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CT Women 2019

P. 8
P. 24
P. 18
how women
are rethinking
global gospel
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Your Mission Field
Copyright © 2019 Christianity Today
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Published by Christianity Today
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PUBLISHER: Jacob Walsh
PROJECT EDITOR: Kelli B. Trujillo
ART DIRECTOR: Sarah Gordon
MARKETING: Leanne Snavely, Katie Bracy
With boldness and a pioneering spirit, Christians from the
Global South are invigorating international missions.
The crucial first step of ministry begins with the Holy Spirit.
Norine Brunson describes the faith practices that
sustained her during persecution.
How to live the gospel in suburban America.
Families in the field say it’s complicated.
Suffering and ministry turmoil left me devastated.
Jesus met me there.
Paul’s favorite description is a phrase we rarely use.
Christianity has been a multicultural, multiracial,
multiethnic movement since its inception.
Reading recommendations for a ministry-oriented life.
How the Parable of the Sower frees us from
a results-driven world.
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When Jesus died on the cross, only a small band of his followers,
mostly women, were there to bear witness as humanity’s sins were
atoned for. When he rose victorious over sin and death, again it was
a small group of women who first witnessed the empty tomb, and
it was Mary Magdalene whom he first commissioned to proclaim
his resurrection. For the next 40 days, Jesus made quiet appearances among his friends and disciples. And then he left, ascending
to the Father, leaving to them the task of proclaiming the gospel.
Why didn’t Jesus announce himself with trumpets, proclaiming the salvation he offers in a display of glory, for all to see? Why,
instead, did he commission flawed and limited humans to “make
disciples of all nations”? It’s a confounding and holy mystery that
God chose them—and he chose us—to build his church. Until the
future day when, indeed, “the trump shall resound and the Lord
shall descend,” we are to be his witnesses, empowered by the Holy
Spirit, trumpeting the announcement of the kingdom.
God left this task to us—to us humans who, full of good intentions, are also full of inclinations toward sin, often tripping our way
through our kingdom proclamation. Yet in our weaknesses, limitations, and failures, we are proclaiming something essential: that
the gospel is for sinners—that grace is a (necessary) reality both
for the hearers and the proclaimers of the message.
This CT special issue explores several of these important
themes—human struggles and limitations (p. 44), the empowering work of the Holy Spirit (p. 18), what missional living looks like
in international contexts (p. 8) and in America (p. 30), as well as
fresh ways to think about evangelism (p. 48 and p. 66). In this issue
we spotlight, in particular, the work of ordinary women as leaders,
pioneers, and faithful proclaimers of the kingdom.
At the church I attended as a teenager, these words were emblazoned above the main exit doors: “You are now entering your mission field.” Every Sunday, as we’d file out of church back into our
normal lives, we read the needful reminder that we are each missionaries. It’s a reminder I still need today: that the great, global
commission given to Jesus’ early band of followers was never just
for vocational missionaries. It is for me and for you. Whether one
serves abroad or lives right here—wherever “here” is as you read
these words—we are each living in the mission field to which God
has called us. Go, therefore, and make disciples.
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understand that they are worthy before
God. They are valued regardless of economic or social status, or skin color.”
Beauty Ndoro and her husband had been living among and
serving the residents of slums outside Harare, the capital
city of their native Zimbabwe, when they unexpectedly
received a letter from Los Angeles–based missions organization Servant Partners. The letter said Servant Partners
felt led to recruit Africans to serve in Mexico. They had gone
online to search for like-minded ministers in Africa—and
came across Ndoro and her husband.
The couple had considered serving in another southern
African country. Ndoro’s husband felt a burden for Tibet.
But Mexico? That had never crossed their minds. They
ignored the letter. Servant Partners persisted, sending two
more letters over the next six months.
Lisa Engdahl, co-general director of Servant Partners,
says they typically search far and wide for missionaries
willing to serve in the world’s poorest communities. “We
are always trying to recruit a breadth of people because of
the demands of our work,” she told me. “Our teams have
looked to diversify as much as possible.” The recruitment
of Ndoro and her husband was a recognition that “there
are many strong, godly leaders in the African church whom
God is calling into cross-cultural ministry.”
“I wasn’t sure if God wanted me to move so far from
family, to go to a different culture,” Ndoro told me. “I
didn’t know any Spanish, and my daughter was only two
years old.” But then she started receiving confirmation
from others. “I hear ‘Mexico’ and God’s calling upon your
life,” they told her.
Eventually, it became clear that Mexico was where God
intended them to go. “I had my own fears, but I was so
excited,” Ndoro said. “I knew God was going to be with us.”
That was ten years ago. Since then, Ndoro and her family
have served in both Mexico and Nicaragua, living in urban
slums and leading Bible studies and recovery groups for
survivors of trauma. Several of these Bible studies have
grown into new churches.
While there have been challenges, Ndoro has no doubt
that Latin America is exactly where God wants her, a black
Zimbabwean woman, to be. “Because of knowing who I am
in Christ and as an African, that has helped me help others
Beauty Ndoro is part of a growing
movement of international missionaries sent out from the Global South,
which includes Africa, Asia, Latin
America, and the Caribbean. According to Christianity in Its Global Context,
1970–2020, a report by The Center for
the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, 66
percent of all Christians will be from
the Global South by 2020, up from 43
percent in 1970. This could reach 75
percent by 2050. Christianity is surging
in these regions, even as North America
and Western Europe see the number of
religiously unaffiliated growing at an
increasingly rapid pace.
As the demographic center of the
global church shifts, so too does fervor
for international missions. As Christianity Today has previously reported,
the beginning of this century has
marked a dramatic swing from the
model of Western missionaries going
out to the rest of the world to “the sending of international missionaries to all
of the world’s countries from almost
every country,” according to Christianity in Its Global Context.
The World Christian Database
reports that while the US still sends
out the most missionaries, that number is decreasing. There were 121,000
active American missionaries in 2015
(the most recent year for which data is
available), down from 127,000 in 2010.
During that same period, the number of
missionaries from non-Western countries increased significantly. Brazil, for
example, went from 34,000 to 35,000
missionaries, and South Korea leaped
from 20,000 to 30,000 missionaries.
Missionary movements from the
Global South aren’t entirely new.
For example, the Back to Jerusalem
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movement—an effort by Chinese Christians to evangelize all the Buddhist,
Hindu, and Muslim people groups who
live along the old Silk Road—traces its
roots back to the 1920s. It was newly
revitalized in 2003 by exiled house
church leader Liu Zhenying (also
known as Brother Yun). South Korean
missionaries have been going to the
US since the 1970s to “‘bring the gospel back’ to Americans, particularly
white Americans,” reports sociologist
Rebecca Y. Kim in The Spirit Moves
West: Korean Missionaries in America.
The Filipino Sending Council, affiliated
with US-based SEND International,
has been sending missionaries abroad
for more than 30 years.
This is the first time, however, that
the world has seen so many missionaries from Asia, Africa, and Latin America
crossing national borders, including
going to the homelands of the missionaries who first brought them the
gospel. In 2015, 9 of the top 20 sending countries—including Brazil, the
Philippines, China, India, Nigeria, and
South Africa—were in the majority
world (also referred to as the developing world), with a total of 101,000
international missionaries. These missionaries come in all forms—tentmakers and donor supported, organization
affiliated and free agents, evangelists
and church planters and incarnational
ministers—but they each bring unique
strengths and a vibrant faith.
Globalization has tied the world’s economies together, but it has also facilitated international missions through
increased migration, economic mobility, and information access. The United
Nations reports that the number of
international migrants is growing
rapidly each year, with 258 million
recorded in 2017. (Only 10 percent of
these were refugees and asylum seekers.) Today, more than 4.34 billion
people in the world, or 56.8 percent of the global population, have internet access, up significantly from 3.18 billion
in 2015. News and information, including news about the
global church, can reach nearly every corner of the world.
“What do you mean churches are shutting down?
They’re becoming more secular? Less young people are
in the church?” Zimbabwean Tatenda Chikwekwe recalls
thinking as his home church in Harare heard about Christianity’s decline in North America and Europe. “To see
nations with such strong Christian heritage, rich church
Beauty Ndoro, from Zimbabwe, working in Managua, Nicaragua.
history, to see the recession in that—my heart was being
broken constantly,” he told me.
After being sent out in 2002 and participating in various
ministries around East Africa, Chikwekwe joined the pastoral staff at Nairobi Chapel, a nondenominational church in
Kenya. There, the leadership was engaged in an intentional
conversation about the role of the African church in global
missions. They studied the teachings of 1 Corinthians 12,
about the roles of different members of the body of Christ,
from a global perspective—and concluded that Africa, as an
essential member of the global church, needed to do more.
Faith Mugera, pastor of global partnerships at Nairobi
Chapel, is one of the key leaders of the resulting missions
efforts. “For a long time, we felt like the Great Commission
was a mandate given to the Western world,” she explained.
“But do we believe that we are part of the global body of
Christ? If so, then we absolutely cannot dismiss ourselves
from that. If we as the African church are not functioning
right, then the global body is missing out.”
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Nairobi Chapel is at the leading edge of an increasingly
strategic approach to missions among Global South Christians. At the turn of the century, Chikwekwe and other missionaries like him were often sent out with few resources,
minimal connections, and no plan aside from sharing the
gospel wherever they could. Now more churches and ministries are borrowing from their Western counterparts and
placing a heavier emphasis on goal setting, training, and
strategic partnerships.
Mugera and her colleagues, for example, have set the
audacious goal of planting 300 churches worldwide, with
20 of those in capital cities across Africa and 10 in international cities of influence. To support this goal, they train
three separate cohorts of young leaders each year in leadership and spiritual development, as well as life skills like
resourcefulness and relationship building. Nairobi Chapel
has already sent ministers and church planters to Chicago,
London, Sydney, and Christchurch. Their next mission
field: San Francisco, which they have spent the last year
praying and fasting for.
That doesn’t mean that Global South organizations like
Nairobi Chapel are approaching missions in the same
way as North Americans and Europeans. “Previous models don’t work in our context,” Mugera said. In those missions models, “you have to be in school for a long time. You
have to raise a lot of financial support. You need a missions
agency.” But these resources aren’t readily available for
most Africans. “We don’t have finances. We don’t have the
same visa access. We don’t have easy access to education.”
These challenges have forced Nairobi Chapel and other
churches and missions organizations to think creatively
about how to send out missionaries, often relying on multinational collaborations and alternative visa options. Outside of Africa, Nairobi Chapel relies on existing local
churches to invite their ministers, sponsor their visas, provide homes, and raise financial support for their expenses.
Other ministries are capitalizing on an increasingly
global economy and job market. Since 2015, the government of China has committed to investing $120 billion in
Africa, enabling hundreds of thousands of Chinese workers and entrepreneurs to move to the continent to seek
economic opportunity. One Hong Kong–based couple I
spoke with is targeting Chinese businesspeople migrating to Africa and elsewhere, challenging the Christians
among them to also be evangelists. In the Philippines,
missions groups are training some of the more than 2 million Filipinos who work abroad as everything from engineers to domestic helpers, equipping them as tent-making
South Korea
South Africa
= Majority
South Korea
Hong Kong
South Korea
Hong Kong
> 40
Included countries have a population of 5 million or higher.
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missionaries who can witness to their
employers, colleagues, and neighbors.
For these missionaries, simply applying
for a visa to a country that does not welcome migrants who look like them can
be an act of faith. Some majority-world
missionaries experience prejudice and
hostility in the countries they have
come to serve. Melody Mweu, a Kenyan
missionary who served in Khartoum,
Sudan, told me she initially had trouble being accepted by the upper-class
Sudanese women she encountered. In
that context, she explained, “the darker
you are, the lesser you are.” Though
Melody eventually befriended a group
of Sudanese women, she still had to be
careful about where they met, knowing
that she would not be welcome in certain locations.
Beauty Ndoro similarly recalls
needing quite a bit of time to gain the
trust of her Nicaraguan neighbors in
the slums. “When we started walking in our community, people were
afraid. They didn’t want to talk to us,”
she remembered. But she and her husband kept showing up, talking to people
and praying for them. This eventually
led to the start of a women’s ministry.
These racial tensions can have real
consequences. Hondurans Jairo and
Lourdes Sarmiento have been leading
a church plant in a low-income Latino
community in California for several
years. Today, as the highly charged
debate about Latin American immigrants and asylum seekers roils American politics, the Sarmientos’ own
immigration status remains in limbo.
Enduring such hardships requires
significant faith and perseverance,
which many in the Global South have
in abundance. This spiritual grit has often been shaped by
decades of poverty, war, colonization, and political instability. “Growing up in poverty, being not as privileged, has
given us a sense that we can do so much with very little,”
Chikwekwe told me.
Among the missionaries I interviewed, almost all of
them shared stories of childhood hunger, abuse, neglect,
or persecution. Two women had been nearly sexually
assaulted in their home countries, and another was almost
raped while on the mission field, but they were miraculously protected. “There’s a passion about our faith that
has been refined by seeing God at work in our most difficult
circumstances,” reflected Mugera.
Even in South Korea, today one of the most industrialized nations in the world, memories of war and its hardships continue to influence how missionaries approach
their work. Lydia Park (a pseudonym), a native of Seoul
who has served in Libya and Zambia and now Kenya, says
the Japanese occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945—
and Koreans’ decades-long resistance against it—seeded
a determined mindset among modern Korean missionaries. “If Koreans believe something is very important, we
are willing to give ourselves, to give our lives,” Park told
me. “We never stop, never give up.”
The passion and commitment of missionaries from the
Global South are also fueled by fairly recent encounters
with God. The church is rapidly growing in this part of
the world, populated by many new believers. The number
of Christians across Africa has grown from 360 million in
2000 to nearly 619 million in 2019, according to the Center
for the Study of Global Christianity. In Asia, Christianity
is growing at twice the rate of the population, due mostly
to new converts.
Aarthi Jambhulka, who evangelizes and preaches in
countries as varied as Nigeria, Myanmar, Australia, and
Canada, says she rarely encounters others from her native
India who come from multigenerational Christian families.
Her parents began following Jesus shortly after she was
born, and she faced significant persecution for her faith
while growing up. Unlike many Americans or Europeans
who have “inherited” their faith, Jambhulka explains that
“our experiences are very fresh. It’s what we’ve experienced
directly. It’s not something that’s been handed down to us.
It’s very real.”
This sense of the immediacy of God is one of the most powerful gifts that missionaries from the Global South have
to share, according to Engdahl of Servant Partners. “They
have an expectation of the movement of God because the
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church is flourishing in their home countries,” she told me.
“They enter with faith for the movement of God.”
They also enter this work with important cultural
commonalities that facilitate their ministry. Singaporean
Jemima Ooi has been a full-time missionary in Africa for
seven years and currently serves in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo. In her experience, it’s not uncommon for Congolese to approach her and say, “Asians and
Africans, we are brothers and sisters.”
“Some cultural elements come more intuitively to me:
honor elders, speak to the hearts of people, be concerned
with someone’s entire family and not just their work,” Ooi
told me. She cites the fact that 75 percent of the world’s
“There’s a passion about
our faith that has been
refined by seeing God
at work in our most
difficult circumstances.”
population comes from honor-shame cultures and collectivistic mindsets—which, notably, does not include Americans, Canadians, or Western Europeans. Growing up with
a similar worldview makes it easier for missionaries like
Ooi to operate with cultural sensitivity in new countries.
Her understanding of how to honor the Congolese has
even helped to keep her safe in one of the world’s worst
conflict zones. “They feel that you’re a kindred spirit,” Ooi
explained. “They take care of [my colleagues and me] when
there are raids.”
Even the obvious differences between Global South
missionaries and those in their adopted countries can be
leveraged for the kingdom. Several missionaries I interviewed told me how they were curiosities when they first
began serving, prompting regular inquiries of “Why are
you here?” that opened the door for deeper conversations.
“It’s important for people to know the gospel is not just for
white people or Westerners,” Edith Law (a pseudonym), a
missionary from Hong Kong, told me.
“The gospel is related to them, not just
the Western world.”
Missions organizations in the West are
taking notice of this spiritual awakening in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and are taking intentional steps to
bolster their missionary efforts. SEND
International, for example, is one of
a growing number of missions agencies actively recruiting missionaries
from the Global South. Currently about
20 percent of their 500-plus ministry
workers are not from the US, Canada,
or Western Europe; recently, they set
the goal to increase this to 50 percent
by 2029.
“This is the current of God’s work
that’s flowing in the world, and we want
to be a part of that,” Barry Rempel,
SEND’s globalization office director,
told me. He sees this kind of multicultural, multinational collaboration as
essential to the vitality and growth of
the future church. “The main advantage is that it gives us a more full-orbed
picture of Christ’s body, a more fullorbed expression of his work. Each
place, wherever it is, brings a further
expression of Christ’s body into our
organization, represents Christ in a
more glorifying way, and leads to more
Faith Mugera agrees. “There is liberty in difference. God allows our differences to come together in the good
of what we’re desiring to do.” And when
every member of the global body of
Christ recognizes their unique gifts
and callings and brings those to bear
for the sake of the kingdom, “nothing
is impossible,” Mugera said. “We know
for sure that there will be revival.”
DORCAS CHENG-TOZUN is the author
of Start, Love, Repeat. She has lived in
mainland China, Hong Kong, and Kenya.
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Twelve years ago, I was an energetic campus minister leading outreach to college students at Fresno State. I longed
to see their lives transformed by Jesus the way that he’d
transformed mine. But in my eagerness, I pushed one particular student to explore her faith in connection with her
ethnic identity as a Mexican American. When she said she
wasn’t interested in growing in that area, I misinterpreted
it as a lack of teachability rather than as a “not now” from
the Holy Spirit. Eventually, trust was broken and she left
the fellowship to join another ministry. I was heartbroken.
Where had I gone wrong?
Years later, I became the Latino student outreach coordinator for central California and Las Vegas. In that season, wise Latino mentors coached me to grow in listening
to the Lord. They encouraged me to take time to pray with
students and listen to the Lord’s yearning for their lives.
This time, I began to approach ministry differently. I listened and waited on the Holy Spirit for strategy and vision.
By the end of three years, we had reached over 100 Latino
students in our ministry.
How often do we minister out of our own insights or
impulses rather than relying on the Holy Spirit’s guidance,
however long it takes to discern? Waiting is countercultural; it’s antithetical to the pace of our daily lives. The
technological age we live in values efficiency and urgency.
As a culture, we abhor waiting. Our world is not designed
to help us stop and reflect on the presence of God at any
given moment. Listening and waiting, thus, are disciplines
we must exercise regularly—especially when it comes to
partnering with the Holy Spirit.
I’ve learned—and I’m still learning—that listening to
the Holy Spirit is the first step in ministry. It is our first
act of love.
The Holy Spirit is not an “it” or a distant force. The Holy
Spirit is a person, the third member of the Holy Trinity.
“Spirit” is the name of the divine person Jesus promised
would come to believers after he ascended (John 14:15–17).
“Spirit” is the name of the divine person who hovered over
the waters during Creation (Gen. 1:2). The Holy Spirit was
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present from the very beginning and even to the very end
of the age (Matt. 28:20). The Holy Spirit has many other
names in Scripture, including advocate, counselor, breath,
wind, life, and Spirit of Truth.
While various Christian traditions understand the
embodied gifts of the Spirit in different ways, Paul is clear
that in the different gifts and Spirit-led ministries of God’s
people, “in everyone it is the same God at work” (1 Cor.
12:6). The Holy Spirit gives every Christian believer the
gift of partnership with God. Just as Jesus is described as
a friend to believers, the Holy Spirit can be described as
a helpful guide. We can rest assured that when we listen,
this person of the Trinity is present with us—whispering,
speaking, sharing, guiding, and loving.
When I moved to minister in San Antonio, where I now
serve, my new staff team and I spent our first seven months
listening to the Lord and waiting on his vision for our area.
At first, this waiting felt restless and heavy. Worry tried to
creep in and internal pressure to come up with a captivating vision statement was mounting. But eventually my
posture shifted toward waiting with hope instead of fear.
In Spanish, the word for “wait” is espera and the word for
“hope” is esperanza. Hope is embedded with waiting in
faith. Waiting in hope cultivated a peace, trust, and dependence on the Lord that slowly emerged into a clear vision
centered in love for God and his people.
When we seek to partner with the Holy Spirit in mission, waiting in hope for the Spirit’s leading is essential.
Two biblical examples of people who waited with hope to
receive instruction from the Holy Spirit stand out to me:
Anna and Elijah.
Anna, in Luke 2:36–38, was an 84-year-old prophet
of God waiting for the redemption of Israel. For many of
those years she lived as a widow, worshiping and fasting
day and night. When Anna saw Mary and Joseph in the
Temple holding baby Jesus, she walked up to them and
started praising God. She was able to recognize who Jesus
was because she lived in the presence of God, her spirit
connecting with his Spirit every single day as she prayed.
She waited for years in hope. She waited with a focused
vision of the redemption of Israel, birthed out of years of
prayer and worship. While others misunderstood, Anna
knew that redemption would not come from the false
messiahs who attempted to overthrow their oppressors.
Anna’s years of waiting, listening, and partnering with the
Holy Spirit prepared her to recognize the Savior! The longer we partner with the Holy Spirit in mission, the easier
it becomes to distinguish his truth from false narratives.
Elijah pressed into hope amid hardship. Consider the desperation Elijah
felt after all the other prophets of Israel
were slaughtered (1 Kings 19). Jezebel
promised to kill Elijah, too, so he ran to
save his life only to later ask the Lord
to take his life. Twice during this time
an angel ministered to Elijah and provided him with food and drink. Instead
of continuing to run, Elijah chose to go
to Mount Horeb, the same place where
Moses had heard from the Lord. Perhaps in his desperation, Elijah remembered that Mount Horeb was a place of
hope, a place where the Lord speaks.
It took Elijah 40 days and 40 nights
to get there. During the journey, I imagine he did a lot of thinking, arguing, listening, realizing, and speaking to God.
By the time he arrived, Elijah had cultivated enough hope to hear the voice
of Yahweh once again. The Lord asked
In Spanish, the
word for “wait”
is espera and the
word for “hope” is
esperanza. Hope
is embedded with
waiting in faith.
Elijah what he was doing there, then
led Elijah through a series of events
designed to teach him to listen intently
(vv. 10–13). First, the wind came, then
an earthquake and a fire, but the Lord
was not in them. Elijah then experienced the presence of God through a
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gentle whisper, a voice asking again,
“What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Notice that the Lord asked Elijah
the same question twice (vv. 9 and 13),
but it was only the second time, after
the experience of listening, that the
Lord gave further instruction to Elijah
about his mission. Perhaps transformation happened in Elijah’s waiting
on the presence of the Lord. Perhaps
the Spirit of God was teaching Elijah
God can manifest himself in powerful ways, as Elijah had seen in his own
ministry, but perhaps it was time for
Elijah to hear the voice of the Lord as
a gentle whisper. Like Elijah, we may
experience ministry failure, doubt our
calling, or feel tempted to give up. But
the Holy Spirit will never let us run so
far that we are no longer in his presence. The gentle whisper of the Spirit
is there—we can learn to listen and wait
for it in hope.
Partnering with the Holy Spirit in ministry involves cultivating deep love for
God and his people. Those of us who
hope to present the gospel in our current cultural zeitgeist do well by noting
the concerns that others have about
missions and evangelism. While we
have learned helpful ways of sharing
our faith, some of our hearers may still
be pained and even turned away from
the gospel by the way Christianity has
been presented in the past. The history
of colonization is one to remember
and learn from, lest we repeat some of
the same mistakes. We must acknowledge and remember where evangelistic efforts begin to go wrong. Our
Christian witness falls short when we
abandon love as the center of our Great
Love does not conquer others and
does not lord power over others. Love
does not consider oneself better than
the other but rather sees the other as
beloved by the Creator. The Holy Spirit helps us cultivate
deep, godly love. This divine love is the natural fruit of the
Spirit’s life within us. But if we aren’t partnering with the
Spirit, we may be inadvertently ministering out of other
motivations, such as a desire to be spiritually “successful” or a guilt-driven compulsion to work. Frustration,
impatience, blaming others, or a lack of teachability and
humility can all be indicators that God’s love is not at the
center of our mission.
Those who are on the receiving end of our ministry
efforts immediately know when a person is authentically
serving out of love or another type of motivation. People
don’t want to be evangelism projects or the next target goal
for outreach! People want to be known. People want to be
loved. People want to be seen. People want to partner. Ministries that empower those they serve embody the ministry
that Jesus modeled.
Consider how Christ empowered the woman at the
well to go and tell her testimony to her village (John 4). In
partnership with the power of God, she shared her story
and many people came to believe as a result. Partnership
centered in love for God and his beloved is the most powerful, life-transforming, and lasting ministry model we
have to offer.
We are all called to the beautiful invitation of Matthew
28—to “go and make disciples of all nations”—and we are
equipped with the powerful promise of Emmanuel, “I am
with you always, to the very end of the age.” I said yes to
Jesus because I wanted to be with him—I literally want
to walk with him every day. I didn’t say yes so that I could
lead a ministry. That is a residual blessing after the greatest gift: to be in the presence of the One who fully knows
me and seeks after me.
Jesus said to remain in his love (John 15:9). Out of this
remaining—this abiding—we can follow his command to
love one another because we have known and have experienced his love for us. Out of this love, people will know
we are his followers (John 13:34–35). Spirit-fostered love
is the key to our evangelism.
Jesus promises us the Holy Spirit. We do not have to
fight for the Holy Spirit to see us; we do not have to compete for the Spirit’s love. Like Anna, we can cultivate daily
prayer rhythms to step away from the culture of urgency
and efficiency and to step into relating with God’s Spirit in
the present. Like Elijah learned, partnership with the Holy
Spirit is cultivating a posture ready to listen to the Creator’s
gentle whispers. Partnering with the Holy Spirit is an act
of love. It is the first step of ministry.
NOEMI VEGA QUIÑONES is the South Texas area ministry
director for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and is a co-author
of Hermanas (InterVarsity Press).
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Norine stayed in Turkey after her
release, advocating for Andrew’s
freedom and helping to lead the
church they’d planted. Andrew’s
forthcoming book, God’s Hostage
(Baker, October 2019), details the
Brunson’s story of imprisonment
and perseverance. CT spoke with
Norine about the spiritual habits
that strengthened her during her
years of ministry and that sustained
her marriage and her faith during
Your husband, Andrew, has said, “Norine was stronger than
I was.” This strength came from a reservoir in your soul
because of your daily time spent with God for years prior to
the ordeal. What did that spiritual habit look like for you?
Well, it’s looked different depending on the season of life. There’s
no single prescription. But I always include time in prayer and
the Scriptures. And when I read the Word, I try to align myself
with it. Like when I read, “Arm yourself with the same attitude” as
Christ, in his suffering, I say, “Yes, Lord. Let me have that.” I also
make it a habit to write down answers to prayer, blessings, things
I am thankful for.
There were days during Andrew’s imprisonment where I would
say, “Okay, Lord. I have prayed everything I know. Here I am again.”
There is something about just sitting in the Lord’s presence. Just
being. Does my mind wander when I spend time with the Lord?
Absolutely. Do I check my phone? Often. That’s just the reality.
But I’m persuaded that time with the Lord is essential. How can
we have a relationship with God unless we spend time with God?
It’s like putting reserves in your spirit. Then the Holy Spirit brings
it up when it’s needed.
Were there other spiritual habits that were significant in your
relationship with God before you and Andrew were arrested?
Andrew has always been a worshiper, and this carried into the
church and has influenced me. Fasting is also a habit of our spiritual life—not all the time, but for specific situations in ministry
or our family.
One time several years ago, I fasted specifically regarding my
fear of persecution. I was afraid of being tortured, to be honest. And
I was saying, “Lord, prepare me for anything like this that I might
face.” Not that there was any particular threat at that time—it has
just been a fear of mine. Fear is something I have way too much
of, and I know God wants to change that.
During the two years Andrew was imprisoned, what did your
spiritual life look like? How did you grow?
I was so aware that I couldn’t do it alone. It was so hard to get out
of bed in the morning. I’d sleep well, but then I’d wake and think,
Oh. We’re still here. It was so hard to get out of bed. Very hard.
Really hard.
So I would put my hand up every day before I got out of bed
and say, “Okay, Lord. I’m taking your hand. Walk through this day
with me.”
And then at some point it shifted. Not like, “Okay, God. I’m taking your hand. Walk through this day with me.” But me saying, “God,
you lead this day. I’m with you.” I would submit every interaction,
every thought, every emotion, every minute, and just really, really,
thoroughly say, “Lord, you lead and hold me through this day, as
well as Andrew and our kids. But you lead.”
I think I grew in awareness of my dependence on God and also
in willingness to let the Spirit lead me in my day instead of trying
to control my schedule.
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You’re a mom of three. What was God teaching
you as a parent during this time?
You know, that was one of the hardest things. When
I was first arrested, I didn’t know if we were going to
get out. I said, “Okay, Lord. You have to take care of
my kids.” Because all of a sudden, you are powerless.
I couldn’t get any word to them or do anything. I
was like, “This is way beyond me. Lord, You’re on.
You have to do it.”
Obviously, I should say I learned to trust more.
Did I or did I not? I don’t know. I hope so.
Were there challenges that surprised you as
you continued to live and minister in Turkey
during Andrew’s imprisonment?
It was difficult and unexpected for sure, but not
surprising. I didn’t know if I was going to be rearrested. I would hear voices coming up the stairs
or in the hallway—and I wondered if they were
coming to get me. Then the voices would continue
past the floor or my door and I would feel relief.
On one end it was great to know that my kids
were safely in the States, but it was also hard to be
away from them and to know they were having to
walk through this without me and without each
other, as they were all in different places.
And then there were the things in daily life that
Andrew would always take care of, like working
the computer or making sensitive ministry decisions—and I had to do them without his help or
advice. It was very difficult. I just did what I could
and others helped.
Did persecution impact your practices of evangelism and ministry?
I don’t think anything changed. We’d never called
ourselves “missionaries” because it’s a misunderstood word. But we always told the Turkish people who we are and what we do. We are Christians
and we pray for people and share the gospel. That
is who we are.
Actually, the man who was leading the church—
he and I were doing it together, but he carried the
bulk of the work—really kept things going and, in
fact, pressed forward. This could have been a time
when we retreated, but for us in the church, it was
time to keep going.
While Andrew was imprisoned, authorities
let you visit him for about 35 minutes a week.
What did those visits look like?
Every week, I’d write down what I wanted to tell
Scott P24.indd 26
Andrew. I’d include what I thought God wanted me
to impart in prayer over him that week, things others sensed the Lord was showing, diplomatic news,
whatever might encourage Andrew. And then I
would memorize it the best I could before our visit.
When I saw him, we put our hands on the glass
and I prayed for him. I said something like, “I bless
you in the name of the Lord. I speak life over you.
I speak hope over you”—whatever the Lord led me
Obviously, I should say
I learned to trust more.
Did I or did I not? I
don’t know. I hope so.
to say. I just tried to pray over him and bless him
briefly. Then we started to talk. I told him as much
good news as I could. Then he would tell me how
he was doing. But we watched our words because
the government listened to everything we said.
Was there ever a time when you felt like you
lacked that personal reservoir of strength to
encourage him?
Absolutely. There were many times I thought, God,
I’m so discouraged. How can I go and encourage
him? How on earth can I do it?
But I’d still go in. And I started to go in deliberately. When I signed in and approached the gate, I
lifted my head and said to myself, I’m the daughter
of the King going in to see a son of the King. But I was
also like, Lord, you back me up here. And oftentimes,
the Lord gave me grace right when I was with him.
What would you say to someone who is in a
season of darkness or facing persecution?
I recently listened to a Canadian couple who’d been
imprisoned in China. I agree with what the wife said
about facing difficulties or persecution: You have
to go to God first. You don’t go to your Christian
friends, your doctor, or your counselor first. Those
things are all good, but you have to know to go to
God first. And as you partner with him, you will be
able to access his resources and make it through.
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7/17/19 1:04 PM
to the
ends of
the earth
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As a teenager, I’d thumb through the missions catalog.
Each location for a short-term mission project felt a bit like
hope. Hope for change. Hope for adventure. And most of all,
hope that I was living a full Christian life. In my evangelical youth group, the pinnacle of leadership and belonging
came through missions—missions to Mexico or a mission
trip to Europe. Missionaries were serious about God. In
those days, it seemed to me these career paths were just
a matter of a simple equation: If you loved Jesus and took
your faith seriously, then you’d choose to move overseas
as a missionary or at least work in full-time vocational
ministry here.
But now, most of us in America live rather ordinary lives
in the suburbs. Our days are more often filled with driving
children to soccer in our minivans than sharing the gospel with unbelievers. Rather than building houses for the
poor, we join the PTA. We go to church and wonder—maybe
when we hear a missionary speak—if we somehow missed
our calling. If we’re not in full-time vocational ministry, if
we’re not missionaries, or if we’re not a key leader in our
local congregation, how do we connect the dots between
what we say we believe and the lives we live? If we’re not
doing “big things” for God, is there a way to live gospelcentered, outward-focused lives in the suburbs?
The suburbs aren’t a second-rate mission field. They
are, for many of us, the place to which we’ve been called,
the place we are to love and serve, and a place where we can
live as missionaries right in small spaces of our ordinary
lives in our cul-de-sacs. Suburbia is a strategic mission field.
Contrary to the stereotype of the suburbs as icons of homogeneity—and historical efforts to create and keep them that
way—today’s suburbs are telling a different story: They are
now marked by growing racial and ethnic diversity—and
even socioeconomic diversity. No longer is the suburb’s
only narrative that of rich, white men commuting out of
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suburbia into large cities for work. Instead, as Kenneth T.
Jackson has observed, “suburbs have become like cities,
and cities like suburbs.”
Pew Research Center reports that, since 2000, the suburbs are growing more than urban or rural environments
in terms of birth rate, receiving former urban and rural
dwellers, and immigrants from abroad. If, according to
the American Housing Survey, more of America is suburban than not, and if the suburbs are growing in all forms
of diversity, then we cannot simply denigrate the suburbs
as monolithic in terms of race, class, and socioeconomic
status, nor ought we write them off as culturally dull. Since
suburbs are actually more politically diverse than cities and
rural areas, these communities are also poised to be places
where we begin to model conversation and reconciliation
rather than retreating to our ideological bunkers. Suburbs
today are a strategic place for gospel witness.
Evangelism and discipleship in suburbia often happen in
ordinary ways. In our suburban congregation in Southern California, I see it in the purposeful conversations a
Christian hairdresser has with her clients, some of whom
have since visited our church with their families. Another
family I know is intentional about spending evenings in
their front yard rather than their back yard so as to meet
and interact with neighbors. Through small acts like these
of connecting and paying attention to our neighbors’ lives,
we begin to share the gospel.
Suburban geography is uniquely suited to put us into
relation with each other. Thomas Hochschild’s sociological research credits the cul-de-sac as an important space
planning option: Those who live in cul-de-sacs both know
their neighbors better and interact with them more than
those on traditional through streets. Adopting this idea
from suburban geography can foster evangelism, discipleship, service, and hospitality as we intentionally turn
our hearts—not just our houses—toward one another. But
it requires choosing to see our cul-de-sacs and neighborhoods not simply as where we live but where we love God,
and it requires choosing to spend our resources of love,
money, and time staying put there.
As we grow to see our suburban lives given in service to
loving Jesus and inviting others to know him, we can begin
through the ancient Christian practice of hospitality—of
making room. We may have grand or intimidating visions
of what biblical hospitality looks like, be it a commune,
a soup kitchen, or a pretty tablecloth laid with candles
and charcuterie. But as we look at the life of Jesus, we see
that he performed miracles in the context of daily life,
Hales P30.indd 32
often when he was on the road from one
place to another. He turned water into
wine at the request of his mother. He
multiplied loaves and fishes for ordinary hungry people listening to him
teach. He healed blind men, lepers, and
a bleeding woman, and he raised people
from the dead—all within the course of
ordinary time on ordinary days. The
gospel always comes to us in ordinary
elements—in water, bread, and wine. As
ordinary Christians on ordinary days in
ordinary cul-de-sacs, we, too, can make
room for others.
Rather than playing into the trope of
the suburbs as exclusionary, closed-off
spaces, hospitality starts with opening
up. We start by paying attention, then
we learn to love what we pay attention
to, so that evangelism and discipleship
happen in our streets and connected
houses. This is the sort of thing Catherine McNiel and her family committed to when they moved into a suburb
where their neighbors aren’t predominately white or affluent.
Rather than focus on programdriven outreach, for the McNiels,
neighborly care and hospitality happen through birthday parties, in the
dual-language school their children
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The gospel calls
us to front-yard,
to be present
to one another
and the needs
of our place.
attend, and simply living life together.
And it’s never one-way. Catherine says,
“We don’t see ourselves as saviors; we
see ourselves as neighbors.” Yet, something happens when volunteers from
other more affluent suburbs come to
participate in life alongside Catherine’s
family—a sort of “alchemy” Catherine
says only the kingdom of God can bring:
Hierarchies crumble and everyone is
How do we make room for people and invite them to consider Jesus through the means of ordinary hospitality?
Barna reports that 30 percent of lapsed Christians or
non-Christians prefer “casual one-on-one conversation”
about matters of faith—yet only about 20 percent of those
polled say they have experienced this in the last year. These
needed casual conversations can happen within relationships—between the soccer practices, coming home from
work, grocery shopping, and errands. These steps toward
deeper conversation can happen in our cul-de-sacs and
driveways, at the post office, and on the street corner. The
in-between moments and spaces in our lives can be an
intentional setting where hospitality starts, just like for
Catherine’s family.
Small conversations and small acts of service bind a
community together. When we lived in a different suburb
years ago, we grabbed neighbors and, with a small child
strapped to my back, together we gave a fresh coat of paint
on cinder block walls along a main street. Stephanie Nelson, a children’s pastor in Manhattan, Kansas, volunteers
in the local elementary school to teach character lessons
in conjunction with the school counseling office. In the
Denver suburbs, Mark and Chastity Gomez serve as foster
parents and work part-time within their county to educate
other foster parents. Community building is never just for
us. When we come together with neighbors, we come not
as people who have all the answers but as people who recognize our need for one another.
The gospel calls us to front-yard, cul-de-sac hospitality—
to be present to one another and the needs of our place. The
gospel often starts small—as seed in the ground, in small
talk, in service and generosity, and in common moments
shared among ordinary days.
Yes, God calls us to go to the “ends of the earth” (Matt.
28), but he also calls us to start by going next door: to listen, to invite, to create margin for our neighbors. We can do
this when we’re at home, walking on the way, lying down,
or getting up (Deut. 11:19). Our evangelism is the fruit of
our hospitality, and it happens in the midst of everyday life
with routine gestures of welcome and warm words of truth.
Your real life in the place you live is the holy and ordinary ground upon which you live out your faith. The call of
a missionary is not always to move to a new place, but it is
always to make room right in the middle of your ordinary
life, on your street, among your neighbors—for the gospel
to flourish.
ASHLEY HALES is a writer and speaker living in Southern
California. Her first book is Finding Holy in the Suburbs: Living
Faithfully in the Land of Too Much (InterVarsity Press).
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In 1793, Dorothy Carey, pregnant with her
fourth child, refused to accompany her husband, William, to India. He took their eldest
son and boarded the ship without her. Evangelism over family! At the last minute, with one
day to spare, friends convinced Dorothy to go.
She hastily packed and boarded the boat. She
subsequently lost one of her children (after losing two in England) and, eventually, her mind.
In later generations, children as young as
five were left in England or the United States
while their parents served as missionaries
abroad. Evangelism over family! For their education, for their protection, for the success of
the mission.
This history lingers in the subconsciousness of many Christians. One of the first questions today’s missionaries are asked when
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they announce their intention to
move abroad is “Are you bringing
the children?”
When the person asking contemplates the question, they retract
it sheepishly. Of course the children
are going. To Paris, Nairobi, Beijing,
Beirut, La Paz.
Once there, missionary parents
face a relatively new question, one
that few actively address before
leaving their passport country but
one that comes laden with unspoken expectations. What is the role
of the family in kingdom ministry?
Most other careers don’t
inherently impact the
language one’s children
will speak or whether
one’s family needs yellow
fever vaccinations.
The question is complicated. A thorough
answer requires consideration of physical
context; type of missionary work; expectations
of organizations and sending churches; the
ages, personalities, and faith of the children;
the personal conviction of parents; and more.
The question is problematic. After all, are
the children of surgeons involved in surgery?
Are teachers’ kids expected to help plan lessons
or grade exams? Does family play a role in trading stocks and bonds on Wall Street? There is
an expectation, unique to ministry, that family
will be intentionally involved in the missionary parent’s career. Today, supporters further
expect to be able to follow all the details of the
family’s “adventure” on social media.
The question is also necessary. Mission
work directly affects family life. A missionary
career is all-encompassing. There's a physical
move, maybe across the planet. All family members face culture shock. Schooling options shift.
Relationships with relatives or friends change.
Most other careers don’t inherently impact the
language one’s children will speak or whether
one’s family needs yellow fever vaccinations.
I asked missionaries if they viewed their
family as involved in their kingdom ministry.
Responses fell loosely into three categories:
Yes, absolutely.
No way.
Well . . . kind of ?
Almost every response added something to
the effect of “It’s complicated.”
Jane, who served in East Asia, told me, “When
we went overseas with our first child, I had
grand visions of ministering to people as a family. It was exciting. We assumed that a thriving
ministry meant having people in our home a
lot. But this started to take a toll on our family.”
Rachael Litchfield, who has served in Thailand and Cambodia, explained, “When we took
our children to Southeast Asia, I imagined
they would be totally at home with loads of
local friends, speak the language fluently, and
be integral to our family making an impact for
the kingdom. In reality they, like us, had experiences both good and bad, went through ongoing
culture stress, and grieved losses, especially in
their transient relationships.”
Jane and Rachael are not alone. Many of
the missionaries with whom I spoke shared
a similar grand vision, initially. Children are
integrated into local schools or, because of
a flexible homeschooling schedule, participate in outreach and service activities alongside their parents. The whole family is fluent,
culturally competent, and delights in talking
about Jesus. They form natural communities
around children’s sporting or musical events,
with neighbors, and with the families of the
parents’ coworkers or ministry contacts. Their
home is always open and a place of safety and
connection. They are a missionary family, with
a corporate vision of being a blessing among the
nations, in word and deed. It is a beautiful ideal.
Sometimes, this is actually what happens.
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Amy was 13 when her parents and five sisters
moved to Kenya, where her father worked as a
missionary doctor. “From the beginning, my
parents said they wanted us to be part of the
ministry at the hospital. We went to the pediatric ward once a week, played with the kids,
and sang songs. In high school, we helped with
community health outreach and organized the
hospital storage closets,” she explained. This
influenced her heart for service and education and directed her future studies. “I’m very
thankful for it,” Amy said. “My parents taught
by example and helped me to learn a perspective that went beyond my own nose.”
Incorporating the whole family in ministry
normalizes what might seem radical and allows
children to serve. Andie, working in Turkey,
told me, “We encourage our kids to find ways
to serve. Greet a visitor, sweep a floor, clean up
a spill, work the projector. I don’t think of it
as having to do with our ministry specifically.
These are things I would encourage any new
believer to do. Find a way to serve, even if it’s
refilling the toilet paper.”
Craig Greenfield and his wife, Nay, have
raised their kids in Vancouver and Cambodia.
Craig, author of Subversive Jesus,
told me, “Where people [tend to] go
wrong is divorcing ministry from
lifestyle. Ministry becomes something outside the home. The home
is dedicated to family. With that
dichotomy, it’s difficult and even
unnatural to involve kids. But when
you live an intentional lifestyle
following Jesus, it’s difficult not to
include your kids.” In Canada, the
Greenfields welcomed homeless
friends and people struggling with
addiction or prostitution. “They
interacted with our children when
they were in our home and sitting
around our dinner table. Those
interactions were some of the most
healing times for our neighbors
and friends.”
Travis and Lydia, who serve in
Kenya, shared how magnetic their
children are. “My sons join me to
visit a beloved Muslim friend to
study the Bible and Qur’an,” Lydia
said. “She spoils them as if they
were her own grandchildren and they adore
her snacks and tea. Week by week, they learn
both about Islam and about their own faith in
our ongoing discussions.” Including their kids
in ministry also gives Travis and Lydia a chance
to disciple their children and friends at the same
time. “In discipleship, the demonstration of a
normal and healthy family—hugging children,
appreciating spouses, and so on—is the best way
to teach family life,” they said.
Today’s social media interactions—the dopamine hit of likes and comments and the stream
of opinions—can pressure missionary families
to curate that ideal, uncomplicated image of
family life in ways not experienced in previous
generations. But families ministering together
rarely look like that ideal image.
Yes, children can be magnetic, but in some
settings, foreign kids also attract unwanted
attention and even aggressive touching of their
hair or skin. One mother said, about bringing
her boys to urban areas, “The kids there were
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so tough—hair-pulling and name-calling.” Parents must also be alert to realities of sexual
harassment and assault, issues rampant around
the world today but even more commonplace
in cultures where women are regularly victimized. These difficult topics are not often
discussed in pre-field orientations. Several
parents expressed feeling unprepared for and
surprised by these realities.
Even when not abusive, the attention can
be exhausting, especially when it invades home
life. Abigail (a pseudonym) said her girls grow
weary of needing to change from shorts into
long skirts when Muslim friends visit their
home. “But at the same time, they enjoy the
interactions, so we try to strike a complicated
balance,” she explained.
While parents often assume their home will
be a place of ministry, for many it can start to
become a place of stress for their kids. Jane,
who was initially excited about the possibilities
of family and ministry, explained that as her
daughter learned more of the language, “our
outgoing daughter became withdrawn. She
understood not only the praise heaped on her
Not despite but in the
struggles of family life,
many missionaries
developed a more
nuanced form of
authentic ministry—
living out the gospel
in the context of their
own family’s needs,
brokenness, difficulties,
and limits.
Jones P36.indd 40
but the criticism as well.” Jane’s husband also
struggled and, instead of their home serving as
a place of ministry, she says, “I ended up doing
a lot of ministry out by myself.”
Missionaries also can’t assume their children will share their beliefs as they age. In the
era of social media, it is naïve for parents to
think their children will be isolated from secular or other religious worldviews, even if they
live in a rural location, are homeschooled, or are
surrounded by Christian ministry. Jonathan
and Elizabeth Trotter, missionaries in Southeast Asia and authors of Serving Well, addressed
this. Elizabeth said, “We must give our children
the choice to believe, just like our Father has
given us the choice to believe. I cannot believe
for them, but I can pray. I can model a faith
that isn’t afraid to ask questions, and I can be
unafraid of their questions.” Jonathan added,
“Forcing missionary kids into a faith that is
not yet their own risks alienation and anger.
I would rather my kids be honest questioners
than dishonest hypocrites.”
Nor can missionaries assume their children
will want to talk about Jesus, even if they do love
him. Jonathan said, “Children of missionaries didn’t sign up to be missionaries, and the idea that our kids should
be little evangelists for Jesus isn’t fair.
It might look sweet early on, and supporters will eat it up, but it’s dangerous
and too often damaging. Our kids didn’t
go to seminary or prepare vocationally.
They haven’t wrestled through the
deep questions of calling. They’re just
kids, and we should let them grow and
develop as such.”
Even when kids want to be involved
in ministry with their parents, the culture in which they live can be prohibitive. Becky (a pseudonym), described
to me her desire to have been more
a part of her parents’ work in a strict
Islamic area. “I wanted to be more
involved but was held back by fear—
fear of the unknown and of my inability to communicate. There were also
limitations because of my gender. I
was limited in relationships with boys
my age. Many girls my age were either
married or expected to be soon. Being
part of my parents’ ministry wasn’t
7/17/19 12:14 PM
what I was called to do in that point of my life,
but being a member of my missionary family
gives me responsibility to at least be partially
involved. The extent of that was to pray and set a
good example of how a Christian family relates.”
Teenagers facing cross-cultural struggles, dangerous locations, harassment, foreign language
learning, social media, security concerns—it all
fits under the umbrella of “normal” in modern missionary family life. But it is not what
many missionaries initially anticipate. This gap
between an ideal and the reality can come as a
shock. Most parents I spoke with expressed surprise, disappointment, even disillusionment,
about the role their family actually played in
their ministry.
If parents are unable to adjust or abandon
that ideal, if they face pressure from a sending
organization or home church, if parents feel
judged for the decisions they make (boarding
school, homeschool, leaving the field, moving to
a new location to avoid harassment, and so on),
they struggle. Some start to question their family, their call, sometimes even their own faith. If
we are trusting God, why is this so hard? What is
the point of living here, away from grandparents
and Target and English, just so I can change diapers or argue with my teenager?
In Southeast Asia, Rachael enrolled her
children as the only foreign kids in a national
school. “They never became confident in the
language. We all struggled with how they were
singled out and with the totally unfamiliar
approach to education and discipline.” When
they relocated to a new country, they made a
different educational choice: “When we moved
to an international school setting, they began to
thrive. Allowing them to be who they were and
not placing my idealistic views of missionary life
onto them, including using them to prop up my
shaky self-image, freed us to simply be family.”
Jane told me, “For a long time, I felt guilt—
but I’ve realized a ministry that sacrificed my
marriage or kids was not what God wanted.”
Most of the people I spoke with expressed
gratitude that, among missions organizations,
there is a recent growing focus on healthy families. Organizations like the Navigators and AIM
now offer counseling services, address special
education needs for issues from ADHD to stuttering to dyslexia, and provide spiritual support
over Skype. Some plan special conferences and
retreats specifically for families or offer online
parenting classes. “Our organization, Serge,
sees us as a family unit, seeking to ensure that
we are all well cared for and understanding that
if the kids aren’t doing well, we won’t be able to
continue,” Rachel McLaughlin, an ob-gyn in
Burundi, said. One of the primary ways Serge
does this is by encouraging missionaries “to
preach the gospel not only to our host culture
but to ourselves and our families every day.”
As I heard from all around the globe—Hawaii
to China, Kenya to Colombia—the picture of
families involved in ministry together often
moved from idealistic to painful to joyful and
complicated, and finally, to life lived authentically, empowered by the Holy Spirit, alongside
coworkers, neighbors, and friends. Not despite
but in the struggles of family life, many missionaries developed a more nuanced form of
authentic ministry—living out the gospel in
the context of their own family’s needs, brokenness, difficulties, and limits.
Family life abroad is complex and individual. This leaves little room for pride or judgment and a lot of room for learning. Rather than
conforming to a façade of the perfect ambassador for Christ, missionary families live out the
truth of grace, forgiveness, and redemption.
Theirs is a proclamation that those who
mourn are blessed—as are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, who hunger
and thirst, who are poor in spirit. These are
not descriptions of the perfectly integrated
cross-cultural family. But missionary families
say these are accurate descriptions of a blessed
and honest life—one lived in the pain of broken relationships and a sinful world, of natural disaster and disease, and with a God who is
present in the trial and who offers restoration
and redemption.
RACHEL JONES works and writes in East Africa.
Her next book, Stronger than Death, releases in
October (Plough).
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my road to
ran through
east L.A.
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The week I became a mother was the most beautiful and
terrifying week of my life. On my son’s second day of life,
my husband I were told that he had a rare form of jaundice,
possibly caused by a congenital defect of the liver. One early
morning as he was getting his blood drawn, I was shaken as
I watched his tiny arms flail. Muffled by the clear incubator
walls, his screams shattered my heart. All I wanted to do was
hold him and take away all of his pain.
Seven years before having a child, my husband, Ryan, and
I lived in a small, mostly Latino community just a few miles
northwest of East Los Angeles. Neither of us would have
thought that we would make East Los Angeles our home.
But during an urban ministry project, our visions and plans
for our lives began to shift. We were inspired by ministers
and followers of Jesus who relocated from more comfortable middle- and upper-class communities into neighborhoods of poverty to live in solidarity with people who were
different from them. We had the same hope and intention.
Ryan and I became part of a church-planting team in
Lincoln Heights. Ryan started the high school ministry, and
I started the path to becoming a physician. After some ministry mishaps and failures, the youth group began to thrive.
Our youth opened their hearts and their lives to us, and we
connected with them. We invited them into relationships
with Jesus and did our best to nurture any spiritual hunger
we encountered. We felt a sense of purpose as 20-something
newlyweds who were seeking to live out what we understood
of God’s calling on our lives. When it came time to move for
my upcoming medical residency, it was difficult to say goodbye to this group of hungry and humble students.
After four years of residency and my fellowship, we felt
called to return to East Los Angeles. I was now pregnant,
and we planned to pick up where we’d left off—to raise our
child in this community that we loved. I looked forward to
the next chapter of my life with hopeful anticipation.
Ku Borden P44.indd 45
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I look back now on those well-thought-out,
idyllic plans, and I smile wistfully to myself.
I had based all those plans on my ideals and
assumptions—that our son would be healthy,
that we would be able to take him along to do
ministry with us, and that our lives would continue to have the same sense of calling, purpose,
and fulfillment.
But our son was not healthy. Adam was diagnosed with biliary atresia, a congenital and progressive defect of the liver. We didn’t know how
long he would remain healthy before his liver
would fail and he’d need a transplant.
Even though it was painful to hear, we also
knew it was a sacred gift to be invited into
these depths.
The way we’d learned how to do ministry
seemed to have backfired, causing more pain
and distrust. I began to question my role and
calling in this ministry context. The inner turmoil, the questions, the collision and intersection of my identities as mother, physician,
and Chinese American woman—was it worth
the cost? Had all of our “hard work” been for
nothing? Did we even belong here? How could
God have been in all of this?
When we returned to our community and the
small urban church we had helped to start, we
were warmly welcomed back. But we quickly
realized we had no capacity to do any ministry.
We ourselves needed significant support as parents of a medically fragile child who was hospitalized nine times in the first 18 months of his
life. We had never felt more isolated and alone.
We were paralyzed by the trauma of having a
very sick child, and we were exhausted. Was
the Lord forgetting how faithful my husband
and I had been to the ministry? The sacrifices
we’d made? The ideals and assumptions I had
about following Jesus as a naïve 25-year-old
had completely broken down.
As we began to open up about our suffering in this season, our friends—especially the
youth we had invested in—began opening up
about theirs. They not only shared stories of
trauma from childhood and of anger about the
inequality in their education and upbringing,
but they also began to share their frustration
and bitterness toward Ryan and me from when
we had mentored them as teenagers. They felt
that we had operated out of a project mentality, rather than from a genuine desire to get to
know them as people, as though we were using
their community and doing ministry there to
feel better about ourselves. It became clear to
us that even as we had earnestly tried to serve
our young adult friends, there had been times
when we had also hurt them deeply.
When we listened to them, we felt a mixture
of emotions. To be entrusted with their honest
reflections was a privilege and a devastation.
After six months of no hospital visits—a virtual
miracle for our family—our son was hospitalized once again. His liver disease was worsening. I sobbed into the pillow as I held my
two-year-old. I felt betrayed and abandoned
by God.
Much like the two travelers on the road
to Emmaus in Luke 24:13–35, we too had our
expectations and hopes of what Jesus could do
in our lives and ministry. We dreamt of producing and witnessing the fruit of our hard work
and perseverance. This Jesus, who had performed miracles and overturned the tables of
the status quo, who preached freedom for the
captives and sight for the blind, he would be the
one who would transform our urban communities. He would be the one to heal my son. He
would make everything better. And we would
cheer him on from the sidelines. Little did we
know how disappointed and devastated we
would be.
This Jesus—the one in whom the travelers
had put their hope—was killed. They thought
he had left them to face their world and problems alone. Their hopes were crushed. And
the weight of their disappointment and grief
was like a shroud covering their eyes, keeping
them from recognizing him. Where was Jesus
in their disappointment? Just like the early followers, we also questioned, Where was Jesus in
our darkest moments?
This mystery companion on the road to
Emmaus engaged with the travelers in their
pain and disappointment. Their hearts burned
while he was with them, but they did not know it
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until he performed the very gesture that caused
their grief in the first place—the breaking of the
bread, the breaking of his body. In this beautiful yet devastating act, their eyes were opened.
It wasn’t until then that they realized he had
been with them the whole time they were on
the road.
In the hospital room that night, my muffled
cries into the pillow turned into a deeper grief
over an incomplete, fragmented understanding
of the living God. For two and a half years, I had
No one wants to hear
about the “failed”
attempts at ministry. . . .
And yet these stories
matter, and without
them we can miss the
complexity of what God
is doing in the world.
longed for God to be Healer, to fix my son’s liver.
But he wasn’t healed; he was getting worse. I
needed God to be more than a Healer. I needed
him to be with me in my pain, to be present in
all things, to be Emmanuel, God with me. Then,
somehow, through my tears, I realized Emmanuel, God with us, is the gospel—the fullness of
the living God.
In my 20s, I found it much easier to trust in
formulaic stories with happy endings and pithy
verses from Scripture than to hear the raw and
honest tales of the difficulties and failures of
ministry. How many testimonies have I heard
about some missionary giving up the comforts
of life or undergoing some kind of suffering,
whether or not it was the result of her choice,
and then experiencing complete relief and
faithful ministry?
But not all stories end this way. Many go to
the mission field with aspirations and dreams of
changing the world or serving those on the margins, only to come back earlier than expected
because of personal reasons, team difficulties,
or unforeseen circumstances.
No one wants to hear about the “failed”
attempts at ministry, unreconciled differences
among teammates, or the emotional and mental
exhaustion from living in a foreign place. And
yet these stories matter, and without them we
can miss the complexity of what God is doing
in the world.
I used to think if I would trust in Jesus and
give my life to him, seeking his kingdom first,
that God would grant me the desires of my
heart. I believed that life with God meant paying some manageable costs in ministry, and as a
result, experiencing an otherwise problem-free
life. But with this view, there was no place for
the suffering present in our world, in my own
life, and in my friends’ lives. There was no place
for the sometimes unexplainable, unjust, unexpected long-suffering that Jesus himself experienced and promises to walk us through.
He is Emmanuel. He is with me; he is with
us. I am learning to feel the moments when
my heart is burning within me so that I can
recognize his presence while we are on the
road. I trust that God is still holding the larger
story of our family, and our home, just as he is
holding the stories and struggles within the
broader home we all have here in East Los
Angeles. While there may be pain and heartache and misunderstanding as any of us journey together, we can hold onto an ever-present
hope: the promise of Emmanuel, our God who
walks with us.
TERESA KU-BORDEN is a family physician. She
lives with her family in East Los Angeles and leads
a small group at New Life Community Church.
This article is adapted, with permission, from the chapter “Emmanuel,
God With Us” in the multi-author book Voices Rising: Women of Color
Finding & Restoring Hope in the City (Servant Partners Press).
Ku Borden P44.indd 47
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how we
talk about
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7/17/19 10:12 AM
Years ago during graduate studies at
Regent College, I had a desperate talk
with Eugene Peterson about how my
PhD had turned the words of God into
a great big research project. I was trying
to read my lifeless Bible, but I was interrupted 1,000 times by children needing
to be fed, changed, read to, and more. I
begged him to give me a spiritual discipline, some rope to haul me out of the
hole I was in.
“Well, Julie,” he said, “is there anything you are doing in a disciplined
manner already?”
I thought about my newborn daughter, Iona, and the hours I spent feeding
her. She had reflux, and most of what
went into her immediately came up
again, which meant that I had to repeat
the feeding all over again. “Nursing
Iona is the only thing I can count on,”
I said. “She makes sure of that.”
He patted my hand, then, like a parent consoling a dissatisfied child who is
not content with their lot in life. “Julie,
that is your spiritual discipline. Now
start paying attention to what you are
already doing. Be present.”
In that moment and many others
like it, I was weakened by a common
and insidious temptation: I wanted to
be for Christ instead of being in Christ.
I saw my familial responsibilities as
obstacles to a godly life when in fact
they were the very place he wanted to
meet me. Accordingly, I had to radically
revise my view of obedience to include
the simple act of abiding in Christ.
This idea of being “in Christ” is arguably one of the most potent—and perplexing—aspects of Paul’s letters. We
tend to speak of salvation as “Jesus in
my heart.” At least in recent history,
evangelistic efforts have often centered
on this metaphorical idea that a person
asks God to come in and inhabit the
heart. However, when we look at Scripture, the phrase “Jesus in my heart”
is used only one time (Eph. 3:17). Its
rhetorical cousin, the phrase “Christ
in me,” is mentioned only five times in
the Bible (2 Cor. 13:5, Rom. 8:10, Gal.
4:19, Gal. 2:20, Col. 1:27). By contrast,
Paul says something far more often: He
uses the phrase “in Christ” 165 times.
The Bible’s favorite way of describing
our salvation is one we rarely use. For
Paul, salvation was simple: It was being
joined to Jesus Christ.
When I first began to study Paul, I
glossed over this description, assuming
it was just another way of talking about
what Jesus did for me on the Cross. But
the more I read Scripture, the more I
realized that Paul was actually talking
about being ™joined to Jesus. For me,
this was a Damascus Road revelation.
The scales fell from my eyes. This idea
made so much more sense of commands that I obeyed but didn’t really
understand—like getting baptized,
going to church, taking Communion.
Paul, too, is hit with the same truth
of being “in Christ” when he encounters Jesus on the road to Damascus. He
is breathing down the necks of Christians, ready to arrest them, when he's
blinded by a flash of light. He falls to
the ground and hears a voice saying,
“Saul, Saul. Why are you persecuting
me?” Saul asks, “Who are you?” And
the voice says, “I am Jesus.” The voice
doesn’t ask, “Why are you persecuting
my people?” Instead, it explains that
Saul’s actions against Christians are
directly hurting Jesus himself, whom
Saul had never seen, touched, or hurt.
This dramatic experience revealed not
only Jesus but, perhaps more importantly, the ongoing connection that
Jesus had with his followers.
This conviction grew and grew over
Paul’s life. His letters are overflowing
with references to “union with Christ.”
Canlis P48.indd 49
7/17/19 10:13 AM
I wanted to be for Christ
instead of being in Christ.
In the introduction to his translation of the New Testament, J. B.
Phillips writes of Paul and other New Testament writers,
To these men it is quite plainly the invasion of their lives by a
new quality of life altogether. They do not hesitate to describe
this as Christ “living in” them. . . . We are practically driven to
accept their own explanation, which is that their little human
lives had, [in] Christ, been linked up with the very life of God.
. . . These early Christians were on fire with the conviction that
they had become, [in] Christ, literally sons of God; they were
pioneers of a new humanity, founders of a new Kingdom.
In this kingdom context, here is how union works: Paul believes
that we are united to Jesus’ descent and his ascent.
First, Christ joined himself to us in the Incarnation. This union
is not subjectively experienced by us but is an objective, cosmic
miracle of God uniting himself to our humanity. This extraordinary event doesn’t get activated by our faith or by praying a prayer.
Rather, it has already happened—it just is.
The second part of the mystery is even greater: Jesus has thrown
open his history to us. This is the subjective, personal part that we
are invited to step into. The Spirit says to each one of us, “Okay,
who’s in?” Then we are ushered into the Spirit’s primary work in
the universe—to put all things into Christ and to be joined to him.
Together, these two unions are the huge, creation-encompassing ideas that we find in Paul’s letters. When we say, “I have been
crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me”
(Gal. 2:20), it is not a mindfulness technique or a positive-thinking
exercise. This is our new reality. Our job is to wake up to it. All of
the big theological words—justification, sanctification—now make
sense in this orbit of being “in Christ.”
As we think about identity in Christ, we ponder it not only for
ourselves but also for others—especially those who don’t yet know
saving faith. In the context of evangelism, we’re inviting unbelievers to join not just the body of Christ but Christ himself.
Here again, these two unions come into play: First, the greatest agency and the greatest action come not from seekers poised
on the edge of conversion but from God himself. Salvation has
already been accomplished on the Cross, and those who desire
to know Jesus don’t have to strive after or fight to feel its impact.
They simply step into a new reality.
The second, subjective aspect of sanctification, however, does
involve a response. An unbeliever is invited by the Holy Spirit
to proclaim, “Yes, I’m in,” to stand at the feet of Jesus and say, “I
believe. Help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24, NASB). “Help me to participate in God’s ongoing work in the world.”
Canlis P48.indd 50
So how do we—new Christians
and old—enter all of this? How do we
abide in Christ? First, the church is the
context for our union with Jesus. The
church isn't merely a building or a community of people. It exists in union with
Christ. When you are united to Christ,
you are put into a family. There are no
“only children” in the kingdom.
Second, if the church is the primary
context for abiding in Christ, then baptism in the church enacts our union
with him. Paul says that “if we have
been united with him in a death like
his, we will certainly also be united with
him in a resurrection like his” (Rom.
6:5). In baptism, we experience the gospel in water. We physically declare that
we are dying to all attempts to “be ourselves” apart from Christ and instead
are raised to new life in him.
Finally, the Lord’s Supper nurtures
our union with Christ. If union is God’s
embrace of us, then Communion is our
throwing ourselves into the arms of his
loving embrace. In Communion, we are
eating the good news of our connection
with Christ. As Paul writes, “Is not the
cup of thanksgiving for which we give
thanks a participation in the blood of
Christ? And is not the bread that we
break a participation in the body of
Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16).
Doing something “for Christ” is a
very different action than being “in
Christ” and although both bear important fruit for the kingdom, for most of us,
being in Christ poses the greater challenge. As Eugene Peterson taught me
years ago, we find our salvation in the
simple habits of our daily lives. As we
parent, we do so in union with Christ.
As we work, we do so in union with
Christ. As we face illness or despair, we
do so in union with Christ. Not unlike
the child I breastfed those years ago, we
are sustained by Christ daily, hourly—
even when we are most unaware.
JULIE CANLIS is the author of A Theology of the Ordinary and Calvin’s Ladder.
She co-produced the film Godspeed.
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with one voice when it came to Christianity. Cultural anthropologist and
Naga tribe member Kanato Chophi
stated it most starkly: “We must abandon this absurd idea that Christianity
is a Western religion.”
I met Senganglu Thaimei (Sengmei to
her friends) in New Delhi, India. Born to
the Rongmei tribe in the extreme northeast of India, she teaches English literature at Delhi University and writes
stories reimaging the tales of her tribe
through the eyes of marginalized
women. Sengmei is keen to preserve
tribal culture, and preservation is necessary. The Naga tribes were reached
by Western missionaries in the 19th
century. Christianization brought westernization. Today, over 80 percent of
the Rongmei are Christian, and tribal
traditions are declining.
For many, this would be one evidence among many that Christianity
is a white, Western religion forcibly
exported to other cultures and leaving a trail of cultural destruction in its
wake. But the rest of Sengmei’s story
complicates the picture. Raised in a
nonreligious home, she started following Jesus as a teenager through the witness of a Rongmei friend. Today, she is a
passionate Christian and her husband
(from a kindred tribe) pastors a multiethnic church.
What’s more, as we discussed the
history of her tribe, Sengmei warned
me not to give Western missionaries
too much credit. Westerners saw only
a handful of Naga converts, who then
effectively evangelized their tribes. And
while Sengmei deplores the ways Western culture was illegitimately packaged
with Christianity, she is equally clear
about the positive effects of Christianization, especially for tribal women.
I visited India to meet with 12 Christian academics. Ten came from Naga
tribes. Between them, they spoke seven
indigenous languages. But they spoke
Centuries of Western art depicting
Jesus as fair-skinned may incline some
of us to forget that he was a Middle
Eastern Jew who lived under oppressive Roman rule and whose followers were first called “Christians” in
Antioch—the ruins of which lie in modern-day Turkey. Christianity did not
come from the West.
But nor was it constrained by its
culture of origin. Jesus’ life and teachings scandalized his fellow Jews by
tearing through their racial and cultural boundaries. For instance, the hero
of the Parable of the Good Samaritan
came from a hated ethnic group. Jesus
commanded his disciples to “go and
make disciples of all nations” (Matt.
28:19). They began at once.
In Acts, we see the Spirit enabling
the apostles to evangelize people “from
every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5),
including those from modern-day Iran,
Iraq, Turkey, and Egypt (Acts 2:5–11).
This move of the Spirit to communicate
in the heart-language of those listening is one evidence among many that
Christianity is a multicultural and multilingual movement. In fact, the Bible
itself is multilingual!
The Old Testament is in Hebrew
and the New Testament in Greek.
But Jesus’ mother tongue was Aramaic, and the Hebrew Scriptures
were mostly accessed by first-century
Palestinian Jews via Aramaic translations. We see traces of Jesus’ first
language in Mark, when he raises a
little girl (Mark 5:41), heals a deaf man
(7:34), and cries out to his Father on
the cross (15:34). The criminal charge
posted at the cross (“Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”) was written in
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three languages—Aramaic, Latin, and
Greek—to cover the relevant languages
of the time (John 19:20). But there is no
single language of Christianity.
It is a common misconception that
Christianity first came to Africa via
white missionaries in the colonial
era. In the New Testament, we meet
a highly educated African man who
became a follower of Jesus centuries
before Christianity penetrated Britain or America. In Acts 8, God directs
the apostle Philip to the chariot of an
Ethiopian eunuch. The man was “a
court official of Candace, queen of the
Ethiopians, who was in charge of all
her treasure” (Acts 8:27, ESV). Philip
hears the Ethiopian reading from the
Book of Isaiah and explains that Isaiah
was prophesying about Jesus. The Ethiopian immediately embraces Christ
and asks to be baptized (Acts 8:26–40).
We d o n ’t k n ow h ow p e o p l e
responded when the Ethiopian eunuch
took the gospel home. But we do know
that in the fourth century, two slave
brothers precipitated the Christianization of Ethiopia and Eritrea, which
led to the founding of the second officially Christian state in the world. We
also know that Christianity took root
in Egypt in the first century and spread
by the second century to Tunisia, the
Sudan, and other parts of Africa.
Furthermore, Africa spawned
several of the early church fathers,
including one of the most influential
theologians in Christian history: the
fourth-century scholar Augustine of
Hippo. Likewise, until they were all
but decimated by persecution, Iraq was
home to one of the oldest continuous
Christian communities in the world.
And returning to Sengmei’s homeland,
far from only being reached in the colonial era, the church in India claims
a lineage going back to the first century. While this is impossible to verify,
leading scholar Robert Eric Frykenberg concludes, “It seems certain that there were well-established communities of Christians
in South India no later than the third and fourth centuries, and
perhaps much earlier.” Thus, Christianity likely took root in India
centuries before the Christianization of Britain.
Many of us associate Christianity with white, Western imperialism.
There are reasons for this—some quite ugly, regrettable reasons.
But most of the world’s Christians are neither white nor Western,
and Christianity is getting less white and less Western by the day.
Today, Christianity is the largest and most diverse belief system in the world, representing the most even racial and cultural
spread, with roughly equal numbers of self-identifying Christians
living in Europe, North America, Latin America, and sub-Saharan
Africa. Over 60 percent of Christians live in the Global South, and
the center of gravity for Christianity in the coming decades will
likely be increasingly non-Western.
According to Pew Reseach Center, by 2060, sub-Saharan Africa
could be home to 40 percent of the world’s self-identifying Christians. And while China is currently the global center of atheism,
Christianity is spreading there so quickly that China could have
the largest Christian population in the world by 2025 and could be
a majority-Christian country by 2050, according to Purdue University sociologist Fenggang Yang.
To be clear: The fact that Christianity has been a multicultural,
multiracial, multiethnic movement since its inception does not
excuse the ways in which Westerners have abused Christian identity to crush other cultures. After the conversion of the Roman
emperor Constantine in the fourth century, Western Christianity went from being the faith of a persecuted minority to being
linked with the political power of an empire—and power is perhaps
humanity’s most dangerous drug.
But, ironically, our habit of equating Christianity with Western
culture is itself an act of Western bias. The last book of the Bible
paints a picture of the end of time, when “a great multitude that
no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language”
will worship Jesus (Rev. 7:9). This was the multicultural vision of
Christianity in the beginning. For all the wrong turns made by
Western Christians in the last 2,000 years, when we look at church
growth globally today, it is not crazy to think that this vision could
ultimately be realized. So let’s attend to biblical theology, church
history, and contemporary sociology of religion and, as my friend
Kanato Chopi put it, let’s abandon this absurd idea that Christianity is a Western religion.
REBECCA MCLAUGHLIN, PhD, is the author of Confronting Christianity and cofounder of Vocable Communications.
Content adapted from Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion
by Rebecca McLaughlin, ©2019. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good
News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187. www.crossway.org.
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8 books
to expand
vision for
Trujillo P60.indd 60
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I first came across Out of the Salt Shaker &
into the World as a student in Brazil. It had
a huge impact on me because it addressed
my biggest obstacle when sharing Jesus
with my friends: fear of rejection. Pippert
encourages us to be authentic with our
friends and dependent on Jesus. Little did
I know how this was going to be crucial to
the calling God had for my life. As I now
travel across Europe training students
in evangelism, fear of rejection is still the
number one obstacle for students, just as it
had been for me. This book is a must-read
for any Christian who desires to be salt and
light in their context. It teaches us how to
partner with God in what he is doing in the
lives around us, equips readers with communication skills to have natural conversations, and calls us to depend on the Holy
Spirit in his work of salvation.
serves as director of
Revive Europe, as
evangelism training
coordinator for IFES
Europe, and as a
member of the Lausanne Movement’s
board of directors.
Faithful Women and Their Extraordinary
God offers the church two needed narratives. The first is a theology of suffering
and risk. Christians are a called and sent
people. This book helps us understand
that suffering is part of our story. The second narrative is the gifting and calling of
women in God’s mission. The women featured in this book were powerfully used
by God to spread his gospel and build his
ATWELL is the US
church. They taught, they shepherded,
director of SEND
they led, they served, and they blazed new
and difficult trails.
This book challenged me to consider
what sacrifice, risk, and suffering look like
when making a bold stand for Jesus. Each of these women made
huge sacrifices in being obedient to God’s call. They persevered
despite unimaginable suffering and trauma. They did not lose their
faith; rather, they clung all the more tightly to their Lord. This book
teaches us what it means to be wholly dependent on God and to
remain faithful to him, no matter the circumstances.
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This book features real-life accounts of
refugees who encountered Jesus through
the intentional hospitality and care of the
global church. It challenged me to consider
how a well-developed theology of hospitality can transform lives. Refugee Diaspora
looks at the current refugee crisis through
the lens of opportunity, namely, opportunities to be involved in caring for displaced
persons in one’s community. It introduces
is assistant professor
us to real people, not just “refugees”(which
and director of the
has become a broad category devoid of
PhD program in
any personal characteristics). The stories
Intercultural Studies
transport the reader to different regions
at Biola University.
of the world where harrowing journeys
are met with miraculous moments that
transform lives.
“Learning the art of biblical hospitality is a lifelong discipleship
matter,” write the authors. “It requires a longing to reflect God’s
heart for the marginalized in our world.” This book helps readers
understand how God is moving in the midst of the current refugee
crisis and how we can be involved in that movement.
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is director of
and agriculture
for World Hope
When I started reading The Locust Effect,
I was immediately heartbroken. It begins
with the story of “Yuri,” a young Peruvian
girl who was raped and murdered. Yuri’s
family had no financial means to bring
her killer to justice. Like Yuri, millions of
the world’s poor are silent victims of rape,
murder, forced labor, and broken justice
systems. This book challenged me to see
the ugly underside of poverty, especially as
URIYO is the senior
my colleagues and I at Compassion Intervice
national pursue our mission of releasing
of Compassion
children from poverty in Jesus’ name.
International’s Global
The church and other organizations
Leadership Office.
are behind life-changing efforts to alleviate poverty by addressing physical, social,
educational, and spiritual needs. Countless lives are being saved
and improved, but much of this work is undermined when the
global poor are subjected to such violence. For me, it’s about
urgency. This book is a wake-up call for the church to rise up and
take a more prominent role in protecting the vulnerable poor.
When I got this little book as a postgraduate student in Thailand in
1986, I was inspired by the life of
Brother Lawrence and how he practiced the presence of God. It made
me realize that I could talk to Jesus
in simple ways, in heart-to-heart
conversation with him. This book
remains my key inspiration.
When I spend time with the people I work with, Jesus is with me. He
is always my companion. At World
Hope, we work among the most
discriminated-against sections of
society. I work among the rural
poor communities of Cambodia,
Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam,
Indonesia, Nepal, and Bangladesh.
When I go to the mountains among
an ethnic-minority community,
Jesus is with me. When I listen to
the pain of people discriminated
against by society, Jesus is with me.
I can sense the love and compassion
of God when I spend time in these
communities, meeting survivors of
human trafficking, gender-based
violence, sexual exploitation, and
other marginalized populations.
Brother Lawrence’s prayer, “Lord, I
cannot do this unless Thou enablest
me,” has also been true for me.
I recommend this book to all
Christians, and especially to those
who’ve been in ministry and feel
burnt out. This little book is like a
match to light the candle we need
to carry in our journey with Jesus.
I was introduced to Western Christians in
Global Mission as a student in the School
of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Seminary and while serving as an executive
with Wycliffe Bible Translators (USA).
One theme in the text is Borthwick’s love
for the church—both the North American
church and the majority-world church—a
love that is too great to let either get a
free pass when it comes to the issues and
serves as director
challenges each brings. Borthwick helps
of Urbana and as
realign our Western thinking about mina vice president of
istry partnerships to a more helpful and
InterVarsity Christian
accurate model.
Today, I lead Urbana, a conference with
the vision of seeing this and every student
generation give their whole lives to God’s global mission. One question I’ve been asking with renewed passion is how we can more
effectively model and call people to humility in serving crossculturally. Borthwick shines a glaring light on a reality that makes
me uncomfortable in a good way. He states that, too often, we who
serve on cross-cultural short-term missions practice self-congratulatory servanthood. Ouch! Borthwick’s litmus test for true servanthood is serving people in a way that they interpret as servanthood.
This quote in The Very Good Gospel stopped
me in my tracks: “If one’s gospel falls
mute when facing people who need good
news the most—the impoverished, the
oppressed and the broken—then it’s no
gospel at all.” It caused me to take a deep,
hard look at my life and ask myself: Is the
senior church advisor
Good News of the gospel evident in my life
for World Vision.
and to those around me, specifically the poor,
broken, and oppressed? The book’s central
theme of shalom has changed the way I
engage in the work of justice. Shalom calls us beyond just fixing
the immediate situation; shalom invites us to ask ourselves, What
would it take for everyone to flourish? It’s easy to get caught up in a
savior complex when you’re engaged in missions or justice work,
but shalom requires us to remember that we are all connected—that
when my sister is suffering, I too am suffering. The Very Good Gospel
invites us into the redemptive work of God seeking to restore our
broken relationship with God, humanity, and the earth.
As I've equipped women in the US
and abroad over 30 years, I felt
concern about how our theological conversations didn’t seem to
adequately address how creation
and redemption engaged women
in their full dignity as kingdom servants, nor how the Fall and human
brokenness contributed to women’s extensive suffering around
the world. Half the Church was an
answer to prayer for me. Through
exploration rather than debate,
James offers thoughtful biblical
work and fresh language that lends
breadth and depth to our understanding and practice regarding
women and men as God’s “blessed
alliance” in the world.
As I’ve led discussions with men
and women from across the evangelical spectrum, this book has been
a launching point for respectful,
transforming conversation. We
can process together—agreeing
and disagreeing as we go—and all
move closer to being the people God
desires us to be. Redeemed men
and women are both freed to be the
kingdom people God intends, bringing that Good News into the cultures we serve so that his will is done
“on earth as it is in heaven.” Half the
Church gives women a greater sense
of our identity as God’s daughters,
and our calling as co-warriors with
the men in our lives, so that we all
live out Jesus’ call to follow him.
Missio Nexus’s
mission advisor
for the development of women
and founder of
Women’s Development Track.
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How can we evangelize with integrity? As my
husband and I lead our church together, this is
a question we wrestle with a lot. Namely, in our
enthusiasm to see people come to know Christ,
how do we resist the temptation of results-driven
ministry? How can we communicate the urgency of
the gospel without manipulating others’ emotions
or fears? How can we present the gospel in a way
that is inviting without truncating the message to
make it more palatable?
As we have processed these questions and
temptations regarding evangelism, we have found
ourselves both chastened and encouraged by the
Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13). In this famous
story, Jesus uses an analogy that would have been
familiar to his Palestinian audience. According to
Bible scholar William Barclay, farmers at the time
would have sown their seed in one of two ways:
either casting out the seed by hand or strapping a
bag of seed to the back of a donkey, tearing a hole in
the sack, and letting the seed spill out as the animal
crossed the field.
In both scenarios, the seed would have been
vulnerable to variables such as wind or rocky terrain, but because of these two different practices,
the identity of the “sower” in this parable remains
unclear. Perhaps we are the human sower, or perhaps we are the farmer’s donkey, but it is “God who
gives the growth” (1 Cor. 3:7, ESV). In this way, the
parable is symbolic of three “actors” who are present in the sharing of the gospel—you, the hearers,
and God—and until we understand these roles properly, the work of evangelism will be much harder and
more burdensome than God ever intended.
In Matthew 13, the sower goes out to sow (v. 3), and
he sows into all sorts of soil. What is strange about
this sower, however, is that he sows haphazardly.
He sows into bad soil and good. There is a recklessness to the sower. He does not pause to consider
whether the seed can take root; he simply gives
every soil the opportunity, and Jesus explains that
our assignment is the same. It is not our role to judge
the quality of the soil but simply to cast the seed.
On the other hand, the sower’s “recklessness”
should not be mistaken for carelessness, thoughtlessness, or laziness. In addition to sowing, a good
farmer also cultivates his soil by loosening it and
fertilizing it. The Parable of the Sower does not
describe this work, but all of Scripture is brimming
with instructions for cultivating the soil of our culture. When Christians are exhorted to “conduct
yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders” (Col. 4:5,
NASB), “keep your behavior excellent among the
Gentiles” (1 Pet. 2:12, NASB), “speak up and judge
fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy”
(Prov. 31:9), be known by your love (John 13:35),
and be “all things to all people” (1 Cor. 9:22), these
actions have a way of loosening and preparing the
soil around us.
Much of Jesus’ ministry work was soil work. He
intervened on behalf of the woman caught in adultery before he exhorted her to sin no more (John 8).
He reached out to the woman at the well, a social
outcast, before dispatching her to evangelize her
town (John 4). And he dignified the sinful woman,
inviting her to anoint his feet and setting her free
in forgiveness (Luke 7). By loving people, healing
people, listening to people, and speaking in a language they could understand, he prepared the way
for the seed to fall on fertile ground. For those of us
who are prone to blame the world for its inability to
hear, this perspective is a helpful corrective.
For others of us, we place too much responsibility
on ourselves to change hearts. Whether we do so
because of pride or a lack of trust in God, this parable is a corrective for us also. In his commentary
on Matthew, R. T. France writes, “The description
of the four types [of soil] focuses, as surely as the
parable intended, on their varying receptiveness to
what they hear. All hear the same word.”
Jesus describes three types of soil where even
the best seed will struggle to grow: the hard path
(Matt. 13:4), the rocky soil (v. 5), and the thorny
ground (v. 7). The path, Barclay explains, would
have been hard as pavement, packed down by the
foot traffic of passersby, and it represents those
hard-hearted and close-minded individuals who
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cannot receive the Word due to their prejudice,
an unteachable spirit, an immoral character, or a
wound from the past.
The rocky soil represents a shallow faith, marked
by chasing after the latest trend instead of cultivating something that lasts. Theologian Stanley Hauerwas describes this kind of Christian as one who
is “too ready to follow Jesus,” meaning they “fail
to understand that [they] do not understand what
kind of Messiah this is.” They do not count the cost,
and because of this, their faith is easily distracted
or destroyed.
In the case of the thorny ground, the soil is good
but “is already taken up” by what France calls “cares
and delights.” Whether it is the temptation of ease
It is not our role to judge
the quality of the soil but
simply to cast the seed.
or the busyness of over-commitment, this seed fails
to grow and thrive because it is simply crowded out.
Finally, Jesus describes the only good soil conducive to long-lasting growth. It is the heart and mind
that is open to God, ready to hear, eager to understand, and willing to count the cost.
In this parable, we encounter four different types
of soil representing a thousand different stories
and circumstances. At any given time, in any given
church, women’s retreat, bookstore, or coffee shop,
hearers are coming with their different states of soil.
Many are not even what they appear. Some will be
reserved yet more than ready to hear, while others
seem curious but cannot, in actuality, be convinced.
These soil conditions are too many for any one
person to predict or imagine, which is why Jesus
tasks us with a lighter burden: simply casting out
seed. We do not have to anticipate every possible
objection. In fact, this parable promises that some
of our seed will not take root, and we are expected to
cast it out anyway. We do not have to bend or twist
or perform all sorts of acrobatic interpretive work to
persuade the unpersuadable. That work is up to God.
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So much of horticulture is outside of human control.
We cannot control the elements. We cannot control the wind, the drought, the floods, or the pests.
Sowing the Word of God is similar—there is much
we cannot control. In 1 Corinthians 3:6, the apostle Paul makes an important observation about the
work of sowing. He affirms the value of evangelism,
and he doggedly casts out seed, but he also writes,
“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has
been making it grow.”
When it comes to evangelism, our role matters—
but our role is also limited, and this truth can unburden us. Whenever we feel the pressure to convince
people or feel tempted to make our gospel “nicer,”
we are wise to remember that salvation is the Spirit’s
work. The Spirit can take our words and make them
just the right shape for another’s heart. The Spirit
can translate our message about one situation into
a myriad of different life scenarios.
If anyone is going to break up the hard soil of
a person’s heart, it is going to be the Spirit of God.
If anyone is going to clear away the rocks and the
thorns, it is going to be the Spirit of God. We may
cast out the seed, but it is the Spirit who does all
the heavy lifting. We do not have to transform the
message for the benefit of hearers; instead we trust
the Spirit to transform them.
Evangelism challenges our desire for resolution.
We often want results we can point to—and faithful
evangelism cannot promise us this. The Parable of
the Sower meets us in this ambiguity, as does Jesus
himself. Not only does our Savior cast out the seed
of his words, but he also casts out the seed of his life.
It strikes me that some approaches to evangelism
neglect the sowing of our words, while others neglect
the sowing of our lives. But, as Jesus’ followers, we
are called to follow him in both. We sow by speaking the whole truth with boldness and by laying our
lives down in love. Neither guarantees a response in
our hearers’ lives, but they do guarantee one thing:
granting as many people as possible a glimpse of the
coming kingdom of God.
SHARON HODDE MILLER, PhD, is the author of
Nice: Why We Love to Be Liked and How God Calls Us
to More and Free of Me (Baker Books).
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