Where would we be without the Body of Christ?

The past three weeks have been a blur of goodbyes, hellos, and paperwork. January 20th I preached my last sermon at Community Evangelical Free Church where I have served as a lay elder while at ABWE International HQ, and that Tuesday my sons and I boarded a plane with a one way ticket to Fremont, CA. The boys started school on the 28th–the same day that Tara arrived after finishing the packing at the house and wrapping up her work responsibilities at Linglestown Life.

While I have technically been on the team at Redeemer Church of the Silicon Valley since December, there is nothing like having boots on the ground. While our church launch team is small (30-40 people), there is real work to be done in getting to know them and how I can best serve. Besides adjusting to the weather (we missed the polar vortex by a week), the kids are adjusting to a new school, and we all are adjusting to a new time zone As anyone who has made major transitions could tell you, transitions are exhausting.

One thing that has stood out to me during this transition, is the indispensability of the Body of Christ and more specifically the local church. We have felt the fellowship of the saints and gifts of the Holy Spirit in tangible ways through each tearful hug goodbye and and each welcoming embrace. There are at least 3 specific ways that we have experienced the essential blessing of being a part of Christ’s church:

  • The prayers of God’s people. This move was a logistical nightmare. We had a car being shipped, we had children entering a new school district before we even had a permanent residence, we had stuff that was being packed and shipped after we had already moved, we had a pet to transport, we had a house to rent in PA and no house yet in CA, and that was only about half of the details that needed to be sorted out. And yet through all of that there was a peace we felt that was hard to explain. Every detail was sorted out. The boys entered the largest schools they had ever attended and there were no problems–not even one. There was a spiritual battle raging and the prayers of God’s people were effectual. One of my favorite examples to God answering the prayers of his people came about during our send off service in Harrisburg. I preached in the morning services, and the elders came around us laid hands on us and prayed over us as we were being sent out. One of the elders specifically prayed that we would find a renter for our house in Harrisburg. This had been one of our biggest stressors. We wanted to find a Christian couple who would care for the house and continue to minister in the city. Immediately after the service a young couple approached us about renting our house and this week we formalized the agreement. That was one of the most immediate and explicit answers to prayer I have ever seen. The prayers of God’s people are powerful.

 

  • The gifts of God’s people. I am amazed at the way God uses his people to accomplish his will. God gifts the Body with a diversity of people with different spiritual gifts. In our last days in Harrisburg we were so blessed. Our friends threw great parties and gave thoughtful gifts. Other friends gave sweet words of encouragement. One young lady helped Tara pack, another friend drove Tara to the airport at 4 a.m., a friend and neighbor met the moving truck and made sure the house was taken care of, another friend went the police station to pull parking permits for the moving truck. The notes, gifts, and memories will be with us forever. The same gifts were seen on the other end of the move as well. God’s people gave generously to provide us with the easiest moving experience we’ve ever had, one new friend encouraged us through the school enrollment experience, another family stopped by with groceries and flowers, there was thoughtfulness even in giving us the space we needed to get established in those first days. Over and over again we saw the gifts of the Spirit at work through his people.

 

  • The love of God’s people. It is a great gift to be known and loved. Sometimes you don’t know how much love you’ve received until you leave. God’s people have been such a blessing to us. Through our pastors, friends, small group, youth group, colleagues, and neighbors we experienced love that we don’t deserve. As we gave each hug goodbye, we could feel God’s grace in our lives. We went to Pennsylvania under difficult circumstances. We had left Wisconsin hurting, broken, broke, and confused. While there were many trials and heartaches during our time in Pennsylvania as well, we had also been loved so well by God’s people during those trials. We experienced community through our small group that helped us through some of the darkest times. It was a true and unexpected gift to receive care and wisdom from a group of young adults in their mid-20s.  It was a gift to have elders who walked with us from the beginning of this venture and believed in the vision and sent us out to their own hurt. It is a gift to work for an organization like ABWE that supported my calling and found ways to bless and encourage my family even though it was a disruption to their own day to day administration. We have also experienced the love of a church that is barely formed and that barely knows us. It is a humbling thing to walk into a building of people you’ve only just met and feel their love and acceptance from the beginning.

The Christian life was never meant to be lived as a solo performance. While God calls us each individually, we are baptized into his Body–the Church. It is through the community of the saints that we experience the living Christ. Over the past weeks my family and I have seen firsthand the beauty of Christ–not through his sudden appearance in a dream or vision, but through the everyday prayers, gifts, and love of his people. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift.

 

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“The Ups and Downs of the Holidays” or “In the Air and On the Ground in Cali”

Some weeks are emotional roller coasters. The Holidays are notorious for this. The beauty and joy of all that Christmas symbolizes are tinged a little blue with the memories of what has been lost or will be lost in the coming year. My week started with the last major announcement of our family’s upcoming move to the Bay Area, and ended with me in Fremont California. The excitement is real and so is the sadness.

We feel we have been blessed by the Lord with the gift of great friends in every place we’ve moved. Harrisburg has been no exception. Even though I’m remaining with ABWE as a west coast mobilizer, I’m not going to be driving up that hill every day and seeing the people who have become dear to me. Even though my fellow elders at Community Free will remain my good friends, I will not be spending my Wednesday nights eating, planning, and fellowshipping with them anymore. While I know that our small group will probably visit us in Cali and we’ll visit them in PA, we will miss the weekly sharing of joys and pains with people who have become family. My kids have made great friends of adults and young people that will be painfully missed. I didn’t write this paragraph to publicly emote, but only to say that our joys are often shaded with pain.

In somewhat of a late change in schedule, I was asked to come to Fremont this weekend and preach at Redeemer Church for Bob Bixby who is assisting another church that is going through a crisis. I came by myself which I don’t particularly enjoy, but solitude has its own unique blessings. I was able to spend the whole day yesterday just driving around, checking out the local high schools and exploring the various neighborhoods. That was helpful, but those activities only highlight the stress of moving.

The blessing came in the form of people I was able to meet. I travel enough that I usually get to pick my seat, and I always choose an isle. Because this trip was added late, and because I was distracted with all the Christmas parties and activity, I didn’t check to make sure my seat was as I prefer it. Instead of the isle, I was wedged between two men equal to me in maturity and girth. The man by the window trying to sleep seemed unreasonably perturbed that my elbow’s contact with his elbow was unavoidable. He eventually gave up on sleep and began to talk. He opened up about his Jehovah’s Witness father and irreligious mother, and his own lack of faith. He talked about his job at a massive tech company and about life in San Jose. He epitomized for me the story that could be told millions of times over in the Bay Area–lonely, disconnected, wealthy, and searching.

Silk Road CuisineThe second group of people I met would be classified on the other end of the socio-economic spectrum. There are two Uyghur restaurants in the area and I felt led to suffer for Jesus and eat at both. In both places I found what I expected, amazing food and wonderful people. As I shared with them the places we’ve been in their homeland and my love for their culture and traditions, they opened up a little about their own challenges, pains, and opportunities. They came for education, but with the troubles in China, they have been unable to return home. All of them have family and friends who are in “re-education” camps in China. I learned that there is a community of about 250 Uyghurs in the area and I was invited to join them for their future celebrations. My time with them was short, but sweet. They reminded me of dear friends that I’ve left behind, but think of often. It was a subtle but unmistakeable confirmation to my heart that God is in this. While the pain of leaving is real, the joy of what to come provides fresh mercy.

 

If you’d like to give to support our transition and the ministry of Redeemer Church you can give online through The Gospel Fund-Redeemer Church or through ABWE–Scott and Tara Dunford.

 

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A New Assignment for the Dunfords

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I am excited to announce that I have accepted a call from Redeemer Church of the Silicon Valley in Fremont, CA to join their church planting team. We are looking forward to this next mission assignment, and the opportunity it gives us to serve together as a family, doing what we believe we’ve been called to do—make disciples of the nations. As excited as we are to go, we are also sad to leave. On Sunday I announced that I am stepping down from my role as pastor-elder at Community Evangelical Free Church of Harrisburg, and previously it was announced to our staff and missionaries at ABWE that I would be resigning from my role as Vice President of Mobilization and Communications. Paul Davis, President of ABWE, is graciously allowing me to remain with ABWE as a West Coast missions mobilizer, and I will continue to cohost The Missions Podcast and be involved in various projects for the mission.

My wife, Tara, and I first joined ABWE in 2006. At the time I was serving as an associate pastor in Perry, Michigan, and felt God leading us to serve him overseas. Although we eventually returned to our sending church where I resumed my pastoral ministry, our time with ABWE left an indelible imprint on our lives. In 2015 we again found ourselves in the midst of transition—one not of our own making. Our ministry at Northland International University had come to an abrupt and unexpected end when the school was forced to close. I was hurting. My family was hurting. I was struggling with feelings of anger, doubt, and distrust. In those dark days, I struggled with insecurity and fear about not only my gifting, but about my future in ministry. As we evaluated our calling and our opportunities for service, we had to weigh them against the very real need for employment. As I wrestled with the possibility of returning pastoral ministry, I began to realize that I wasn’t ready emotionally for the demands of that form of ministry. It was an incredible blessing when Duane Early and Jim O’Neill from ABWE reached out to us about joining the team as the Vice President of Mobilization.

The last three years have been a blessing even though they’ve had their share of challenges. It has been a blessing working with men and women who are committed to Jesus Christ with every fiber of their being. I’ve been able to travel the world and see first-hand the work of ABWE missionaries. I’ve spoken in dozens of churches and Christian Universities about God’s heart for the nations. I’ve been able to witness hundreds of men and women mobilized for service in the harvest field, and although I can take credit for none of the fruit, I have been able to take part in the joy as a result of Christ’s work in the hearts of men and women. ABWE has allowed me to be involved in missions in ways that I had never imagined were possible.

A second great blessing of our time in Harrisburg has been our involvement in Community Evangelical Free Church. From the first time we visited as a family, we knew this was meant to be our church home. Jason Abbott, Benjamin Vrbicek, and Ben Bechtel have been incredible pastors to our family. Every week we have been challenged by the preaching of the Word, and have experienced the blessing of serving in a community of believers. For the past two years I’ve been able to serve on the elder team. Through serving with that band of brothers, I felt my desire for pastoral ministry returning, and my heart for life on life ministry being renewed. Our time with our small group, and my wife and children’s involvement in the youth group have been life giving. My wife has loved her job as office administrator at Lingelstown Life and the team there has loved her and treated her as family.

Despite these blessings, the challenges of a traveling ministry, the needs of my family, and a growing desire to be reengaged in missions and local church ministry, caused Tara and me to realize that a change was necessary. As we began to pray for guidance we had no inkling that the end of our prayers would lead us to the Bay Area. Some time ago, old friends of ours, Bob and Jennie Bixby, reached out to us with the dream of approaching the Bay Area and Silicon Valley as a mission field. Their desire was to see families with the battle scars of experience come to the area as pastor-missionaries. Those that know me know that I am a cheesehead through and through. I love snowy winters, cool summers, and Packers season (otherwise known as Autumn). The majority of our family and friends are in Wisconsin and Michigan. I have always preferred the Great Lakes to the Ocean. Moving to California has never been on my wish list. But as we explored the challenges and opportunities that the Bay Area provided, I could feel my mind and heart make the shift from advisor to participant.

The Bay Area is made up of San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland and the 12 counties that surround those cities. Together they make the 5thlargest metro area in the country with over 8.8 million people. If the Bay Area was its own nation, it would have the 17thlargest economy in the world. The area is not only populous and wealthy, but it is culturally influential. As home to tech giants such as Facebook, Google, and Apple, and universities such as Stanford and Cal Berkley, the thoughts and content coming out of the Bay Area have an outsized influence on our world and culture.

This area is also in incredibly needy missions field. The Bay Area has attracted people from all over the globe. The culture is inviting and diverse, but also without Christ. Barnarecently called the San Francisco area as the most “unchurched” city in America. Another Barna poll called the Bay Area the 8thmost “post Christian city in America.” While one portion of the population is post-Christian, another portion of the population has never been evangelized. Fremont alone, a city with almost 250,000 people is over 50% Asian with many coming from people groups who would be considered unreached or formerly unreached. There are neighborhoods with so much Chinese language advertising that I could imagine I was back in China. Fremont is home to the largest Afghan community in America, and the Bay Area is home to over 250,000 Muslims. There is even a small Uyghur community in Fremont. The area is home to at least 22 communities of unreached peoples with 11 of those completely unengaged with the gospel.

There are churches in the Bay Area, but not enough to reach the growing and diverse population. Redeemer Church is a small body with a big vision. As a church replant itself, they have a vision to see a network of churches planted with a missionary DNA. God has fanned a flame of general interest into a flame of passion for the people and the area. We know from experience that local church ministry needs to be long term and not itinerant. It is our prayer and desire that we put down roots in the community, invest in our neighborhood, and open our home and our lives with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our current plan is to transition out of our current roles and move to the Bay Area by the end of January.

If you would like to hear more you can listen to Bob and I talk about our vision on The Missions Podcast.We would love to have you pray with us about this move. Moves are hard and this one will be hard on all of us, but especially on Halee, Basil, Augustine, and Caedmon. Pray for my boys that they leave well, and that they adjust quickly to life in a new place.  Pray for Halee as this transition is uniquely odd for her as she is in college. She will start her semester with a home in one location and return to her family in a home on the other side of the continent. We’d love to have you partner in prayer with us for the ministry we are joining and the ministries we are leaving behind. We are also in need of financial partners. While my salary is currently covered, the cost of church planting in one of the most expensive regions of the United States is high. We have set a goal to raise $100,000 for church planting and operating expenses. If God would lead you to partner with us, you can give directly to Redeemer Church until my new account with ABWE is set up.  We are also praying for a number of intrepid, missions minded people to join us in this endeavor. We have a need for people to move to the area, get jobs, establish themselves in the neighborhoods and pour their lives into the community with us.

We know that we are in a spiritual battle. The enemy is great, but our Champion and King is greater by far. The weapons of our warfare are not found in the strength of our flesh, but are grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ. “Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given to me by the working of his power” (Ephesians 3:7).

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Guest Post by Bob Bixby: “Progressives, Colonialism, and Christian Missions.”

Progressives, Colonialism, and Christian Missions

Rant warning. And I’m mad. I have a lot to say about the young missionary thing.
It’s very layered and complicated and the young man’s methods an593px-Punch_Rhodes_Colossusd theology should be discussed, debated, critiqued, and analyzed. But, allow me to give a tongue lashing to American Progressives.

The self-righteous progressive chatter, to me, is reprehensible and hypocritical. You Progressives are all about flouting laws if it means throwing bricks through the windows of small businesses from your pampered safe zones in the name of liberating disenfranchised individuals and people groups being able to have access to the opportunities they need for self-actualization and expression. That’s all fine and dandy. But if it involves putting one’s unarmed body in the way of poisoned arrows in a way that doesn’t conscientiously harm others or their property for the sake of helping truly imprisoned people who embody the very opposite of opportunity, self-actualisation, individualism, and personal rights, you chide the young martyr sanctimoniously for breaking the law. Your condescending outrage is illiterate and pretentious sophistry that regurgitates the groupthink of uneducated Americans simply because the young man was motivated by Christian belief.

If you really cared about those islanders you would be outraged that they are essentially prisoners on an island, cut off, by the systemic ethnic racism of the Indian government that pretends to care for them by leaving them alone when the reality is that they leave them alone because they are completely and utterly useless people on a useless island to the government that controls access to them. If there was oil or gold on that island they’d be dead in minutes.
Progressive ideologues that insist on the right to educate our children here in America according to their anti-Christian values and would bar anyone from home-schooling their kids because “every child has a right to think for herself” are just as happy to leave a barbaric people completely isolated from education under the illusion that every child there is raised in a safe, happy environment free from all physical and sexual molestation and mind-shriveling paganism.

We Christians may be silly and foolish and wrong-headed and even evil at times, but in the main we are willing to die for people without taking their lives and/or forcing them to adopt our views. We just want them to have options and an opportunity to hear. The best among us will literally die for you to have the opportunity to reject us.
Truth is, we’d die for them to have the option to hear your stupid ideas too! What if there is a poor Sentinelese teen boy that really thinks he’s a girl? You social media Progressives don’t give a rat’s behind for him although you use this as one of your main platforms in our country. But I care for him. I think he should be free to wrestle openly with his feelings. And I think he ought to be free to choose or choose against my Lord Jesus Christ. But if you can’t control his mind, you don’t care if he’s completely isolated from education, knowledge, and an alternative worldview than the one that he has hammered into his head by superstitious people.

True Christians everywhere think that that young man ought to have the opportunities and freedom to explore the needs of his soul, but it’s going to take human beings brave enough to approach them, to risk their lives, to give them the opportunity of freedom. The young man had more courage in his nail filings than the entire American nation put together, especially you Progressives yammering away about colonialism and so forth.
As if you knew what you were talking about.
He didn’t go there with a vest bomb, a grenade, or weapons of any kind. He went there with his vulnerable body and offered it to them for the sake of having a conversation with them, giving them the opportunity to hear his ideas if they wanted. They didn’t. They killed him.

I’ll say it again for emphasis: You American Progressives want to force us to adopt your views on everything and then mock a young man who sacrifices his life to open up a whole new world of ideas, thoughts, and comforts that those poor islanders cannot know until someone loves them enough to try to be friendly to them. And die for them.
You say that the Sentinelese ought to live in peace in the life they have chosen. But how do you know that there wasn’t a powerful lord of the island that ordered his death? How do you know that the murderers had the unanimous support of every man, woman, teenager, and child on that island? How do you know that the powerful among them have not made a sex slave of everyone weaker than them? And for all of your lectures in our universities about the male tendency to dominate and abuse why do you naively think that is not happening on this island? How do you know there is no barbaric abuse there? You don’t. And you don’t care.

As for the young missionary, I think that we of historic Christian faith can differentiate between him and the system of thought that he was in and the theology that motivated him. We are fools if we condemn his motive and heart. But we don’t have to buy into his theology or pneumatology or nationalism or, yes, his colonialism-informed missiology. And I think that Christians who totally dismiss the colonialism charge are probably deaf to a legitimate issue in missiology because they think in terms of the “personal” and the “eternal” but not in terms of the “anthropological.” Although I hasten to add that the colonialism charge is utterly irrelevant here.

But as typical in American conversation, it’s all or nothing. The missionary is either a martyr or a fool. We are so ignorant and stupid and dull in our nation that we cannot even have a conversation wherein said missionary might be a hero that acted with some foolishness or a fool that heroically gave his life. Our imaginations only have two colors. We know nothing of hues, tinctures, and shades. The liberal response has been, largely, “white”, ironically, from the position of white privilege. I think we can grant that most missionary endeavors are “white” too. That’s another discussion for another time. But the sheer hypocrisy of these people to disdain a young man for giving his life for people because he thought that life could be better for them is gagging to me. Do they have no imagination to think that not everyone on that faraway island wants to be there? Do they really think that it is a world where there is no patriarchy, rape, and domestic abuse? Do feminists really think that it’s a world of equality? And they laud the notion of keeping people isolated?

You may talk about colonialism all you like, but it’s clear you have no clue what you’re talking about, Progressives, if you think that is relevant to the missionary’s action. You do not care if a young girl has no education on a distant island because you would rather castigate a brave young American Christian than put yourself in harm’s way for her freedom. You think you’re brave because you “like” an instagram post of someone marching on a street in a distant city.

The progressives in America don’t even deserve the label of “liberal”. Their attitudes and views aren’t liberal. They’re boorish, provincial, selfish, incoherent, idiotic, and so inconsistent with actual liberalism that their closed-minded tribalism can hardly be matched by any other religion or ideology in the civilized world except, perhaps, the violent and superstitious Sentinelese.

Bob Bixby is the Lead Pastor of Redeemer Church of the Silicon Valley. Bob grew up in the Central African Republic and France and brings to us twenty-two years of pastoral experience in multi-cultural settings. After studying in France, Bob returned to his birth country to study for the ministry. It was there that he met his life-long companion and together they returned to Europe where Bob served as a pastor for ten years. In 2002, Bob became the founding pastor of a church plant that grew to become a thriving ministry. After twelve years of hard work and loving relationships, that church, Morning Star Church, sent Bob with their blessing to start a church in Fremont. Bob and his wife have two school-age children and a dog! Bob enjoys reading, hiking, sports, history, coffee, and family time. He is thrilled about the opportunity to live in California! 

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5 Critical Reminders for Modern Christians on the Death of John Allen Chau

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Five Critical Reminders for Modern Christians on the Death of John Allen Chau

Since news of the killing of John Allen Chau at the hands of Sentinelese islanders became public, the blog and Twittersphere have been ablaze with opinions about the actions that lead to his death. Should Chau be lionized as an heroic Christian martyr, or should his memory be pilloried as a reckless, colonizing zealot? Secularists are predictably critical of Chau’s actions, but what is surprising is the response of many Christians. Chau has been criticized for not respecting the Sentinelese desire to be left alone, for breaking the laws of India, for exposing the islanders to new diseases, and for being a white influenced colonizer.

Chau is not the first Christian missionary to be killed while trying to evangelize a people group that was hostile to outsiders. The death of a missionary is not new. What is new is the response of the public to this tragedy. Sitting on my desk is a copy of the January 30, 1956 issue of LIFE magazine. On the front cover is a large picture of Henry Ford II, but in the upper right corner is the caption, “Missionaries’ Jungle Martyrdom: Diaries and Exclusive Photos.” Inside is a multipage layout highlighting the lives and deaths of Jim Elliot and his teammates on Palm Beach in Ecuador. The LIFE article highlighted the gospel ministry of the missionaries and the good works they were engaged in before their deaths. The stark contrast in the response, just 62 years later in a society in which 75% of people still claim to be Christian, is startling.

There is much we don’t know about the work of John Allen Chau (Since this article was written, more has come out about Chau’s preparations and methods. See Ed Stetzer’s post for more information). We know that he was an Asian American graduate of Oral Roberts University and a native of Vancouver Washington. He was trained and commissioned by the Kansas City based missions agency, All Nations, and that he went to the island understanding the dangers that awaited him. I will withhold judgement on the wisdom or foolishness of his methods, but Chau’s mission, ultimate death, and public response can be instructional for the Church moving forward.

  1. The Christian Faith is a Missionary Faith.

Every new generation of Christians needs to be reminded that the Church of Jesus Christ is a Church with a mission. A recent Barna survey revealed that 51% of American Christians had never heard of the Great Commission while another 30% could not articulate its meaning.[1]The eternal purpose of God is that some from every, tribe, tongue, people, and nation will surround the throne of Christ, saved by the blood of the Lamb. This is a future reality through the obedience of Christians to Christ’s commission to go and make disciples of the nations.

 Christians go for the glory of God and the good of men. Because Christians believe in the exclusivity of Jesus Christ, the only hope of salvation for mankind is through hearing and believing the gospel. “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Love for God and love for man demands that Christians proclaim the gospel to those who haven’t heard.

It is understandable that an unbeliever would criticize missionary zeal. It is unthinkable however, for a Christian who has been rescued from eternal death through the gospel, to look with distain on the missionary effort to take the gospel to the unreached. Instead, Christians should rejoice with Isaiah and the Apostle Paul, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news” (Romans 10:15).

2. The Christian’s Authority is Christ the King. 

Christians acknowledge governmental authority but pledge allegiance to one King only. While Christians are commanded to submit to governmental authorities (Rom. 13:1) , and as much as possible to live peaceably in society (Rom. 12:18), Christians ultimately answer to a higher power. When Peter was commanded by the authorities of his day to refrain from preaching the gospel, his response was simple, “We must obey God rather than people” (Acts 5:29).

The Great Commission is founded on Christ’s authority, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18). The commands of Christ will at times run contrary the laws and decrees of governments and rulers. The Christian who obeys God over the rulers of this world should be prepared for the consequences in the same way that Peter, Paul, and even Christ were. The call to follow Christ is a call to take up our cross (Mk. 8:34).

3. The Christian Mission is a Dangerous Mission.

The call to follow Christ is the call to embrace risk. Persecution, hardship, and death have been no strangers to disciples of Christ. John Allen Chau understood this. He narrowly escaped death on his first attempt to contact the tribe. An arrow fired by a young man on the beach pierced his Bible and he was forced to swim over a mile to safety. That night in his journal he penned, “God, I don’t want to die. Who will take my place if I do?”[2]He wrote, “I hope this isn’t one of my last notes but if it is ‘to God be the Glory.’ ”[3]Chau’s letter to his parents before his departure sums up what should be the heart of every Christian, “You guys might think I’m crazy in all this but I think it’s worthwhile to declare Jesus to these people.” [4]This is the attitude of Jesus Christ himself who “for the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). The Christian embraces the risk of the mission because he understands that it is not death to die. As Jim Elliot wrote, “he is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”[5]

4. Christians are Called to Serve with Wisdom.

While Christians should not run from risk, they are called to be wise. Before Jesus sent out his disciples he charged them, “Look, I’m sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16). Jesus himself judiciously decided when to speak plainly and when to speak in parables to hide his meaning from those wishing to do him harm. Paul used the legal rights afforded to him to avoid death and persecution when possible. The Christian mission is not a death wish even though death may result.

I do not wish to speculate on the wisdom of Chau’s strategy and timing. Perhaps more information will be put forward to shed light on his planning and thought process that led him to choose that time and that method to attempt to reach the Sentinelese. But it must be said, that Christian missionaries should use the means available to them to determine the wisest course of action in fulfilling Christ’s command. Prayer, planning, cultural preparation, language learning, and even health and security training should precede cross cultural missions endeavors. Christ’s mandate to go does not give license to recklessness any more than our culture’s disapproval gives permission to disobedience.

5. Christians Should Expect to be Misunderstood.

I will admit that it stings a bit when I read between the lines and realize that what the world hates about John Allen Chau is what they would also hate about me. I too believe that the world is dying and in desperate need of the saving message of Jesus Christ. I too believe that the authority of Jesus Christ supersedes the dictates of any government. I too believe that the salvation of the lost and the eternal glory of Jesus Christ is worthy of my very life. What the world calls foolishness, the Word calls discipleship.

One of the harshest criticisms of John Allen Chau was that he was spreading white colonialism through his missionary efforts. The history of missions certainly has chapters that contain shameful examples of colonial abuses, but these abuses do not define the Christian mission. The critics of Chau aren’t critiquing some hidden desire on his part to make the islanders more American. They are critiquing his desire to share the gospel itself. This criticism betrays a misunderstanding of the gospel mandate. It was this same misunderstanding that prevailed over Christ’s ministry. Yes, Christ is the King and he rules over a kingdom, but his kingdom is not like the kingdoms of this earth. Gospel missionaries are not to be colonizers from the West to the rest, but are the ambassadors of a new and better Kingdom. God’s Kingdom does not destroy cultures, but perfects them. Revelation 7 reveals the throne room of God filled with people of every language and culture on earth—distinct, but washed in the blood of the Lamb.

As our culture rejects the authority of God, we must be prepared for the world to reject us. Christians are not immune from the temptation to desire the praise of men over God. Christ encourages us that if the world hates us, it hated him first (John 15:18). While there will be more to learn from the life and death of John Allen Chau in the days to come, for now Christians should be encouraged that it is our privilege as well to share in the suffering and reproach of Christ.

 

[1]https://www.barna.com/research/half-churchgoers-not-heard-great-commission/

[2]https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/24/world/asia/north-sentinel-island-missionary-killed.html

[3]https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2018/11/21/american-believed-dead-after-encounter-with-remote-indian-tribe-hostile-outsiders/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.c62fc2bda5eb

[4]Ibid.

[5]https://www2.wheaton.edu/bgc/archives/faq/20.htm

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Know God, Then Serve Him.

“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

This familiar passage that calls us to stop, listen, and wait for God, is a missionary passage. The Psalmist continues, “I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”

How thrilling to read that in the midst of trials and setbacks, the purpose of God is going forth. His Spirit will accomplish his appointed work of exalting the Lord of hosts among the nations. And yet, counterintuitively, we are commanded to be still. Being still cuts against the grain of most missionaries. We are the doers. We are the evangelical activists. Missionaries are the ones who scheme and strategize and do. Before all this “doing,” God calls us to stop:

“Be still.

Know I am God.

I will be exalted among the nations.

I will be exalted in the earth.”

This pause in the midst of our action changes everything. He will be glorified, not because of my frenetic pace, but because he is God. We serve him not to achieve some objective, but because he is God. We seek to publish his beauty and glory because he is worthy of it. Before we can declare any word, go anywhere, or do anything, we must be still and know him. In the work of world evangelism, God is inviting us to join him in his mission, not the other way around.

Learning languages and cultures is hard work. The tasks of evangelism, discipleship and church planting are laborious. Waging warfare against the Prince of Darkness is dangerous and deadly. But for the missionary, the most profitable and the most difficult work is often the work spent alone with God in prayer. Know God, then serve him.

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Letter from William Carey to his father (Jan 12, 1788)

Dear Father,

To negotiate between God & men is a weighty important work. Indeed, let me have a share in your private address to the Great Eternal and never let you or I cease to act for God in our spheres with indefatigable industry, till we can’t find a soul that’s destitute of Christ in all the world. The thot of a fellow creature perishing forever should rouse all our activity and engage all our powers. The God we serve deserves all our hearts and souls. Tis ever sordid and bane to care for none but ourselves. Tis our Divine Jehovah that is dishonoured by sin. The enemy of God prevails and reigns with imperious rage, and souls are perishing. The matter is desperate. It calls for us to live and act alone for God.

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Pirates, Life Rafts, and Leading in Crisis: 7 Leadership Lessons from Captain Phillips

*The inspiration for this post comes from the movie “Captain Phillips” and not the actual actions of Captain Richard Phillips who’s real life actions are a matter of some dispute and an obligatory lawsuit that naturally accompanies someone making a lot of money off a story and others not.  

I know I’m late to the game when it comes to commenting on the genius of the 2013 movie Captain Phillips staring Tom Hanks and Barkad Abdi, but this movie has captured my leadership imagination like few others. Captain Phillips is the extraordinary true story of Captain Richard Phillips, and his harrowing tale of survival after the ship we was captaining was taken over by Somali pirates.  I’ve never captained a ship, and I’ve never been captured by pirates, but like any leader I’ve found myself in leadership situations in which for the moment at least, being captured by pirates would have seemed like sweet relief. All leaders face crisis.  All leaders face seemingly impossible situations, yet what we do in those tight places sets strong leaders apart.  In the movie we see seven critical responses that all leaders who find themselves in impossible situations need to remember.

Don’t allow the crisis to distract you from your daily obligations. When crisis comes as it inevitably does, there is a tendency to neglect the day-to-day responsibilities of leadership and summon all one’s energy to meet the crisis of the moment.  The problem is that by neglecting daily responsibilities, we are often simply creating additional crises on top of the new one. Instead, leaders must identify the new crisis, maintain progress toward previously defined organizational objectives, while looking for opportunities to re-prioritize objectives that will allow the organization to meet the needs of both the urgent and the ongoing. Captain Phillips identified the potential problem of the approaching pirates, began adjusting his speed and course, and re-prioritized the need for a pre-scheduled fire drill, which put his team in position to meet the growing threat.

When you don’t know what to do, take the next logical step. In moments of crisis we often face the temptation of “analysis paralysis.”  Captain Phillips found himself and his crew defenseless in the face of impending doom, but rather than panic he took the next logical steps. Prepare for the worst, pray for the best, and act in the moment.  Phillips’ seemingly insignificant actions, which ranged from faking a conversation with the Navy to increasing speed and creating a large wake, actually made the difference between survival and failure.  Your actions now will prepare the way for success later.

Take responsibility for those you are leading. We are responsible for those we lead. As the pirate takeover became inevitable, Phillips immediately put himself between his crew and the threat.  In the movie version of the story, we see Captain Phillips routinely put himself at risk to preserve his crew.  He knew where responsibility lay and claimed it. It is easy to shift the blame for success and failure to those farther down the chain, but leaders who thrive in adversity understand where the buck stops and embrace it. Leaders take responsibility for outcomes and leaders take responsibility for the best interest of those they serve. Taking responsibility doesn’t necessarily mean falling on the sword.  Sometimes a responsible leader has to make tough decisions that are best for the organization and in the long-term best interest of the individual, but in the short run are painful and seem uncaring.  Shirking necessary decisions is not leadership, is not responsible, and is not loving.

Stay calm and look for a way out. Embracing responsibility doesn’t mean accepting failure as inevitable.  There is always a way out.  As the situation grew more and more bleak, Captain Phillips maintained his composure and maintained his wits. Time after time windows of opportunity for escape were lost, but he kept looking for his opening. Leaders face crises with humility and clarity.  You can’t think clearly when you are stressed out, worn out, and defeated.  Take time to pray, rest, refresh yourself and keep going.

Don’t forget the human touch. Crisis always brings change and change can be painful. The movie’s last scene captures this reality perfectly.  Leaders know this from experience.There is a temptation in the midst of crisis to protect yourself from the pain by detaching yourself from the human element of the situation.  Captain Phillips instead embraced the humanity of his crew and his captors. In the midst of assault even, he looked to build bridges of humanity that played a role in his deliverance. Don’t give in to the temptation of dehumanizing others by reducing them to flat characters with simplistic motives.  Whether you are in a legal battle, a downsizing situation, a hostile corporate takeover, or are literally a hostage, remember the humanity and value of the people you are working with (or against).

Extend the narrative. Jerry Rogovoy wrote it best, “Time is on my side.” Now play it again in your head, but this time in a Mick Jagger voice, and it will stick.  Captain Phillips understood what all hostage survivalists teach—stay alive.  Organizationally that may at times feel worse than death.  There are times when the pressure of trying to keep a dying organization alive may feel unendurable, but extending the narrative allows you more time to understand the situation, regroup, revision, and relaunch.

Don’t give up hope.  The hardest thing to do is to keep going when hope is lost.  Where I live in northern Wisconsin, we are in the midst of the coldest, longest winter in memory. It is the end of March and the calendar says Spring, but it’s snowing outside and was 23 degrees this morning. It feels like Spring will never come, but I know that I am one day closer to Summer than I was yesterday. The snow will melt, the thermometer will rise, and I will feel the sun again.  Captain Phillips was able to survive and lead his crew to safety because despite what he felt, he didn’t lose hope.  Leaders must be courageously hopeful pointing the way to a better future.

 

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The Difference Between North Korea and South Korea

The Difference Between North Korea and South Korea

This photo of Korean peninsula at night illustrates the need for the gospel in North Korea. And yet notice that there are beacons of light in the North as well. Word is leaking out that the Church is growing and the Light is spreading even in the darkness. Pray for courageous, creative, and Spirit-powered ministers of the gospel to the darkest corners of the world.

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Languages and dialects of the Middle East and Central Asia

Languages and dialects of the Middle East and Central Asia

This map highlights the challenges that Central Asia faces regarding the advance of the Good News.

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