and the Jesus that I had come to know. I struggled with many passages like:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. (Matthew 5:38-39)
Not only in time of war or combat, but in any other type of aggressive conflict our first and natural reaction to any offender who seeks to harm is to retaliate. How can I reconcile this with the words of Jesus who tells us to actually turn and offer our other cheek to them? As a soldier I could not do this since I was commanded to retaliate against any kind of aggression.
Furthermore, Jesus tells His disciples:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43-45)
How could I as a soldier possibly love an enemy combatant with orders to shoot and kill him by my superiors? And, not only does Jesus tell me to love my enemies, but to pray for them. While at the same time Romans 12:14 tells me to actually “bless” my enemies. I can’t do this with the possibility that I may be ordered to capture or kill an enemy combatant by my commanding officers.
Many other verses I struggled with. For example:
“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4)
My weapon is not an M16 or .38. My weapon is not an AR-15 or 9mm. In fact, God tells me that none of my weapons are of this world. So, what am I doing practicing my shooting skills aiming to hit the silhouette of a human target at the gun range? No, as disciples of Christ our weapons are of divine origin, incapacitating our enemies not with bullets, but with truth, righteousness, peace, faith, the Word of God, and prayer. (Ephesians 6:14-18).
While there are countless more passages in Scripture defining the non-violent ways of the Christian, I’ll end with this one:
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)
My beef isn’t with Saddam Hussein, Iraqi soldiers, Muslims, or any other flesh and blood people group. My beef is against Satan and his minions who corrupt people, cause others to stumble, and create the many injustices of this dark world. So, while I may have liked to get my hands around Saddam Hussein or any other evil dictator, the source of the problem lies in the spiritual realm. And, that is where my fight belongs.
After much prayer and wise counsel, I had finally come to the conclusion that I could no longer carry out my duties as an armed soldier in good conscience. Therefore, I made the decision to begin the process of ending my career in the military. I spoke with my First Sergeant and told him of my decision. After several lengthy conversations he recommended I begin filing for Conscientious Objector (OC) status for discharge. But, as "fate" would have it, by this time President George H. Bush Sr. began offering early out options to all active duty servicemen with no questions asked as a way of reducing our nation's military defense spending. I took that opportunity and received an honorable discharge after 6 years of active duty service in our nation’s Armed Forces.
Today, I am by definition a pacifist. I refuse to partake in anything that promotes, encourages, or supports violence or death. I refuse to own or use a gun. I refuse to be a part of our nation’s love obsession with guns and violence. I am pro-life… for life both in the womb and out of it. This includes supporting laws that seek a ban on abortion, tighter restrictions against guns, and overturning our nation’s death penalty laws. Neither do I support war. As a pacifist, the question is almost always raised by others, “What would you do to protect your family against a hostile entity?” Pacifism does not mean passivity. This does not mean that I would idly stand by doing nothing to save my family or any other person for that matter against an intruder. It means I would find the means of incapacitating an offender, or if needed, sacrifice my own life in order to save the life of another. This is what I believe it means to be a pacifist, and this is what I believe it means to be a disciple of Christ.
I know I am a minority. And, I do not expect other Christians to agree with me. In fact, more often than not, I am met with opposition, sometimes with hostility. And, that is okay. Because it only provides a better opportunity for me to be the peaceful witness that God has called all of us to be. Nevertheless, it is my hope that my brothers and sisters in Christ will someday understand the peaceful and non-violent ways of the King we worship. That someday they will fully understand what it means to serve the Prince of Peace with their peaceful actions and words of peace. And, that their only allegiance is not to a flag or country, but to the Lamb that was slain for them. That they will not ascribe to the powers of Caesar, usually exacting force or dominance over others. Instead, ascribing to the power under and servant life of the carpenter from Nazareth. I look forward to the day when there will be no more violence and bloodshed. When there will be no war and no death. A day when our Lord will reign on His throne on a new earth not by might and not by force, but by His peace and love that will transcend the world, to every tribe and every tongue and to all the nations, bowing and singing praises to our King Jesus.
Today is 12/12/12. Kind of a cool date that we won't see again for another 100 years. Is this a significant day of interest? Well, from God's perspective every day is a significant day. Every day has meaning and purpose. He has designed each day for His will to be done in people's lives as He strengthens those who are in Christ, and seeks to reconcile new relationships with those who know Him not. So yes, today is indeed a significant day. But, with all the mayhem and hoopla over the end-time euphoria and with many looking to the Mayan calendar to signify the end of the world as we know it, what does God's word, the Bible, say specifically about the number 12 and last days?
First, a disclaimer. The Bible is not some magical tome that one can tap into to determine specific dates and times for future events. The Bible does indeed describe events that will occur at the end of times. But, it does not give specific dates and times. In fact, Jesus himself states, "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father" (Matthew 24:36). So, let us dismiss any claim that the Bible sets any date and time for the end of the world to occur. Nor, is there any "reading between the lines" using numerology to determine hidden secrets and mysteries. This is something often practiced by both pagans and gnostics alike, but is not something recommended for Christians to partake of (Deuteronomy 18:10-14, Acts 19:18-20).
So, when we look closer into Scripture, what is the significance of the number 12? And, how does this relate to us today and tomorrow at the end of times?
We know there were twelve tribes of Israel (Genesis 49). Jacob, the grandson of Abraham fathered twelve sons eventually becoming the names of each of the tribes of Israel. Their names are: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulun, Isachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Joseph, and Benjamin. Each of these sons, along with their respective tribes, played a significant role in God's historical plan leading to reconciliation and salvation through Christ. For example, it was from the tribe of Judah that Jesus came. It was Joseph who played a role in what would become the Hebrew's exodus from Egypt. And, it was from the tribe of Levi that the Levitical priesthood was established. All of these events pointing to a future High Priest and Lamb... our King Jesus.There were twelve judges who judged and led Israel spanning a 300-year timeframe. God used these judges and the events that transpired under their reign to rebuke, discipline, and to restore peace with the Israelites. Some of the significant judges include: Othniel, Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Abimelech, Jephthah, and Samson. The theme played out all throughout the Book of Judges is this: the people are unfaithful to God and he therefore delivers them into the hands of their enemies; the people then repent and entreat God for mercy, which he sends in the form of a judge; the judge delivers the Israelites from oppression, but after a while they fall into unfaithfulness again and the cycle is repeated. This too points us to Jesus, a great Judge who we will all stand before someday, a day where He will judge both the living and the dead (John 5:27, 2 Tiimothy 4:1).
Twelve is the age that Jesus first presents himself to the public. He is found "in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers" (Luke 2:46-47). And, it was also at this age that Jesus refers to God as his Father. His divine sonship, and his obedience to his heavenly Father’s will, take precedence over his ties to his family. (Luke 2:49). This is a significant claim and evidence that Jesus did indeed claim to be the Son of God.
There were also twelve disciples/apostles.
It was through these twelve that Christ taught His grace, truth, and demonstrated His love and mercy available to all people. These twelve would be instrumental in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, teaching and making disciples throughout Israel and beyond it's borders to "the ends of the earth". Some of these disciples would go on to author books of the New Testament, and most of these disciples would suffer martyrdom at the hands of those who sought to suppress the spread of the Gospel.
The Book of Revelation says that 12,000 from each of the tribes of Israel (144,000) will be marked with a seal for protection against God's wrath in the last days (Revelation 7:3-8). It will be during this tumultuous time that the earth will be transformed from calamity and evil will be weeded out, eventually leading to a New Jerusalem and a new earth where Christ will someday reign with peace.Speaking of the New Jerusalem, the Bible says the city will be fortified with high walls "with twelve gates where twelve angels were stationed and on which names were inscribed, the names of the twelve tribes of the Israelites" (Revelation 21:12). Furthermore, this new and wondrous city will have twelve stones as it's foundation "on which were inscribed the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb"
(Revelation 21: 14). The greatest buildings, castles, structures, monuments, and wonders of both the ancient and modern world pale in comparison to what we will someday see in Christ's kingdom on earth. Until then, in the words of Mercy Me, "I can only imagine".
So, rather than 12/12/12 becoming a date causing great anxiety, concern, and doom-and-gloom. It instead can be a time to cause us to pause for a moment. A moment to allow us to reflect, rejoice and marvel at God's great plan that He has orchestrated for you and me. World events that have transpired and will yet to occur all pointing us to a Savior, a great King, that has saved us and reconciled us to a loving God. I look forward to that day when I bow down in humble adoration before our lovely King Jesus who will sit upon the throne in a New Jerusalem. Not reigning by violence, bloodshed, oppression, and greed. But ruling by His grace, peace, and majesty. Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus.
American Christians have for centuries envisioned a Christian utopia in which their society is governed by Christian officials with Christian laws and morality in place. After all, this is what the Puritans from an oppressed Europe envisioned as they made their way toward the New World during the early 17th century. The vehicle through which American Christians both yesterday and today often use to attempt to create and maintain this utopia is not through the church, but through the American political system; to which they also believe was divinely orchestrated by the very hand of a Christian God. Any deviation or opposition to their perceived Christian political or social order is considered evil, ungodly, or even Satanic; often branded with the label of “liberal” which almost always have negative connotations to them. These Christians often resort to exclusion and isolation as the means to distance themselves from others who either oppose or simply think differently from them. This often leads to a form of “us vs. them” tribalism causing strife and division. Sadly, much of this envisioned utopia is driven and powered by fear-based rhetoric and propaganda. They claim that if their society does not submit to or agree with their political and social order, then surely their country will crumble, ultimately falling into the very hands of the Devil himself.
This brand of Christianity comes from the idea that God will establish His kingdom on earth. It will be established through human power and might leading to a form of theocracy in which the Christian God will rule their nation through divinely elected Christian men and women. This is the very same ideology that permeated 1st century Judaism as they waited in eager anticipation for their prophesied Messiah to deliver them from the great oppressor and establish a great Jewish utopia. When Jesus the true Messiah came to Jerusalem not on a majestic steed with pomp and circumstance, but instead on an obscure colt with only a few ragtag disciples trailing behind, the Jews were most assuredly disappointed. Only later did they witness this Jewish King being flogged and ultimately executed upon a Roman instrument of death known as a cross. Little did they know that the Kingdom of God was indeed in their midst. But, the way in which Jesus became King and Lord over all was not by might, power, and politics, but through the sheer love, grace, truth, peace, sacrifice, and service toward others. Not a single sword was raised, nor a single political action signed; His kingdom was ushered in by individuals willing to love and serve others at the expense of sacrificing their own lives just like their King.
How many American Christians today envision their utopia in much the same way in which 1st century Jews did? We Christians seek to establish a Christian kingdom through our elected officials, political action committees, and social protests, turning a blind eye to the King who sits atop a colt in our midst. But, it is only when our society witnesses the true kingdom power of Christ in the form of holistic, incarnational ministry, and evangelism will our society truly be transformed. When we Christians seek to love and serve all people from all walks of life, even those who we may deem our enemy, will the true power of Christ radiate like a beacon of light on a hill capturing the souls of those who need Him most. Until then, the American church has a lot of introspective soul-searching and idol-smashing to do... namely the idolatry of the American political and government system found within the confines of the American church.
Politics and government in of themselves are not evil; in fact they are established by God himself (Romans 13:1). But, when they become the vehicle, or the alternative, for which the Christian church should be otherwise interacting with and engaging our society, then it becomes evil. For then it merely becomes yet another government imposed policy. And, we know lives are not changed by forced policies, but only by the voluntary freedom of the soul. After all, the reason why the American government is so large today, is not because of some liberal socio-political agenda or conspiracy, but because we the church have delegated Jesus' command to "love thy neighbor" to Uncle Sam. It’s time we the church give Uncle Sam the boot and change our society not through the might of Caesar, but through the power-under, servanthood, and humility of Christ. Not through the institutionalized civic religiosity of Constantine, but through the down and dirty, in-the-trenches, relational aspect of kingdom Christianity.
Works. We are not saved by them. We are saved only through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). But, the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament are replete with examples and commands to love and serve others through our deeds and actions. It is not enough to only have faith in Christ to be a Christian in the truest sense. To be a Christian, we must have faith in Jesus Christ, yes. But, there should be something tangible to show for this. This outward showing of our faith is what the Bible often refers to as “fruit” (Matthew 7, John 15). And, this fruit is most demonstrated in the way we interact with the world and those around us.
The way I see it, as especially evident throughout the Gospels, is that there are two ways that we can be a great example of sharing and showing the love, the grace, and the truth of Jesus Christ. It is through both word and deed. And, there is no better example to look to than Jesus himself.
Almost always, Jesus showed His love to others by having compassion upon them. He healed the blind, the deaf, the lame, lepers, and paralytic. He dined with sinners and saved adulterers. He had compassion upon a bleeding woman, and wept with Mary and Martha. He brought back to life a young man named Lazarus. And, He healed a little girl with a high fever. He fed thousands of people with bread and fish, and cast demons out of many who were possessed. He looked to a widow for a lesson on faith. He loved those who were outcasts from society, including a Samaritan woman at the well and a prostitute who poured perfume on His feet. And, even while Jesus was dying He showed mercy for a criminal who was being crucified on a cross. This not to mention the greatest act of love the world has ever known… Jesus offering himself as a sacrifice for all of mankind in order that we may be forgiven, saved, and reconciled to God. He did all of these things through His deeds and actions.
Not only did Jesus show these acts and deeds of love by example, but He also shared with His disciples a story expressing the urgency and necessity for us to serve and love others.
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'” (Matthew 25:35-40)
Another way in which we serve and love others is through word. Or, simply put, telling others about the Good News of Jesus Christ. We tell them about Jesus not out of obligation, but because we genuinely care enough about them to tell them about Jesus and why He came and died for us. To tell them that there is indeed hope, there is more than what this world has to offer, that there is an abundant life much greater than this. And, it is found in a life surrendered to Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ last words before ascending to Heaven to be with the Father were these:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:17-20)
We make disciples of people by sharing our faith, telling them about Jesus, and teaching them the importance of living in obedience to Christ. Yes, Jesus showed love to people by acts of kindness and compassion. But, He also proclaimed truth. Sometimes with such great passion that people were awestruck. So too, we should be eager to tell others about Christ.
So, what do we do with all of this? Do we quit our jobs, sell our homes, give everything away, say goodbye to our friends and family, and move to Africa to become a missionary? Well, quite frankly, for some of you that may be YES. We must all remain open to how God will lead us to be a salt and light to this world. If that means giving up everything here, to go over there, in order that they may see and hear about Jesus, then so be it. We are ALL called to serve others and tell them about Jesus. There is no thinking about it or waiting for a special calling from God. He has already called all of us. Nor, is missionary work reserved for those “special holy” people. It’s for everyone.
For some of you life changing service may simply mean to be much more involved at your church. It may mean that you devote more time to serve your community. It may mean that it’s time to share your faith with that coworker that sits in the cubicle right next to you at the office. For others, it may mean to prayerfully consider going on a short term mission’s trip to Mexico next summer. For others, it may mean to adopt a child from Compassion International or get involved in Big Brothers/Big Sisters. For some of you it may mean showing a random act of kindness by raking your neighbor’s leaves or volunteering at a local nursing home. Maybe it’s time to be involved in a prison ministry or soup kitchen to feed the homeless. Maybe you adopt an orphan from Romania or get involved with a social justice project rescuing little girls from sex trafficking in Cambodia. Maybe you take up the cause of the unborn by counseling pregnant women who are considering abortion. Maybe you consider getting involved with Meals on Wheels and deliver food twice a week to those who are confined to their homes. Perhaps you volunteer at a Children’s Hospital or help out at the Special Olympics each year.
And, last but not least, maybe it’s time… time to prayerfully consider moving to another country where people have never heard the Good News of Jesus Christ. Hard places like China, Indonesia, or Pakistan, where MILLIONS of people have never heard the name of Jesus. I adjure you to consider these things and ask God not when, but where He wants you to serve now.
About a month ago, I finished reading a book by one of my favorite Christian authors, Max Lucado. The title of this book is “God Came Near”, arguably his best written and perhaps most popular book. One of the chapters in this book he aptly names “Women of Winter” in which he recollects the biblical stories of several women whose lives were deeply changed by their encounter with Jesus. These were not your ordinary women, certainly not the pillars of their communities. In fact, they were shunned from society, social outcasts, untouchables. There is the Samaritan woman at the well, the woman who had a bleeding problem, and of course the harlot who poured perfume on Jesus’ feet. Three women. One rejected. One dying. One lonely. By the world’s standards these three women could give nothing in return. They’d served their purpose: borne their children, fed their families, pleased their men. Now it was time to push them out into the cold until they died, making room for the young and spotless. That’s where Jesus found them. Shivering in the icy sleet of uselessness. The raw winter of life.
As I was reading this chapter I couldn’t help but think of a particular Roma lady in our neighborhood. Her name is Zana. To most people around here she is a nobody. An outcast. Poor. Too many kids. A beggar. A nuisance. In fact, her own husband has pushed her out of his home along with her seven children. Were these children all from the same father? Perhaps. Perhaps not. I have my doubts. Ironically, Zana also has a disability. She can barely walk with a pronounced limp to her step. And although she is likely not much older than 30 years old, she looks like she is at least 50 with tanned leathered skin and wrinkles spread across her face. Zana can be found in the center of town each day, with a blanket spread out upon the sidewalk as she sits down with her hand held out begging for money. Somehow through all of this hardship she manages a smile on her face each time we see her. She has invited us into her shack of a home and served us coffee while her little children are playing in the trash heap behind her home where flies and feces can be found. She never seems to worry much about what ails her or her family. There seems to be a confidence that carries her each step of the way. I am deeply moved by the tenacity of this little woman.
Society doesn’t know what to do with these women. Sadly, even the Church doesn’t know what to do with them either. These women might find a warmer reception at the corner bar or tavern than in a Sunday school class. But, Jesus would find a place for them. He would find a place for them because He cares. And He cares unconditionally. No one would have blamed Jesus for ignoring the three women. To have turned His head would have been much easier, less controversial, and not nearly as risky. But God, who made them, couldn’t do that. And we, who follow Him, can’t either.
To the woman at the well:
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)
To the bleeding woman:
Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed at that moment. (Matthew 9:22)
Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. (John 12:3)
It may be hard to tell from this picture, but this little girl probably hasn’t been bathed in several weeks. Her name is Angjila, and God has been placing a heavy conviction upon my heart for her. I first met Angjila on my way to a local café. While on my bike I simply said hello to her in passing. That’s all it seemed to take for her to realize that someone actually acknowledged her. Her eyes lit up, and with a big smile on her face she hopped over to a nearby garden (kopesht) and picked a flower to give to me. I thanked her and said Mirupafshim (goodbye)! Over the next few weeks I periodically saw Angjila around our neighborhood, all dirtied up with matted hair, tattered clothing, and with a big smile on her face she would always say hello to me. Inevitably she would find another flower at a nearby garden to give to me. When we moved into our new home, every day she would bang on our front door with a few more flowers to hand off to me. I would place them in a small vase on our patio table and she nodded with approval. She loves to play in our courtyard, ride the bikes, play ball, and have meaningful conversation. But, over time she began to be more demanding and always insisted we let her in. Many times, she let herself in without our permission or knowledge. On several occasions we caught her fiddling with the door jack in the back of our courtyard and she let herself in. On another occasion we caught her on Drayton’s bike riding around in our courtyard unaware to us. Finally, we had to firmly but lovingly tell her to go away. We told her she is only welcome back if she knocks, and we answer the door to allow her to come in; a basic value and principle. One day, she came by banging on the door and I had to turn her away due to another engagement at the time. She went away with a very sad countenance upon her face. I peered my head out the door and watched her walk away with her shoulders slumped down. Sadly, I watched as an older girl passed by and flicked her on the head. Before I could get myself to the two girls, the older girl and Angjila had gone their separate ways. Time and time again Angjila bangs on our door insisting to get in. She would beg and plead. Finally, I asked her why she wants in so badly. Ride bikes? No. Play with our cat? No. Play ball? No. Then why? I just want to be here.
It finally dawned on me that maybe she wants in so badly because our house is a safe place for her. Here she is treated well. She is talked to, played with, given something to drink, a snack, and a place to just sit and talk. It is obvious to me she is neglected and possibly abused, physically or sexually. One day I found her wandering the neighborhood only in her underwear, with dirt on her face, and hair matted up. She still looked happy, but I wondered how much abuse this little girl goes through. I hope I’m wrong. I hope she is not abused and only neglected. I know that sounds odd. The thought of this little precious girl being abused just kills me inside. Angers me. Not having a bath or something to eat… well we can deal with that much easier. But, abuse! How do we best deal with this situation if in fact she is abused? We don’t want to falsely incriminate her parents. For now, the best thing we can do is to let her in as many times as possible. Talk to her, get to know her, play with her, and love upon her just as Jesus would. She is seven years old and has never stepped foot into a school. Today, I helped her count to twenty in Albanian. I showed her the Albanian alphabet. And, I told her about Zoti (God) and His son, Jesuzi and how much He loves her and cares for her. Then, I gave her some free time to simply draw whatever she wants. And, guess what she spent thirty minutes meticulously drawing? Flowers in a kopesht.
Please pray for Angjila. Please pray for wisdom and discernment. Please pray that we die to our selfish ways and remain available to her… always. Please pray that she is delivered from any and all neglect and abuse. Please pray that somehow, someway, through all the darkness, that she will see the Light of Jesus Christ.
This is the drawing that Angjila finished tonight. Flowers in a garden.