Yesterday, I was asked by a good friend how remote the village is where we will be living which was followed by questions about white people (or any foreigners for that matter) living in a remote place bringing a foreign religion. Sometimes it is difficult for people to wrap their minds around a place and society where Jesus is completely a foreign idea. It is a legitimate question and I wonder how many others ask it in silence.

First things first – what the Bible teaches about “sharing religion”” and Making Disciples

From Genesis to Revelation we have a very clear picture of what God’s story and plan entails. As early as Genesis 1:26 we see how people are created in God’s image to reflect His image to all the earth. In genesis 11, God brings Abraham out to a starry night and has him glance up into the skies. He tells Abraham that he and his family/descendants will be as many as the stars in the sky and they are instructed very specifically throughout the Old Testament to be a blessing to all nations. The crossing of ethnic lines to show forth the Kingdom of God is seen in most of the historical books of the OT, Esther, Ruth, throughout the Psalms, the prophetic books, and on into the New Testament where Jesus eventually gives His very life so that all can experience life in His already present, not yet realized everlasting Kingdom.

The Bible then traces the life and work of 12 disciples and their families who take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. The command given them by Christ in Matthew 28 is for all nations, every ethnic group is to receive the Gospel and become disciples. This is followed up by Jesus’ commission and instruction in Acts 1:8 that the Holy Spirit would come in power in order for his disciples to be witnesses in Jerusalem (their own backyard), Judea (the outer-lying region), Samaria (among those who hated them), and to the ends of the earth. Revelation ends with all peoples from all over the globe worshipping Jesus around the throne crying “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and unto the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:9-10). This is a quick glance at the scope of the story and plan of God. All nations and all peoples everywhere are to hear and understand this Kingdom announcement. , Announcing the Kingdom by Arthur Glasser and John York’s Mission in the Age of the Spirit are great resources that explain well the breadth and depth of God’s story evidenced in all nations worshipping Him.

This is a necessary starting point as it is foundational in understanding the very nature of God, the passion of His heart, and his expectation for His worshippers. Followers of Jesus must have this as the foundation. And it is with this in view that we look towards people groups who have not yet heard and seen a demonstration of Christ’s transformation neither in their lives nor in their communities.

Sociological Missions Perspective

It is so very critical to start with the Bible as a foundation in mission and community transformation work. Starting with sociology or culture creates very man-centered initiatives and sometimes man-centered motivations. Questions such as “Aren’t we ruining a culture by bringing our religion?” or “what business do white people have sharing a foreign religion in such a place” or “will the people who have never heard this Kingdom news ever be able to understand it” can never be the starting point. The starting point is God Himself and His story and plan for all peoples of the earth to be blessed through Him.

There are, however, very important socio-cultural questions that need to be asked. Missionaries have certainly destroyed cultures in the name of their Gospel. We see all across Narnia where missionaries have come in and extracted new believers from their own villages (often moving to villages or areas with a strong Christian presence), leaving no witness of the Kingdom in their hometowns. This has left an incredibly huge vacuum in places throughout the world that need the Gospel the most. Obviously, many places have been transformed but their remain a large number of areas (1.4 billion people according to Joshuaproject.net in fact) who have yet to hear the news of Jesus in their lifetime. Further, missions has taken very authentic pieces of culture, and in the name of religion, encouraged, sometimes forced people to put them down in place of new practices. These practices often look very Western due to the missionary and economic influence that missionaries brought with them.

So the question is then raised, “Shouldn’t people from within a particular people group or from within a particular country be the ones who take the message of the Kingdom to regions beyond? Probably. They probably should. But, as history has informed us, this often doesn’t happen. Often there is not a single believer in least reached people groups so there is not even a possibility for such a question to be asked. Many of the ethnic blocs of people who need the Gospel have hatred or disdain for those very groups of people or are quite unwilling to live amongst such groups (Johnson, Apostolic Function in Mission). Further, most short-term trips are taken to places where the church already exists (hence the term “mission trip”) and this has major influence on where people end up serving long-term. I don’t have time to go after this point further, but it sends a very clear message to the mission sending organization and local church to do its research in sending workers to places with no witness.

So let us look at the picture. We have a thriving church in some parts of Narnia where the Gospel has gone. We have Bible colleges, training centers, and churches springing up in such ares, while many villages and areas remain without a Gospel witness. There is not one believer, one church, one missionary in their socio-cultural setting to share the Good News with them. I have heard it argued from some that we should rely on Christian radio since it is being broadcast throughout the country. I had a pastor tell me a few weeks ago that many here think all the missionaries should go home. Whatever the case is and no matter how you slice it, there are still hundreds of thousands of people without a clue of the message and reality of Jesus. What should be our response?

There is an obvious need to tread carefully less we commit the same mistakes of those who have gone before us. Some of the people who argue the strongest against contextual approaches to mission are nationals themselves who have been led to the Lord, discipled, and trained under missionary approaches that were brought by Westerners. It is this backdrop wherein many in our world have found the love of their Savior and simply creating a new wineskin without thoughtful reflection can do more harm than good. I would argue, along with many who are doing similar work, that we must do frontline pioneer mission (taking the Gospel to places and villages where it has never been before) while working closely with local churches in the outer lying regions, attempting to impart a passion for those who have never heard the Good News. Such a balance is incredibly challenging as you risk trying to get the nationals to “do your thing” or walking away in frustration and being lone rangers in villages around the world. Further, you can potentially risk getting swallowed up in the needs of the national church (Bible schools, training, orphanage work, community Christian development) that could better be left to Christians who already exists in the region. It is the task of the church to rise to the occasion and do these things. Having feet in both worlds is extremely important and requires socio-cultural sensitivity and a humble heart.

Perhaps, most important is the ability to listen and sit together. We do a lot of talking, training, and facilitating in mission work. We need to listen more. It is in times of listening and sitting together that we learn the passion of one another’s heart, learn to carry one another’s burdens, and develop trust that will last a lifetime.

Remembering that community development is not something tacked onto the proclamation of the Gospel

Announcing and demonstrating the Kingdom of God means that we shoot in a variety of directions and across a large spectrum of issues. Jesus came announcing the Good News of the Kingdom as demonstrated with the worldly system being turned upside down. Kraybills Upside Down Kingdom is a great read on this subject. The homeless are clothed, political systems that have declared war upon one another find peace, racism is annihilated, economic and social transformation are evidenced. . . this is the Kingdom. We do not merely tack these things onto the end of some Jesus stories. This is the Jesus story. And if doing these things effectively and in the footsteps of Jesus, it means that we live among those we serve and stay for a while. Just as Christ came and incarnated the Word of God (John 1, Phil. 2), we too must settle in and stay for a long time.

Our ministry approach is such that we live amongst those we serve and start with the assets that already exist in a community Asset-based community development (ABCD) is not new, but we do feel like it is honoring and dignifying for the community where we live and work. We don’t have some grand scheme in mind as we move into a small Narnian community. People keep asking me “So what kind of development are you going to do?”. . . And this is a tough question to answer because so much rest in the hands of villagers themselves. This is their home. It was their village long before it was mine and they will call the shots on many things, remembering that they have the skills and many assets already within their grasp. Pulling that out of folks and helping them slowly realize that is a very difficult process. Again, this is why we need to stay a long time and walk together with our friends and neighbors.

Of course there are resources and skills that we bring to address needs, but this is not the starting point. We can’t fix rural Narnia. Only God and His Kingdom can do that. So we work together with a combination of assets, needs, foreigner, national, saved and unsaved to see these things happen. One way of saying this (as articulated by our sending agency) is that the transformation is complete when:

1. The ways of Jesus have taken hold and the community is working together

2. Local assets are now meeting local needs (the community is experiencing local abundance as needs are being met from within)
3. There is expansion beyond local borders (the community desires to have a contagious impact with people and in places outside of their own).

So yeah, this isn’t some fly by night strategy we bring from the West into a community. This is the Kingdom of God as evidenced with miracle after miracle after miracle that we bring. And we don’t bring something empty of power, integrity, or sacrifice. We bring Jesus, full of compassion, love, acceptance, righteousness, and justice. We bring a team of people from around the globe (at least we are trying to) to say with all of our lives 24 hours a day. . . “The Kingdom of heaven is at hand. Come and see Jesus in and through the visible fellowship of Christ followers. Come and experience His story as one who transforms our worldview, transforms our lives, and transforms our community.”

So that may or may not be so weird. Whether it is weird or not, unnatural or not, comfortable or not is really not the primary question. The real questions are still being asked: who is God, who am I, what does a fully transformed community look like, and why am I here? In an extremely religious culture where sacrifice, religion, and worldview are common topics, we can very naturally discuss the story of God. It is important to remember that everyone is not a missionary. Some are called to be pastors, some evangelist, some teachers, some architechts, some (fill in the blank), and some missionaries. It takes unique people with unique skills to live among folks who have never heard the name of Jesus before. This doesn’t make us more special or important; rather, this is simply what God has called us to and the task at hand. we are thrilled to declare this Kingdom. Thanks for allowing me to spew at length on such a simple question. It’s a big deal.

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