The modern Western mission movement has seen huge success over the past 200 or so years. But now, partly to the efforts of that movement, the world has changed dramatically and if Western missions are to remain relevant they will need to make some radical changes. I would like to suggest that there are three areas in particular that we need to pay attention to.
Destinations in China
Though Beijing (17%) and Shanghai (14%) attracted the lion’s share of international students in 2016, there was a notable spread throughout the country.[i]
Reasons for coming
Due to a combination of diverse factors, China will continue to grow as a destination for international students. It has some of the world’s top universities,[ii] boasts a great diversity of institutions and programs, and is much cheaper than western destinations.[iii] Well over 800 colleges and universities in China accept international students,[iv] with many offering accessible undergraduate and postgraduate courses entirely in English.
Mourning is something that many western cultures don’t do well. Unlike our Mediterranean neighbours, or more expressive people from tropical climes, we think holding our feelings in check is a Good Thing. “Stiff upper lip, old boy.”
Christians are often even less inclined to mourn than others, because we have a sure and certain hope that our departed have gone to be with Jesus. We use terms like “promoted” to express our positivity. I was even once told by a family member at a funeral that we were not going to cry, because it was a happy day of celebration for our friend who had gone to a better place. Which left me with a lot of grief and no outlet for it. Sometimes we need to express our emotion and have a good wail.
In the evangelical world, short-term mission trips are incredibly important. They exist as almost a right of passage for many students and other young Christians; joining a short-trip to Africa, or somewhere is one of the things you do before you settle down and get on with life. For many established mission agencies, short-term mission trips comprise one of their main publicity and recruitment tools and then there is a whole load of organisations whose whole purpose is facilitating short-term trips. Whatever the benefits or otherwise of short-term mission, you cannot ignore it.
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6
The word incarnate means “to become flesh.” Jesus did this, literally. He laid aside his rights to godliness and took on our fragile human form – living, laughing, loving, bleeding, dying.
In a profound reversal, we the Church also use the term ‘incarnate’ to describe OUR life-long process of growing in Christlikeness. But what does it look like to become like “the Word made flesh?” (John 1:14)
The Spirit blows across the pages of Acts, blazing in his enthusiasm for Jesus. His first appearance is in 1:2 in which we discover that it was the Spirit that inspired Jesus. In chapter 2 the Spirit ignites a fire that rages through the rest of the book. He brings courage and boldness to timid disciples, clarity to Peter, discipline to a wayward couple – and so on throughout the book. Lives are changed (usually for the better although Ananias and Sapphira may have a different take). People are healed. Evil spirits are thrown out. And the infant church grows.
Caring for ourselves can seem selfish but if we don’t then we can’t sustainably serve those around us. Self-care should in no way negate Jesus’ call to self-denial nor be an excuse not to work hard, rather it helps maintain our resilience and perseverance in the midst of the challenges of serving others. It’s not just a means to an end though; God simply loves us and our well-being matters to Him. So, here are 10 resolutions to help us stay well and stay faithful plus some suggested verses to meditate on:
Wearing her hijab, “Mounia” from Yemen heard the gospel and felt the love of God in our international church because of her Rwandan classmate’s invitation and her husband’s permission. Without Arabic or visa for Yemen, instead of flying to Sana’a, we walked two meters to welcome her. From a country with 0.03% evangelicals, could she take the gospel back home?[i]
“Lazaro” from Tanzania said with resolve, “While in China, I want to fill my life with the Word of God.” He’s an active member of our fellowship, here with his wife and two little daughters, struggling with racism towards Africans, yet hungry to grow and return home equipped as a disciple of Christ. Could he strengthen the church in Tanzania?
The author of Acts introduces the narrative by pointing back to his first volume: ‘In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach’ (Acts 1:1). Acts, in contrast, tells us some of what Jesus continued to do and teach through His disciples. This present participle is vital, because the tacit assumption is that the ministry of the disciples, in the power of the Spirit, is a continuation of the ministry of Jesus. And His ministry continues today through us, as we are work in collaboration with the Spirit.
I am beginning a series of blog posts on Acts of the Apostles. They will be a series of reflections as I seek to draw some lessons from the biblical text and apply them to the contemporary ‘mission scene.’ You may agree with the points I make – but equally you may want to question some of the things I write. This is healthy and I welcome your comments and feedback.
Other better scholars will (no doubt) offer different perspectives, but I am approaching the text primarily as a missiological narrative rather than as doctrinal or historical accounts. Acts is an account of the spread and growth of the early church, from ‘Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1:8). There are four main actors throughout the text: Jesus (1:1) and the Holy Spirit (1:8), the ‘Word of God’ and the Christian community. Off stage – in the wings directing everything – is the Father. The director and actors work in collaboration throughout the text as the story unfolds.