Maintaining the Vision
In April, 1988, I was speaking at a small Alliance church in Mt. Vernon, Ohio. One afternoon, a gentleman from the congregation asked me to accompany him to the luncheon meeting of the local Kiwanis Club of which he was a long-standing member. The featured speakers of the day were a mother/daughter team. The girl (we'll call her Jane), who was twelve years old, was trying out for the U.S. gymnastics team for the 1992 Olympics. Her mother, who did most of the speaking, told us that Jane had worked her way from class 4 all the way to class 1 and was now performing at the elite level, at which there are less than 50 gymnasts in all of the United States. Already, it had taken a tremendous toll upon her and the whole family. Jane practiced 24 hours a week after full days at school. She had already been to a bone specialist five times because of pains in her body. Her other two siblings often had to wait until 8 or 9 o'clock at night so the family could have dinner together. The parents hardly saw each other because the other or the father went with Jane everywhere. And it cost them between $9-15,000 per year.
As I listened with rapt attention to this story, I realized anew the tremendous capacity God has built into human beings to focus their attention and make tremendous sacrifices to achieve a certain purpose; sacrifices in their own lives, as in Jane's case, and in other people's lives, like Jane's parents, sisters and brothers. And all of this for something temporal. Jane's mother was brutally honest when, during a question and answer period, she said, "I don't know whether all this is worthwhile or whether we are even doing the right thing."
But then I asked myself, "What would happen if Christians used their tremendous potential for focusing their attention and making sacrifices to achieve, not a crown that is going to fade away, but one that will endure and is guaranteed to be the most important goal any one of us can ever have?
What goal? Global Vision. Let's review again the road we have traveled since we first began to re-draw our maps of the world.
We began by attempting to catch a vision of God's purposes for the nations; of the nations themselves as lost and poor; of our personal global responsibility to close the gap of unbelief and do something to participate in this purpose; and finally, of the basis for all of our actions-God's promise to glorify the name of Christ among the nations. Then we tried to flesh out what it means to obey the vision by breaking it down into two broad categories; those who will obey the vision by serving cross-culturally and those who, by deciding not to opt for cross-cultural ministries, automatically make a decision to stay and live counterculturally so as to work together as team members with those who go. Then we viewed countercultural living in three parts-intercession, giving, and refreshing and encouraging. In each case we identified some countercultural principles and steps by which we can translate those principles into action.
Now, that's a lot of information. As one person m my congregation remarked, even to work through one single application may take several months. But that's all right. It took Jane several years to work her way from class 4 to class 1. Show she has to master the elite level before she can even think of the Olympics. But here's the clincher: We will not be able to maintain the effort required to carry out our obedience to Global Vision, whatever commitment we may have made, without the vision clearly kept before us. That's what Jane's mother did all the time-she continually held before Jane the ultimate goal of the 1992 Olympics.
What is going to keep Global Vision before us? To help us maintain the vision, I want to suggest many practical opportunities, both individual and corporate, that are available. Try and pick at least one idea that you can begin to incorporate into your life. Different options will appeal to different people. But I'm sure there's something here for everyone.
In John 4:32, the Samaritan woman had gone into the village to tell all the people about this Messiah whom she had found. The disciples had come back from the village where they had gone to get food; they happened to come in on the tail end of the conversation and were immediately worried. What was Jesus doing talking to this woman? And how come He hadn't eaten anything? So they asked Him to eat. Jesus replied, "I have food to eat that you know nothing about" (v. 32). Then His disciples said to each other, "Could someone have brought Him food?" "My food," said Jesus, "is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work. Do you not say four months more and then the harvest? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields. They are ripe for harvest."
Notice the contrast. Jesus words were, "do you not say" and "I tell you." The disciples were saying, in effect, "Take it easy, guys! There's lots of time to sit back and relax. Don't get too excited about Global Vision." That's a culture-bound perspective. Jesus' response was a countercultural perspective: "That's what you say. But I say unto you, open your eyes and look!" That's the fundamental prescription for maintaining Global Vision. OPEN YOUR EYES AND LOOK. For the disciples, these words drew their attention to the hoards of Samaritans who were coming to see Jesus after hearing the woman's testimony. Jesus was saying, in effect, "You went to the village to get bread, this woman is bringing people." What does it mean for us today?
A) Short-term trips overseas.
In February of 1988 my sister-in-law, Premila, and her husband, Glenn, went with a Swedish evangelist from their church on an evangelistic mission to South India. When this particular evangelist takes people with him, it's not for a sight-seeing trip. He preaches in the big evening rallies, but he expects everybody in his tour group to go out in twos and threes into the surrounding villages during the day. Local pastors would lead these small teams into various villages. And so, Premila and Glenn ventured out every morning.
Many of these pastors, unfortunately, were not visionary people. They would often say to their groups, "Oh that village is too hard! Nobody will respond." Well aware of this, the Swedish evangelist had briefed his teams, "As soon as the pastor tries to dissuade you in this manner, insist on going into that very village!"
Now, my sister-in-law is an immaculate housekeeper. She doesn't tolerate dirt or disorganized situations very easily. But amazingly, after her return to Canada, she said to me, "Sunder, the dirt in the villages, stepping over open sewers and picking my way through mud holes didn't bother me in the least bit."
One morning, things were beginning to get a bit out of hand in a village meeting. Premila prayed for divine intervention in such a manner as to glorify Jesus' name. Just then, a blind woman came towards her and said, "Pray for me that my sight may be restored!" Premila had never faced a situation like that before. But she laid her hands on the woman and prayed. God healed her. Later on in the week Glen had the opportunity to pray for two little girls who were deaf from birth; God opened their ears.
When they came home, Premila summarized her whole experience there by saying, "Before I went to India I didn't believe the people overseas were open to the gospel. Missions has taken on a whole new meaning for me." That's one way you can open your eyes and look: seriously investigate the possibility of a short-term trip overseas, particularly where you can participate in some kind of ministry.
You might object: "But I'm not a public speaker! I can't give testimonies, particularly in strange places." You should talk to my sister-in-law. She would have said the same thing about herself before she went.
But even if you're not a "speaker," there are other ministry options you can keep in mind when considering short-term trips overseas. Many of you are skilled with your hands and can do maintenance and construction work. The Christian and Missionary Alliance and many other denominations frequently organize work teams to go overseas to work on desperately-needed maintenance and construction jobs on mission sites. Consider this as an option.
Others may say, "I'm neither a speaker nor do I work with my hands. I use my mind to earn my living." There are many options for you as well. Since 1962 the Mennonite Central Committee has operated a Teachers Abroad Program. In Africa alone they have placed hundreds of school teachers in short-term ministries overseas.
An interesting concept developing for doctors is the Christian Medical Clinic. Groups of dedicated doctors join forces and operate a clinic. Every year one of their members, with their family, serves oversea for a year, totally supported by the proceeds of the clinic. In this way, they don't have to draw upon any denominational mission funds at all. That's an option for doctors who want to open their eyes and look.
Are you a businessman? What kind of opportunities are there for ministry overseas? Who needs your expertise in managing people and money? Herbert Kane, in his book on becoming world Christians, tells this story.
I knew of an employee of Baxter Tavinol (a U.S. company) who found himself in Mexico City over a long weekend with nothing to do and nowhere to go. He had never been so bored in all his life. Next time he went to Mexico I gave him the name and address of a missionary in that city. He called the missionary on the phone and introduced himself. The missionary picked him up late Friday night, entertained him in his home and spent the weekend introducing him to various missions and churches in the city. That man was so thrilled with what he saw, that, when he made his next trip to Europe, he wanted the names and addresses of missionaries in the cities that he planned to visit on business. Now, wherever he goes, he makes it a point to contact the missionaries there and, through them, gets a glimpse of the Lord's work.1
For those of you who travel overseas on business, that's an excellent way to keep opening your eyes and looking.
Finally, if you're able, why not consider taking at least one vacation overseas, in a place where you can spend some time on a mission field and watch people work. If you have any doubt as to the value of this kind of investment in building Global Vision, talk to people in your congregation or neighborhood who have tried it.
Of course there are many of us who will never be able to go overseas whether for financial or for health reasons. How do we, in such situations, respond to Jesus' command to open our eyes and look? I am reminded of the well-loved hymn, "Open my eyes," the first verse of which says, "open my eyes that I may see." The second verse says, "open my mind that I may read." Here's another effective way we can obey Jesus' command to open our eyes.
One would think, with North America's abundant access to books and information via multi-media channels, that we would be among the best-informed people when it comes to world affairs. But actually the opposite is true. Kane relates a humorous, yet tragic, story about going to the post office in a major city in the U.S. to send a parcel to somebody in Singapore. The lady didn't know how many stamps to put on the letter, so she fished out a big book and began flipping back and forth trying to find Singapore. She was having a really hard time and getting frustrated. So Kane interrupted and said, "Pardon me, where are you looking?" "Under Africa," came the reply.
When it comes to situations outside our own little spheres of influence, most people in North America are largely illiterate, unconcerned, or both. That is an option simply not available to us as Christians in the light of everything we have learned about Global Vision.
Casual reading isn't enough. If we are to maintain Global Vision, we have to be prepared to read regularly and systematically on global issues. The following books and magazines are very useful for this purpose.
A good place to start is the two books I have referred to on numerous occasions in this book: David Bryant's In The Gap and With Concerts of Prayer. The small but powerful book by Sam Wilson and Gordon Aeschliman entitled The Hidden Half is a good follow-up. These three books, along with Herbert Kane's Wanted: World Christians are, in my view, minimum required reading to open our eyes and look.
Books can seem formidable for some people; also, a problem with books is you have to keep finding more books of this genre to read. Magazines serve to solve both problems. They are a lot less formidable to read and, because they are published regularly, are perhaps even more effective in maintaining vision.
For those in my denomination I recommend they start with the Alliance Witness. It includes a missions section that updates you on Alliance activities. Just reading that alone on a regular basis will open your eyes and maintain the vision, to some extent. (Others can substitute their own denominational magazine if it focuses on missions with any degree of regularity.) Or you may want to try the Global Prayer Digest. It follows a daily devotional format and is an effective way of bringing a world focus to your present devotional readings, which usually focus on personal growth issues. This magazine will help you focus your attention outward on some of the hidden peoples of the world. Then you may want to subscribe to World Christian magazine. Subscriptions for each of these three magazines is between $12 to $24 per year, a financial outlay well within everyone's grasp. (All the information you need to become a subscriber is found in the appendices of Bryant's In the Gap.)
Keep in mind that the purpose of "opening our eyes and looking" through either short-term trips or reading is not simply to accumulate information but to provide a framework for strategic action. The reason we need to open our eyes and look is so that we can maintain Global Vision and, therefore, continue whatever commitment God has laid on our hearts, either to begin preparing for cross-cultural service or in any one of the three areas of countercultural living covered in chapters 6-11.
But we can't do this alone. Global Vision is probably the one area of obedience where Satan will attack most vigorously in an attempt to derail us. Why? Because we are entering his domain and challenging his grip over the hidden peoples of the world and the poor. That's why we are going to need one another's help just as Jane needed her parents and siblings co-operation to stay on target for the 1992 Olympics. The following are some corporate opportunities for maintaining Global Vision.
The material that follows represents certain specific steps we have taken to help the congregation of Rexdale Alliance Church maintain their Global Vision. They obviously cannot apply directly to your particular situation. However, I decided to include this section in the hope that it may stimulate ideas in your mind for your particular church or para-church situation.
Read the insert marked "Join the World Christian Team" (Figure 2). The danger is that of losing the vision once we have finished this book. That's why we are forming a World Christian team in Rexdale Alliance Church. This team will meet approximately once a month at a mutually convenient time for the express purpose of stimulating and maintaining our specific commitments to either serving cross-culturally or living counterculturally. Members would share new perspectives and practical ideas that have helped them obey the vision as well as obstacles they are unexpectedly encountering in their progress. They can also pray for some of the specific issues that come up, although the primary purpose of the meeting is not prayer. When some members of this team eventually go overseas to serve cross-culturally, they will have a ready-made support team committed to pray, give, refresh and encourage them. Who can join? This is not a team just for super stars. It is for all those who have redrawn their world maps and have begun sailing, no matter how slowly they are moving or how close to shore they still are. Read this insert carefully in the light of what you've read and consider if involvement in a group like this wouldn't go a long way towards helping you maintain commitments you've made in terms of obeying Global Vision.
I also encourage young singles and young married couples to consider this seriously. It doesn't matter if you don't intend to serve overseas. Becoming a part of a team like this when you are young will make it that much easier to adopt countercultural lifestyle as you grow older. If you wait until you get married, settle down and have bought a home, car and have children, then it gets progressively difficult (and maybe even impossible) to change your lifestyle and aspirations. Remember BIG CHILL country. The earlier you start, the better. The World Christian team is one option to help each other maintain our vision
There are two other things we are planning to do on Sundays. Every Sunday morning, we will have a five-minute slot in our worship service entitled "Missions Moment." During this time we will draw attention to some specific point in the gap, bring people up to date with what's being done or needs to be done to close the gap at that point and then pray that God will endue His chosen servants with power to accomplish the mission. That way, the worship of our Lord will remain intimately tied to His Global purposes and we will never forget them.
Secondly, we have begun to realize that even one extended prayer meeting a month is hardly enough to cover the needs of our own missionaries, let alone the larger Alliance missions family, the hidden peoples and prayer for revival. So every Sunday evening we will be gathering for prayer from 5 to 6 p.m. before the evening sacrifice. We will focus our prayers on two specific areas-revival of God's Church worldwide and penetration of a few selected hidden people groups.
These are three formal corporate opportunities (in one particular local church) to help sustain Global Vision. Several informal opportunities already exist, such as the various types of growth groups in our congregation (the choir, the small group Bible studies in College and Careers, and the formal growth groups). One of the primary functions served by these growth groups is to enable people to pray for one another's needs and thus support and encourage one another. Remember, without fullness there will be no fulfillment. But whatever growth groups you're involved in, why not add to your prayer time a focus on closing the gap at some point where it is wide. In one growth group in our church, each member writes to a particular missionary and brings back information. So the group as a whole becomes increasingly aware of seven or eight missionaries.
Another excellent source of information for prayer, prepared by World Vision, is a bunch of 2 by 3 cards ($4.00 for the whole package) called Unreached Peoples. Out of the 17,000 unreached people groups they have selected 73. Each card has a little map on one side with some geographical details showing where a particular unreached people group is located. On the other side there are three to five key prayer requests so that this particular people group can be penetrated by the gospel. Each growth group, small or large, can invest $4.00 in one of these packets. Then each member of the group can take one card a week and maybe pray for that particular hidden people group. Slowly, you can work your way through all 73 cards. Without this kind of global aspect, growth groups can degenerate to "cloister" Christianity (a specific form of "pea sized Christianity").
This marks the end of the section tailored particularly for our specific congregation. The rest of the chapter is once again directed at the wider constituency.
Let's return to John chapter 4, when Jesus said, "open your eyes and look." They didn't. Throughout the rest of the gospels they showed an amazing capacity and inability to look and see beyond their own personal needs. It was not until the resurrected Lord opened their eyes to understand the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit of God came upon them in the Upper Room that they really began to believe and act to fulfill Global Vision. We know from Acts what a key role the Holy Spirit played in the fulfilling of the Great Commission.
The Holy Spirit provided the impetus to open up new avenues for the missionary mandate to be accomplished. To begin with, He came upon the 120 in the upper room and propelled them into the streets of Jerusalem thronging with people from many nations and tongues. Then in Acts 8, He came upon the Samaritans; in Acts 10 and 11 He orchestrated the conversion of Cornelius and came upon Cornelius and the Gentiles. In Acts 13, when Paul and Barnabas were well established in a local church, the Holy Spirit said, "Out! begin your first missionary journey!"
Not only did the Holy Spirit provide the impetus for new missionary thrusts, He also maintained the mission. In Acts 4 and 5, whenever Peter and John were challenged to shut up and stop preaching, the Holy Spirit filled them with boldness to enable them to reply, "You decide whether to obey man or God; we cannot help but speak that which we have heard."
Then in Acts 15, when the Christian Pharisees were trying to disrupt the whole missionary endeavour by insisting that Gentiles become Jews first before they could become Christians, it was the Holy Spirit who led James, Peter and the others to come up with a solution that preserved Jewish/Gentile unity without endangering the ongoing mission to both groups. It was the Holy Spirit that raised up elders of such maturity in the church at Ephesus that Paul could leave them behind and go on to Jerusalem.
That is the way it must be now. If we are to obey Jesus' command to open our eyes and look, one more thing must happen. Jesus must do for us what He did for those disciples: fill us afresh and repeatedly with the Holy Spirit in such a way as to keep Global Vision before us and propel us to sustained action. Only when the Spirit begins to take hold of us will we begin to see new avenues by which we can contribute to the purposes of God among the nations. He who has begun that work must also sustain and maintain it. For in the ultimate analysis, no sermon series or book will suffice; only the Spirit. Isn't it interesting that the story that precedes Jesus' command to open our eyes and look is the dialogue between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well, the one to whom He promised living water. In the context of that chapter, living water referred to salvation. But in many other places in Scripture, living water is a powerful symbol of the infilling of the Holy Spirit that can thrust us out for the fulfilling of God's purposes.
Some time ago, I attended a banquet in the city of Toronto to which the ambassador from an East Asian country (living in Toronto) had been invited. In order to properly introduce him, we needed appropriate information. His secretary, in giving his background, also volunteered four of his hobbies. They were golf, computers, painting and spirituality. I was immediately struck by the fact that spirituality was a hobby on the same level as golf, computers and painting! It strikes a chord too close to home for comfort, doesn't it. When it comes to obeying Global Vision, we tend to put it on a par with other hobbies. We'll give it time, if we can afford it, just like we do with golf, computers and painting. If we don't get around to it-too bad!
If there's one thing this book has attempted to accomplish, it's to destroy forever the option that Global Vision can be a hobby for Christians. And so I have to ask this very bothersome question. If, at the end of these 12 chapters, you say to me, "I am exactly the same as I was when I started chapter 1. I have not redrawn my maps, I have not begun to implement even one of the four different areas of serving cross-culturally or living counterculturally and I don't intend to. Also, I don't intend to follow any of the suggestions you've given to maintain the vision." If you are saying that, and I don't know that you are, what makes you think you belong to Jesus Christ in the first place? Only you can answer that question.
As the author of Hebrews said, "Brothers and sisters, I am persuaded better things of you and me, things that accompany salvation." I believe there are hundreds who have made commitments to begin to obey Global Vision in some way or another. Will you put the finishing touches on that commitment with a decision to do at least one of the things you've read in this chapter so the vision can be maintained?
Now to Him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey Him-to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen (Rom. 16:25-27 NIV).
1. J. Herbert Kane, Wanted: World Christians (Michigan: Baker Book House Company, 1986), p. 168.