Tag Archives: diaspora

Who will push “Play” no matter the cost?

Read what has come before here.

You can’t take this journey vicariously. It won’t happen by reading a book or watching a documentary. Doesn’t happen by listening to a sermon. A church won’t become inclusive by saying, “Anyone is welcome here.” Because what that means is they can come as long as they are willing to do things our way. But ask us to adapt what we do to accommodate them, no way! Ask us to change? Hey, this is our church.

Do you want to know what it ffriendseels like for someone from another culture, another country, another religion to come into your church?  The same way you (a committed Christian) would feel by going to worship at a Buddhist temple. The same way you would feel when entering a mosque on Friday afternoon. Don’t be so ethnocentric as to think they would like it in your church.

Friend, the onus is on us, to invite them into our homes, and to go to theirs; to take difficult steps in a risky direction.

 Which leads to the third part of the adventure. Peter must have cringed when he heard where Cornelius lived: the town of Caesarea; hear it? “Caesar—ea” This was Rome central. Regiments of Italians probably marched nearby as Peter rode into town. Herod himself had a retreat here. The smell of pasta and fettuccine filled the air. The aroma of grilled pork, a stench to Jews, wafted across the streets.

Cornelius had called together all his relatives. As Peter approached, the Centurion ran to greet him, kneeling in respect. Peter entered the home and said, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.” (Acts 10:28)peter vision

Cornelius describes the visitation of the angel, with instructions to call for Peter. They are ready to listen. And Peter lifts up the hood to unveil the theological engine of the mission of God. “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.” (Acts 10:34-35)

Peter shares the message of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and granting of eternal life. The stamp of approval on this colossal new development comes with a thud — the Holy Spirit falls on them all. Peter concludes this is the same Spirit that had come upon the Jews not many months earlier, and baptizes them all in water.

What is the lesson here? To align the calling of our church with God’s mission, we must break the rules that protect our comfortable enclave. AND, we must be willing to be criticized by the powerful people who haven’t seen the vision.

That brings up back to where we began: on Pause.

The early church is scattering and on the move, but at a standstill in the mission of God—Jews speaking only to Jews. Word arrives that Peter, our senior pastor!, has gone to the home of a Roman centurion! And the Holy Spirit has been given to the Gentiles. The remaining elders in Jerusalem, when they hear this, drew silent, and glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.” (Acts 11:18).

So a few folks from Cyprus—islanders, that’s what you’d expect from them– and a few brothers from Cyrene – Africans, that explains it—they came into Greeksville and spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus.

And the church got off Pause…

and Played.

You know what is fascinating? God has brought Romans and Hellenists right into your town! Many of them have never heard an explanation of who Jesus is. Many have never gotten to know a Jesus-follower. Many international students, many foreign-born engineers, medical practitioners, have never been invited into the home of an American. They’re cautious… but curious. And many of them have been called by God into His forever family.

Who will invite them home for a cup of tea?
Who will explain an English word, or show how a chocolate chip cookie is made?
Who will ask them how they are doing?
Who will take them to a ball game or a bowling alley, or a museum?
Who will offer to take them to their appointment or pick them up at the airport?

Those who see a new vision.
Those who take difficult steps in a risky direction
And those who break the rules that protect a comfortable enclave.
Those who push play, no matter the cost.

photocredit:  myocn.net



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Rewind – Transformation of mind and heart

Catch up on the back story…

Something very significant had recently happened. The Holy Spirit was changing the rules of the game, and the lesson came most strongly to the person who, if he changed, everyone could change. He was the sanctified godfather of the early church. His was the vote that broke any tie, or the veto that canned any plan. He was Peter, the pillar of the Jewish church.

But over the course of 24 hours, this devout Jew, comfortable in his own skin, his own culture and beliefs, the top leader of a new Jewish sect, uncontaminated by fellowship with any non-Jews, went through a metamorphosis from God, and was transformed. He emerged as orth jewa leader persuading his fellow Jewish elders that God had cleansed all food, and that anyone who believed in Christ could be saved, regardless of culture, color, or class.

What had happened?  What cracked this cultural Rock of Gibraltar? How did the Holy Spirit lead Peter, a bull-headed leader through such a revolutionary process? Whatever it was, it gave the whole church the freedom to cross boundaries; it emboldened certain men in Antioch to talk to Hellenists.

And whatever it was, it is the very thing we need today if we are to get off Pause and push the Play button. It is what we need to line up our default preferences for our own kind and culture, and align with God’s call to reach out and include those who are different.

Peter was staying with a friend in the coastal town of Joppa. About three in the afternoon Peter goes up on the roof to pray, and of all things he falls into a trance.
Heaven opens, and a huge sheet is let down, filled with a smorgasbord of foods that good Jews were forbidden by the O.T. to eat. Then a voice from heaven, “Rise, Peter, kill and eat.” “No Lord, I’ve never eaten anything common or unclean.” This was the right answer, the one that passed the test, that got the A+, that kept the Jewish universe on its axis.

But the voice came back a second time: “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” We cannot imagine how revolting this must have seemed to Peter…how revolutionary. This was a 180 degree change that reversed 2000 years of instruction and obedience. Even Jesus normally cooperated with the Law.

What does the Spirit of Jesus do to empower a multi-cultural transformation? He gives a new vision. He speaks from heaven with a new command.

Have you seen the vision? John 17:20-21 “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” Jesus longs for a new thing, a unity tying together all His diverse followers.

Have you seen the vision? Eph 2:14-18 “For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off, and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.” Jesus is the great peace-maker between former enemies. He is the divine wall-breaker, removing obstacles, giving access to everyone, equally.

Have you seen the vision? Mark 11:17 Jesus said, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’” But you have made it a ‘den of thieves’”. The cross is a huge doorway for all to enter. It isn’t shaped for white folk, or tall folk, or menfolk. It is for all folk!

Have you seen the vision?  1 Cor 12:20-22  “But now indeed there are  many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary.”

Woe to us, if we have been content with a body that looks just like us! If we are content to worship in our comfortable sanctuary, with our customary rituals, without the messiness and the hassle of the weaker parts of the body, without the ethnic peoples that are unrepresented here, without the poor who feel out of place here. They are the weak, the unpresentable parts that belong to the body.

Woe to us, for thinking we have no need of them, for in fact they are more necessary. For without them, the graces of Christ dry on the vine. The love and forgiveness and mercy and deference that give off the cologne of Jesus are kept safely in the bottle, unable to woo the skeptic with its aroma.

Have you seen the vision?   Rev 7:9,10  “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”

 I don’t know what your vision of heaven is, but I know the one Jesus longs to see. The heaven Jesus anticipates isn’t a bunch of white folk, or black folk, or brown folk. It is going to be one multi-colored gathering. And we best start rehearsing for the mother of all gospel choirs, because that is what we are going to join. And we better start searching for an answer to why—as one of my friends puts it—why, if heaven isn’t going to be segregated, why on earth is the church?!

A fresh vision from God is imperative. But if we learn anything from Peter’s transformation, it is just the beginning of a great adventure. As Peter reflected on the vision he had seen, a knock came on the door downstairs. The visitors — two house servants and a soldier — had been sent by, of all people, a Roman centurion. A Roman, one in command of 100 men. What more despicable delegation could possibly be received? Romans were the occupiers, even more despised than the Greeks!

But the Spirit of Jesus whispered to Peter to get up, go with the men to see their master, because God had sent them. To his infinite credit, Peter went down to greet the visitors. They told him that their master and commander, Cornelius,  had been praying to the God of heaven, and was told by an angel to send for you, Peter, to come. (By the way, take note: God heard the prayers of unsaved Cornelius: “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God” Acts 10:4.  That rather shatters the notion that God does not hear the prayers of an unsaved person!)

And then Peter did something so cataclysmic, so revolutionary, that it is unimaginable to us. He took the first step in a journey that changed the history of the church, a first step that can change a family or even an entire church. He invited the strangers into the house. And the next day He went with them to the home of Cornelius, the Roman.

photocredit: fineartamerica.com-don-wolf.jpg
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Pastors who become missionaries

I just spent a couple hours with a missionary who, like me, served for many years as a pastor. It dawned on me that God often births in the heart of pastors the desire to move into the mission world.

city burbsMany pastors stay in the pastorate while serving actively and regularly in overseas ministry. They will travel once or twice a year to do training, visit missionaries, or even start ministries in partnership with national believers. When I was pastoring, I participated in trips to Native American reservations in Arizona, and went with one of our missionaries to a remote tribe in Mexico where he had been working on a translation of the gospel of Luke. I always returned with a fresh view of the congregation I was shepherding.

At times God leads a pastor to leave the shepherding role and launch out on mission, fueled by an apostolic passion to bring the kingdom to new areas. There are many ways that the pastorate helps prepare one for doing so. In my case, I felt my experience as a pastor for eight years was a good foundation for providing training for East African pastors. Since returning to the States, I have become acquainted with an excellent organization called Global Training Network, which consists primarily of experienced pastors who now travel to different countries to offer Biblical and practical training.

Making the change from the pastorate to mission work has its challenges. Perhaps the one I felt most keenly at first was role deprivation. As a pastor I was the center of the congregation (well, other than Jesus). Decisions, ideas, even criticism all came my way!  When I moved into missions, it required that I start from scratch and learn about culture and language. Learning a new language means feeling inept and childish. It is humbling. You have to do it out of obedience to God and love for the people you have come to serve.

villageBut on the positive side, having one or more congregations that love you as their pastor becomes a solid foundation for prayer and financial support. It was easier for me to resign from the congregation I loved because I was answering a call to a different kind of ministry rather than leaving them for another church. Many of my church members are still partners in my mission work now.

If you are a pastor who wonders if God wants to use you in missions (or if you are a church member who wants to offer your pastor for an exotic post far away!), here are a few suggestions:

  1. If you are married, it is essential that your spouse shares the mission journey with you. Discuss and pray together about how God may be leading. In my case, our two daughters were three and five years old when my wife and I began praying about a transition, so clearly the change was going to impact my wife in a big way. To her credit, she came to Kenya with me having never traveled further than Tijuana.
  2. Consider the kind of ministry you could see yourself doing. Prayerfully discern how God has wired you. Are you a teacher, or administrator. Are you a writer, or hands-on discipler. Begin praying about organizations that might be a good fit for you. Chances are you will find yourself fitting in with an organization you already know about. But there is also a chance that God will ask you to do something you would never have dreamed.
  3. Make an honest assessment of your aptitude as an individual and as a family. In my case, I did not feel the best place for us would be in an extremely remote village, nor in a restricted access country. I felt we would be better where there was a local school, medical help, and colleagues we could team up with. A genuine call of God will not split a family apart. If God has not outfitted your family for the rigors of mission, you need to find ways to participate individually while keeping your home base in the pastorate.
  4. Further assess the degree to which you are able to say goodbye to the lifestyle you have now. All disciples are called to deny self for Christ, and missions offers the opportunity to do so many times over. There are a lot of goodbyes in mission work, not just when you first leave. You will make friends in your host country, some of whom will leave, and some of whom you will leave behind. God gives grace for these departures, but they are tough. Your kids will be enriched by the life, but they will have to say goodbye to their friends at regular intervals.
  5. Are you a learner? This is difficult after many years of being a leader and teacher. But to be an effective missionary who connects with the people of your host nation you must take the role of the servant. I have seen some pastors-turned-missionaries who should have stayed home, because they came with a haughty attitude. Do you love cultures, appreciate different foods and smells? Can you live in housing that is unusual to you? In other words, do you see this as adventure?

I leave you with this. All the epistles of Paul were missionary letters, so the connection between pastoring and missions is the DNA embedded in the New Testament. So prayerfully consider how (not if) God wants you to be involved. If you know what Near Frontiers is about, you know that there is plenty of mission to do right here in our country. The diaspora makes it natural, and in my view imperative, that pastors be mission-minded and mission-engaged. But we need workers who will pray about pulling up stakes and moving to unresourced areas. Let’s get out there!

Photo credits: commons.wikimedia.org

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Diaspora Consultation in South Carolina

I was privileged to speak recently at a Diaspora Mission Consultation in Columbia, South Carolina.  “What in the world is that?”  The idea was to encourage unity among Christians across cultural and denominational lines. For what purpose?  To encourage all of us to reach out beyond our own cultural groups to share the love of Christ with all others.

It was a great time, and included stories from different ethnic communities about how God is at work.  It is a great encouragement to see the breadth of the body of Christ, and be reminded that God is at work among all the nations of the earth, including those whom He is bringing here to America.

diaspora group

Mehari Korcho, who gathered the planning team that organized the event, will serve as our intern staff this year. It is a privilege to have him on our staff. Mehari challenged leaders to repent of only looking after their own group, based on his own journey in which God led him to repent of only ministering to Ethiopians. What a strong word for us today!

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Former refugees give back

We don’t often hear about refugees who make significant contributions to their homelands, but it happens….often.

Our friend Dr. Gregg Detwiler, of Emanuel Gospel Center in Boston is working with others to host meetings entitled 2016 Peacemakers Lecture Series “From There To Here & Back.”

Refugees return home to blessGregg writes, “In fact, right now we are hosting four former Boston-area refugees who have since returned to their home countries to serve the Kingdom and their people. Each of them has a compelling story. One of them came to Boston from her war-torn nation of Sierra Leone as a Muslim woman, came to faith in Christ and was nurtured in her faith in Boston, worked at John Hancock for several years, and felt called to return to her Muslim village to start a school and the first Christian church.”

Ruth Jappah-SamakaiAnother of those four interviewees is…

Ruth Jappah-Samukai – A member of the New York State Bar Association, the Liberian Bar Association, Ruth earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science at Cuttington University, Liberia, Bachelor of Law Degree from the University of Liberia and Masters in International Law from Howard University. Ruth was granted political asylum in the United States of America. She served as Executive Director of the Universal Human Rights International (UHRI) in Boston, Massachusetts. After the Liberian civil war ended, Ruth voluntarily returned to Liberia, where she served as a Commissioner for Liberia Telecommunications Authority. She is currently a Commissioner at the Governance Commission, Republic of Liberia.


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