Questions Asked About Our Mission – Difficult Places (Part 3)

What are you referring to when you talk about planting churches in difficult places? (Part 3 of 3)

Friendship is powerful and opens closed doors.  When you have proven that you genuinely love someone they generally will listen, even if they reject what we share, and some will.  Let’s be honest about it; not everyone wants to believe even when they see genuine examples of Christ’s love at work.

As the Holy Spirit provides opportunity for friendship we find ourselves in a place of influence to share the love of God.  This reality is so crucial to reaching people no matter where we find them or what culture they reflect.  Authentic friendship, it cannot be some substitute built around winning them to our Christian faith.  Others will smell that motive out long before we get close enough to be friends.  And if they don’t, one day, when it is revealed, they will be scarred to the point that makes them cynics who are virtually unreachable.  Friends influence friends; that is a reality.  It cannot be forced or simply a front; it has to be real … you have to care about each other.Photo1_3

One important thing we believe is that those with whom we share the Gospel will have the opporutnity to make a good decision about their interest in the Gospel.  How is this accomplished?  We do this by being a good friend in their life.  We know that every person has to make their own decision concerning Jesus; we simply cannot believe for them.  Thus, it is important that our friends are able to understand the message of the Gospel.  If they understand the message of Christ then they can make better decisions about Jesus.  And when they can both hear and experience the Gospel it provides the listener with even more ability to make life decisions.

We see these places as difficult because they require everyone to learn, grow, and change.  When we say everyone we mean all who are involved:  our missionaries, the followers of Jesus who join them in this work, and those to whom we have come to share the Gospel with.  As we intersect (converge) through everyday life situations we peel away one layer at a time until trust is built.  It is like taking down layers of past experiences and opinions, one layer at a time, until the real person can be seen and the true Gospel can be found.

Once trust is built we simply live the Gospel and allow the truth of Christ to go to work.  We share our faith in natural ways, never hiding who we are, while being sensitive to the people around us.  Trust grows and with it understanding and the love of God which changes everything.

The difficulty is more in the learning process than anything else.  It is in the breaking down of barriers that keep relationships from developing.  It is the willingness of those involved to do the hard work of love that dispells the bias of misinformation.  We then can patiently work through the things that divide us and grow in our appreciation for one another.  Then the Gospel does the rest and, just like in any other situation, people have to make their own choices in what to do with what they discover.

Missionaries do this everyday where they work as they cross cultures and share the good news of Christ’s love with those they live with.  Today America is a mission field and needs us to use such approaches as we establish new communities of Christ in new places to reach a new people.  This is what we mean when we say that we want to establish new churches in difficult places.  It is what Jesus has called us to do.

* The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author at the time of writing.  They do not reflect in any way those of the organizations to which they belong to or affiliated with.


Questions Asked About Our Mission – Difficult Places (Part 2)

What are you referring to when you talk about planting churches in difficult places?

(Part 2 of 3)

ImageOur personal focus (Kandy and myself) is the people of the University District Villages of America. That is a mouthful to read and say, but each of the words is important and descriptive of the people Christ has called us to. One day I will write what I have discovered about each one of them, but that isn’t the focus of this series of blogs.

In short, we are interested in being an influence to other influencers. In the university district you will find there are many different types of people who make up the variety of villages within its boundaries. They are the men and women who work in and around the university, who are the influencers of others: the professors, administrators, teacher assistants, admin staff, coaches, security staff, and business people who serve the school. It is a vast and diverse group of people with some common ideals that tie them together.

Few would argue the thought that the American University is one of the most influential places in our culture. Daily it influences the people of this village. Their influence is felt in the cities where they are located. You even feel their influence across the states where they are established. If you pay attention and follow the dots you will see the influence of the American university around the world. The university is a place of great influence.

OK … so the university is a place of influence, what is the big deal? The big deal is that in all of it’s influencing, the American university is often void of the influence of God. There is a spiritual presence on the campus, but it isn’t always the spirit of God that is present. This means that in all the influencing going on through the university, very little is being influenced by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This grieves our hearts as we see a people who often times feel marginalized by the church because they hold a very different worldview. There it is again, that word “different,” a word that sometimes scares us because we don’t understand what “different” really is or what it means.

Let me say something important. The problem isn’t that churches have not been planted before in these areas or that churches do not exist there today. We have planted churches and some have done well, especially when we are talking about establishing churches to reach the students of the university. Unfortunately, more often than not, it seems that most of the churches have struggled to make it and fail in the process. Our hearts are glad for those who are reached through these works. We also recognize there are many people in the universtiy districts who for various reasons remain unimpacted by them. Could it be as simple as we don’t understand them and they don’t understand the Church?

Through Converge Group we want to treat the universtity as a mission field like we would any foreign mission field we send a missionary to. It is important to discover the nuances of any culture so that you understand them and can communicate better with them. We are talking about loving people enough to know them. This is what missionaries do all across the world.

We feel that we can best impact the people of the university village by taking time to get to know them first, genuinely care for them, and become part of their world. These are some of the difficult steps that must be taken when crossing cultures and finding ways to share love with others. It is what growing in love for your neighbor is about.

Some may want to argue that this involves compromise and we shouldn’t cross that line. It isn’t that we deny our faith or compromise ourselves in terms of our walk with Christ. This is about the truth of Scripture rather than the expressions of worship that are dictated by tradition and culture. It is about returning to the basics of truth found in God’s Word rather than living out the ideas of people on how to live that truth. We are simply looking at doing what missionaries do: take the message of the Gospel and find ways to live it in the context of the culture of the people.

* The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author at the time of writing. They do not reflect in any way those of the organizations to which they belong to or affiliated with.

Musings from the Great Northwest – Part 3

ImageOur travels through the Northwest area of America brought great encouragement as we met some wonderful people. People, who with open hearts, welcomed us warmly as they shared their lives with us. As we broke bread and discussed the lives we each live friendship was born and Christ’s love was evident.

We walked into a room filled with people neither Kandy nor I knew. There were some busy serving food to those who had come in off the street, others were painting pictures for those dining to watch as the image unfolded, and another played the guitar and sang softly in the background. Conversations took place around us; some were loud while others softly spoke to one another. You could hear laughter from some and saw a tear welling up in another. Church was taking place as this body gathered together from the streets of Freemont. Love was given and received as people experienced the Gospel.

Across town we found ourselves once again in a new place with people we didn’t know. The table was quickly filled as everyone took their seats. It was a tight fit as we squeezed more bodies into the space than it was intended to hold. But that didn’t seem to matter. We laughed at the stories being shared, enjoyed the food that had been prepared, and found new friends with whom to share love. Rob, Sheila, and Ethan are fun people to get to know. They are full of life and willing to share it with others. They opened their home to us and treated us as friends. What better reception could you ever receive?

A few hours to the south on the east side of Portland, it was loud with conversations taking place all around us. We gathered in this public place with a group of young men and women. The eight of us ordered our food and the drinks with which to wash it down. We talked about our lives as we got to know one another. The discussion moved from funny tales of the past to impressions of the places we had visited and the people we met along the way. Soon we found ourselves sharpening one another as we talked about the things of God and what He had done in our lives. With open arms they received us and treated us as their friends. Who could ask for anything more?

And so, we once again discovered that wherever we find ourselves in this world it is the people who make the difference in a place. It’s not the mountain ranges on each side with peaks majestic standing tall, nor is it the bodies of water that bring peace with each lap of the waves. The buildings and bridges add to the landscape and are beautiful to look at. But in the end, when you reflect back on your time spent in an area, you realize that it’s the people that make the difference.

We found the beauty of God’s people and how His Church is still the greatest witness to our world when it is functioning in healthy actions of love. There were some who walk with Him today and know the power of His love and others who have yet to realize the truth of the gospel. We grew together and community took root as love began to change us.

Each one gave us something that no one else could give; a priceless exchange of love and life. Whether in Portland or Seattle, we found people who were ready to love and willing to give of themselves. With family and friends we experienced the love and care that occurs when people come together.

In the Northwest the need is the same as it is in the Midwest (and I suspect time will reveal it to be the need everywhere we travel): people need to see and experience the true church walking in Christ’s love. We can complicate this whole thing to the point where it immobilizes us from any activity that can provide what is needed. This is easy enough to do and our enemy is glad to try and make it happen. We can also choose to live another way, the way of Christ’s love where community is grown and disciples are matured.

Thank you, Northwest America, for being an encouragement to us as we continue in the journey of faith to the mission Christ has called us to!

* The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author at the time of writing. They do not reflect in any way those of the organizations to which they belong to or affiliated with.