Practical Mobilization: Orphaned No More

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The kingdom of God is like yeast…

Orphaned No More: Dreaming and Working for the Now and Not Yet Kingdom of God

By Shane Bennett

“It’s Sunday evening here in China and just two hours away from my hotel room, my son is getting ready to fall asleep for his last time in an orphanage. Tomorrow he’ll be an orphan no more.”

~ Written by a dear friend, April 10th, 2016

I’ve been wondering lately what the kingdom of God looks like and what the path is from here to there. It may be a little boy in China who didn’t fit and was cut free from all ties until someone found him and helped him find a place where he fits. After all, Paul said in Ephesians 1:5, “God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.”

Seriously? Great pleasure? That’s almost too good to be true. And maybe that’s one way to think of the kingdom of God. It’s his good pleasure worked out in real life on the earth.

Consider the Kingdom

If you grew up in church, as I did, the term “kingdom of God” has been in your psyche since you were young. It’s part of the insider vernacular, along with phrases like “bless her heart,” “love the sinner, hate the sin,” “glory” and “partake” (honestly, does anyone “partake” anything besides communion?) You know there’s something there, but the shorthand has become so common, the meaning is seldom considered.

Jesus said some confusing, amazing, earthy things about the kingdom of God. For starters: It’s at hand. Thoughtful Jews listening to him said, “What?!? We didn’t hear any explosions and the bad guys aren’t all dead. Are you sure you know what you mean when you say ‘kingdom of God’?” If they were surprised, I’d be arrogant to assume I won’t be surprised. But you and do I have the benefit of much time to consider the “kingdom of God is like” parables of Jesus.

A couple of them really connect for me these days.

Yeast and Dough

The kingdom of God is “like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.” For me this speaks of the unabating nature of the kingdom. It will permeate all. It will accomplish God’s purposes. It’s relentless.

Wheat and Weeds

With that hope in mind, I also appreciate the one about the wheat and the weeds. Look around or just half-way pay attention and you can see there’s a lot of nastiness at work in the world: evil, brokenness, oppression, injustice, sickness, longing, and despair. Yet somehow the farmer has it in hand. He’s not surprised, nor is he absent. His eye is keenly on the harvest. I don’t get it, but then that has never been the arbiter of reality. The farmer says, “I’ve got this.” I’m filled with (sometimes cautious) hope.

Living in the Middle

George Ladd helped us understand what Jesus taught, that the kingdom of God is both now and not yet. It’s here and it’s on the way. We live in the middle, with the heaviest of lifting having already been done, but much work to do and many dreams to dream before the day ends (or dawns).

C.S. Lewis also gives us some potent kingdom metaphors in several of his books: the melting snows in springtime Narnia, the “more real than real” diamond-hard grass in The Great Divorce, or one that almost always makes me cry when Aslan tells the children in the beginning of the last chapter of The Last Battle, “The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”

Dream with Me

Dream with me for a minute: What will we see when God has finally answered with a resounding “YES!” the prayer Jesus taught us to pray in Matthew 6:10, “Let your kingdom come, let your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven?”

What do you imagine the fullness of the kingdom of God on the earth looks like on that day? What does your neighborhood look like? Your house, your small group, your kids, your heart? Dream out beyond your situation. What does the world look like?

What comes to mind for you?

I imagine beauty and peace and justice. I dream about light and hope and cooperative productivity. But I confess, my dreams are vague and my imagination is anemic. And my participation in the kingdom’s advent is too often rather lame.

Just last week, I was working on a job for my wife’s business, cleaning out trash from an abandoned house. A little old lady came tottering down the alley, talking to no one we could see. She carried a bed spread still in original packaging and a small stuffed dog. She asked if she could poke through the trash we were loading onto the trailer. I didn’t know what to do for her and I didn’t care enough to try. Who knows how God may have wanted his kingdom to come that day. I’m pretty sure, though, in the kingdom that’s coming, she will not have been abandoned by her family, her husband will be true, and she won’t have to nick clothes from trash piles.

Serving in the Kingdom

Will you join me in the hard work of dreaming, announcing, and crafting the coming kingdom? It’s here now. As I write these words, I sense deeply that I am a forgiven child of the Most High God and that the words of Jesus I’ve been taught are words of life. We have hope; death is not the end. But the kingdom of God is also still on the way. We dream of an end to malaria, then work late nights in the lab searching for it. It’s on the way when we tell someone who’s never heard that we’ve found hope in Jesus. It’s on the way when we’re kind in word and deed to people like those Jesus was kind to. It’s on its way when we accurately identify our enemy and wield the power and authority of God to push back evil.

It’s an honor to be a kingdom apprentice with you, serving alongside intrepid sisters and brothers under the powerful leadership of a wise and good and relentless king.

If you’re willing, I’d love to hear your hopes and read about what images come to mind for you when you consider the fullness of God’s kingdom on earth.

» Comment on our website or Facebook page.

Coffee for Your Soul: Five Reasons You Can Have Hope for the World

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Coffee for Your Soul: Five Reasons You Can Have Hope for the World

By Shane Bennett

Ahh, coffee. The miracle bean. The juice of joy. The warm nectar of paradise! Unlike some people, I don’t need coffee, I simply enjoy it. Boy, do I. Opening a new bag of beans, the quick and effective work of the grinder, the aroma bloom when the hot water splashes onto the fresh grounds, and that first sip from a favorite mug. If you don’t drink coffee, this may all sound excessive and weird. Can I just say, “It’s never too late to start!”

If you do start, buy your beans from someone like my friend Steve whose new roastery is changing the lives of farmers all over the coffee-growing world.

What coffee does for me, though, is just a shadow of the effect hope has on my soul. Hope invigorates, inspires, and energizes. And, boy, do I need hope. Don’t you? Great kingdom work awaits us. Without hope, how will we engage it? Plus, we go to church with many who, though maybe looking, can’t seem to find reason to believe God is still at work in the world. We need to let them know that reason for hope abounds.

Here goes. Drink deeply, friends.

1. God’s purposes are certain.

If we believe the Bible and if we understand it correctly, we have reason for great hope. Those are two big “ifs.” I usually believe the Bible, mostly. But this is not without struggle. And understand it correctly? My confidence is less here. Even so, just looking at the bookends, which seem clear and plain, I am buoyed with hope.

The story opens with God telling Abraham and Sarah that it’s their lucky day: “You get land, kids, blessing, a great name, and the unfathomable honor of working with me to accomplish my purposes—to press the blessing of connection with Almighty God into every family on the planet.” At the other end of the bookshelf, John sees this stunning snippet of the consummation of all things: “There before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.”

John sees a picture of the ultimate fulfillment of the purposes God shared with Abraham: the redeemed from every family offering thanks and glory to God their redeemer. God has done it. That’s reason for hope!

2. Many things are better than they used to be.

Maybe you’ve heard something like this recently, “It is obvious to anyone with half a brain that the world is getting worse and worse. Evil is rising all around us and the Christian Church is losing ground. I can’t believe how bad things are getting.”

If you dare open your eyes and take your fingers out of your ears, it might seem like that’s an accurate picture of things. Basically, “The world’s going to hell in a hand basket.” If, however, we look a little deeper, we’ll find broad-scale amazingness! Let me highlight three things and point you to a more thorough discussion.

War and violence are both declining.

Of course bad things happen and may presently be happening to you, but according to J.D. King of the World Revival Network, “Archeologists and anthropologists have surmised that over 15% of society died violently in previous centuries. More recently this number has dropped down to 3%. In the 21st century, less than 1% have died a violent or war-related death.”

Abortion is still way too frequent, but the rate in the U.S. has declined almost every year since peaking in 1985.

Poverty is being beaten.

Max Roser says, “With the onset of industrialization world, poverty started its decline, and slowly but steadily a larger share of the world population was lifted out of poverty. And since 1980 world poverty declined from 50% to 21%—at the fastest rate in history.”

Looking forward, Jon Berkley asserts, “If developing countries maintain the impressive growth they have managed since 2000… [they] would cut extreme poverty from 16% of their populations now to 3% by 2030. That would reduce the absolute numbers by 1 billion. If growth is a little faster and income more equal, extreme poverty could fall to just 1.5%” (See J.D. King’s stunning article for thorough documentation on these statistics.)

Life expectancy grows.

Life expectancy in the U.S. has doubled over the past 200 years! Doubled! At the same time, infant mortality has gone down from 25% in the Industrialized West to now less than 4% globally!

Check out Dr. Brad Wright’s book, “Upside” for more “surprising good news about the state of our world.”

3. Jesus is bringing fresh hope to new peoples.

On the one hand, many groups (my super-cool tribe Frontiers and Missions Catalyst publisher Pioneers among them) are increasingly focusing on peoples among whom, as far as we can tell, nothing is happening for the gospel. On the other hand, God is also, through the current global refugee crisis, bringing people from unengaged areas right into access with the good news. It all looks very much like an illustration for Paul’s sermon in Athens! Many are reaching out and finding life!

4. The harvest force is growing.

Even as the gospel goes to new places, it is going in the hands and hearts of new ambassadors: Chinese believers taking the good news back to Jerusalem, Latin believers serving Muslims in North Africa, Nigerian friends bringing gifts from Africa to Europe—and the diminutive woman from China who came up to me after my sermon at a church near Pittsburgh, pointed her finger at me and said, “I’m a missionary to America from Hong Kong. God sent me here because you people are too materialistic!” Mea culpa; thank you, God.

Can I invite you to pray into this reason for hope? Jesus told us in Luke 10:2, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Join me and a growing number of believers in setting a repeating alarm on your phone for 10:02am. When it goes off, pause for a few seconds to obey Jesus and pray, “Father, send laborers into your bountiful harvest.”

5. God continues to use dopes like me.

Never ceases to amaze me. God took this beautiful creation and entrusted it to a couple who traded it away for a piece of fruit. Then he turns around and entrusts an apparently pretty big part of the rehab project to people like you and me. Sometimes I’m tempted to say, “You’d think he’d learn.”

But God is God. He has said he will bless all families and he has shown us the result of accomplishing that. In between, he whispers to you and me, “You are part of an epic story. I know you’re a mess, but I’ve got your back. If you want to, not only can you enjoy great hope, but you can join me in extending it to the rest of the planet.”

What a great God. What a great hope. What a wonderful time to be alive.

Facing a Task Unfinished [Official Lyric Video]

By Keith and Kristyn Getty

When you have five minutes and need a jolt of hope, grab some coffee and watch this amazing song.

TaskUnfinished lyric video

Reveling in the Cultural Kaleidoscope

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Kaleidoscope 3 from Flikr

Image: Rudolph Ammann / Flikr

Reveling in the Cultural Kaleidoscope: The Different, Beautiful, Broken Destiny of Every Culture

By Shane Bennett

The view out our kitchen window here in southern Colorado is so beautiful it could break your heart; a constantly changing variety of color, light, and brilliance. The residents of our fair valley, however, vary less. While handsome and strong like our mountain, we tend toward uniformity: white, agrarian, conservative, paunchy, and maybe a little suspicious of outsiders.

I love these people and I love living here, but sometimes I’m jealous of those whose lives blossom amid smells and sounds of people both foreign and familiar. I’m also a little concerned about what seems like growing xenophobia in my country, along with polarizing opinions that either our culture is the best and everyone should adopt it or our culture is the cause of all the world’s pain and we should abandon it.

Here’s a refreshing, hopeful way to think about you and whoever your people are, along with all the rest of the peoples of the world.

1. All Cultures Are Different

I bet you’ve heard a rookie short termer freshly back from ten days in a not-far-off land say with far more confidence than the time away would merit, “What I learned was that underneath our skin, we’re really all the same.”

Bless his heart. (And I mean that in the snarkiest way!) There are global commonalities. I get that. It’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t go a little soft headed over a baby. And everyone everywhere works hard to ensure that this breath is not their last breath. Beyond that, the reality is that we’re exceedingly, exceptionally, excruciatingly different. Not only are we not “all the same,” but underneath our skin we’re so different it’s surprising we haven’t all wiped each other out. It’s a testimony to the power of the way of Jesus that his gospel has spread, for the most part non-violently, from that little band of Galileans in Palestine, from culture to culture to culture until it intersected your family some branches up the tree.

I once bonded with a Muslim guy in India around our mockery of a particular Hindu celebration. It was the fellowship of the minority monotheists in the shadow of the mystifying but huge Hindu majority. We were brothers as we laughed at the odd and incomprehensible practices unfolding around us.

To be clear, I don’t advise this, nor do I think Jesus endorses it. I’m not proud about it. But it does nicely illustrate my point: Cultural differences are huge! Some so much so that they can make an Indian Muslim and an American white boy feel like we could double date to the prom.

Even nearby cultures and common language can conceal deeply different approaches to life. One time when our small organization was preparing to move from Holland to England, a kind Londoner agreed to answer our questions about how to thrive in the UK. One of us piped up, “If I want to greet someone I don’t know on the street. What is the appropriate thing to say?” To which our English tutor replied, perhaps before he could catch his tongue, “Greet someone on the street? Are you mad?!”

Underneath our skin, even if that skin looks pretty similar, we are all quite different.

2. All Cultures Are Beautiful

I was born into a rather American part of America, right in the heartland: rural Indiana. I love America. Some parts of American culture are flat-out impressive. For instance, Americans have a deep conviction that we can fix stuff or make it better. We’re reluctant to roll over and accept things as they are. And we do fix things. Sometimes the fixing causes messes we didn’t see coming, but on the whole this is good, and maybe even a cultural gift from the Creator.

Every culture has its gifts. Have you ever prayed with South Korean or West African believers? There is beauty there running deeper than style; a passionate fervency connecting disciple to master.

Maybe you’ve been on the receiving end of the winsome hospitality that characterizes many Muslim cultures. Some years ago a friend and I were hanging outside a little mosque in Konya, Turkey, wondering how many had shown up for Friday prayers. As the service let out, a dear old man found us, exhausted our combined 18 words of Turkish, and invited us home for lunch. Before we knew it we were sitting on his living room floor under the kind and attentive gaze of his wife, polishing off a delicious lunch of fried eggs and bread. She cleared the dishes but left us with our forks (a good sign almost everywhere!) When she returned from the kitchen she brought a still warm-from-the oven pan of baklava! Beaming, she set it down and said, “Afiyet olsun,” which roughly translates, “Dig in. This is likely going to be the best thing you’ve ever eaten!” It was.

Like the author of Hebrews, I lack time and space to speak of curries in Bradford, kindnesses in Pune, and the staggeringly beautiful creations of Italian sculptors, Dutch Masters, and French Impressionists to which I’ve been introduced by traveling. Nor do these limits allow for suitable reflection on the peace and pleasant calm that pervades a Malay kampong lying just beyond ear shot of the fervent, smoggy bustle of Kuala Lumpur.

A wise and good God has built beauty into each and every culture. These beauties are gifts for them of course, but also for us and perhaps mostly for him. As cultures are redeemed, these presents are unwrapped and spill forth their unique honor to the Creator.

3. All Cultures Are Broken

Since it seems unkind to speak poorly of other cultures and because Jesus was pretty blunt about the whole “log in your eye” parable, let me mention a way in which my own culture is broken. You can extrapolate from there!

Americans have a crazy love affair with stuff. We want cool, shiny things. As we get older we fully expect to acquire more, better, and bigger stuff. According to NPR, the average American house size has more than doubled since the 1950s. But even that’s not big enough for our stuff: Josh Becker says, “Currently, there is 7.3 square feet of self-storage space for every man, woman, and child in the nation. Thus, it is physically possible that every American could stand—all at the same time—under the total canopy of self-storage roofing.”

I’m not immune to this. The computer I’m typing this on stays serviceable longer than almost any other. Even so, whenever the wizardly engineers in Cupertino come out with a new version… Well, lust is probably not too strong a word.

We’re not alone in our brokenness. Stare into the searching eyes of a Gambian girl sold away by her family. Hold the hand of a young mom dying of AIDS. Stroll through the slums of India, or hike the concrete canyons of Houston. Even if your discernment is as stunted as mine, the brokenness is palpable. I don’t often pause to let that weight of lost beauty settle on me. Brokenness brings immeasurable pain. But somewhere, maybe deep, deep down, a spark of hope remains.

4. All Cultures Are Destined

Early on in the story of the Bible, God has a most amazing conversation with Abraham and Sarah. He talks of wealth and real estate, honor and lots of kids. He invites them into a partnership with the audacious promise of divine blessing being pressed into every family on the planet. Do you get this? God’s promise means that every culture is destined to experience his goodness. This includes the nasty ones we don’t like every bit as much as it includes our own!

In Acts 17:26, Paul, reflecting on the sweeping promises of God says, “he made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him. Yet he is not far from each one of us.” God decides when and where peoples will live, where cultures will be found. And he does this for his purposes, to keep his promise to Abraham, to press his blessing into all families.

In Colossians 1:19-20 Paul promises this will happen. In Revelation 7:9 John sees that it has. Bizarre, beautiful, broken cultures are destined for it: redemption. Let us delight, with great hope, in the diversity around us. Let us advocate for the beauty and inherent value of all peoples. And let us sow broadly this good news for which we have been made ambassadors.

The day is coming when, destiny reached, only beauty and fascinating variety will remain. With the Creator of this kaleidoscope of culture, we’ll have a good long time to explore, learn, and delight in this great work of God. Can you even imagine curry in the kingdom?

Subversive Mobilization: Mobilizers Go to the Movies

What missional movies do you love? Can you tell us about a favorite movie you use to inspire people to follow God and his purposes for the planet? Maybe it rings with redemption. Maybe it wrestles with cultural intrigue. Maybe it tells the story of people we might overlook but whom God loves dearly.

» Post your suggestions below  or email them to me, and look forward to an upcoming Missions Catalyst column, “Practical Mobilization at the Movies”!

Twelve Things You Can Do in 2016: A Dozen Ways to Dent the World

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Image: Flikr/Wikimedia Commons; Sedina Sand statue sculptor at work.

Twelve Things You Can Do in 2016: A Dozen Ways to Dent the World

By Shane Bennett

Don’t you love a big splash, a huge harvest, a radical shift in the right direction? I sure do. But we also know that life more often consists of many small steps along the correct path. As impressive as it is to take a stick of dynamite and blow off a chunk of mountain, there is also beauty in taking a resulting piece of stone and shaping it into an enduring piece of art. Think of how many chips, scrapes, rasps, and rubs Michelangelo applied to the block of marble that eventually become the Pieta.

I want to change the world and I want you to change the world. Perhaps this year you’ll blow a hole the size of the Hoover Dam through an impenetrable problem. Along the way to that, can I offer you a dozen ideas (one per month) you can use to pick up a chisel and a small hammer and take a chip in the right direction. If enough of us do this, the world will look more like the Pieta by the time we get around the sun again.

1. Grow in knowing God’s global purposes.

I know of nothing better to mold a person to God’s purposes for the world than joining a like-minded band of intrepid followers for a Perspectives or Pathways course. Many start this week and next all over the U.S. Grab a friend and visit a class. Tell them Shane Bennett sent you and you need to check it out. You’ll likely look back on it as the best investment you’ve made in your life with Jesus to date.

2. Build a bridge.

If you’ve already taken Perspectives, then grab a handful of people who trust you, buy the DVDs, and host a Bridges Course. In six weeks, probably less, you’ll watch people exchange apathy, fear, and anger toward Muslims for love and engagement. This is one of the first, best things a lot of us could do to shift the sentiment of the American church and open new doors of loving connection to Muslims in our midst.

3. Give a gift.

You could give a Muslim a present for Eid al-Fitr. This end-of-Ramadan celebration falls on July 5 this year. A box of chocolates or some flowers will make a nice impression. This little act of kindness and recognition will mean something. Multiplied over enough times it will going to make something truly beautiful emerge.

4. Pray with your pastor.

Invite your pastor to lunch at a Middle Eastern or East African restaurant. Pray for refugees when you pray for the meal. Many of the refugees flooding into Europe this past year, and likely this year, are from the Middle East and Eritrea.

5. Cultivate compassion.

Watch The Good Lie movie to nurture compassion for refugees. Watch it with a couple of buds (and a couple boxes of Kleenex), or, better yet, schedule a showing for your whole church. Costco has a good deal on Kleenex in bulk!

6. Be a “Sarah” to a stranger.

Read Sarah’s story and keep your eyes open for refugees who make it to your country, your town. When you find them, treat them like Jesus would. This opportunity will arise for more of us since there are presently more displaced people than ever before in history. “One in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. If this were the population of a country, it would be the world’s 24th biggest.”

7. Make your coffee count.

Drinking copious amounts of coffee will help you check more items off this list! And buying it from a group like Share Collective, being launched by my friend and hero Steve Helm, will “honor God by empowering the poor in every dimension, leveraging the people of faith with expertise in agriculture, medicine, business, education, nutrition, and finance.”

8. Engage your imagination.

While you’re enjoying a steaming mug of Share Collective coffee, immerse yourself in Steve Smith’s new thriller, Hastenings. I enjoyed it. And I love the idea of communicating important, timely concepts in an exciting, fictionalized account. Will you help me seed this book throughout the church? I think God’s going to use it to advance his kingdom.

9. Make time for a missionary.

Want to make a difference? Find a missionary who’s temporarily back in their home culture, but them a coffee and listen to their story. A home assignment or an unwanted sojourn back at home is a precarious time for many cross-cultural workers. Without forgetting the ones still far away, let’s rally around those who are temporarily nearby.

10. Lift up a laborer.

Maybe the best way to care for those far away is to pray faithfully, diligently, and knowledgeably. Start praying regularly for a cross-cultural worker. And let them know you’re praying. I don’t think you’ll lose your reward if you’re humble about this and I’m pretty sure they’ll be encouraged. If you really want to do this but are at a total loss as to who to pray for: Pick me!

11. Prayer walk your own neighborhood.

No normal sports team only plays “away” games. Couple prayers for far-away ministries and missionaries with prayer walks to seek God for what he wants to do in your very own neighborhood.

12. Apply for your passport.

You can’t even go to Mexico without one anymore. If God asks you to go somewhere really exotic like Canada or Mauritius, you gotta have one. And since I’m hoping you’ll go with me to Sicily to care for refugees there, you’d better get the process rolling!

Thank you for reading this and for joining me in slowly, intentionally and gracefully making a dent in the planet in 2016.

» Let me know how it goes and what other cool, dent-making endeavors you’re up to or tell us all about it on the Missions Catalyst website.

ARTICLES: A Year of Practical Mobilization

Source: Missions Catalyst

Did you miss any of our 2015 Practical Mobilization articles? Check them out through the links below or browse all the Missions Catalyst archives.

  • January: The Power of Slacktivism: Inviting Thousands to Take Their Next Step
  • February: Sowing among the Seedless: Learning to Love Jesus among the Unengaged
  • March: Safe, Significant, and Cheap: Middle School Missions Experiences that Work
  • April: Become a Smaller Target: Seven Ways Short-termers Can Lower Their Profile, Not Get Robbed, and Return Home Alive
  • May: Too Many Needs. Too Little Time (and) Don’t Let Media Wreck Your Mission Trip
  • June: Engaged, Unengaged: What Can You Do for Those Waiting for Their Day to Come?
  • July: Beware the Florida of the Mind: Your Story Is Still Being Written
  • August: What’s Your Status, Gladys? Setting a Course for Global Engagement
  • September: Saying “Yes” to the Pope: Could You or Your Church Host a Refugee Family? (and) Family Mission Trips
  • October: Through The Eyes of Spies: Five Lessons for When You’re Overwhelmed by the World
  • November: Your Service Has Mattered: Honoring the Faithful, Retiring Heroes of the International Mission Board
  • December: “We Though We were Going to Die”: The Story of One Refugee (and) Starting Spiritual Conversations

“We Thought We Were Going to Die”

The Story of One Refugee

By Shane Bennett

“My dad participated in a military coup in our country. His side won. He got a nice position and life was good for us for a time. Then another coup was launched. His side lost. Instead of a nice position, he got his name on a list of people to be killed for their connection to the previous administration. We all fled for our lives. That’s how I became a refugee. I was five years old.”

“Siddiq” told me his story this evening as I sat with some friends in a cafe near Catania, Sicily. I thought you might want to hear it, particularly in this season as we celebrate the birthday of Jesus, who was both God incarnate and a young refugee.

From West Africa to Libya

“Our family moved from Guinea-Bissau to Nigeria to Ivory Coast,” he went on, “never staying too long in any place. As a young adult I heard that things were pretty good and jobs were to be found in Libya. I’m a painter and they said there was work for painters there. People said the trip was easy, so I paid the money and started the trip across the desert.

“It was terrifying. The driver made us give him our money and phones so robbers wouldn’t get them. When we arrived he told us, ‘I’m not giving you back your money and phones, but you should thank me. My job is to turn you over to kidnappers who will hold you until your parents bail you out. But since I have your money, I’ll just let you go.’”

Friends or Enemies?

“I found a job in Libya and things were going okay. But after Gaddafi was killed, Arab Libyans who didn’t like him began turning on blacks like me. Gaddafi’s pan-Africanism made us his friends and therefore their enemies. It got to the point that sometimes a black person would just be shot in the street by someone driving by.

“About this time, I got a job painting a house for a Libyan. The owner hired me and a Gambian guy for a nice contract. When we finished, we reported to the owner and asked for the four thousand dollars we were owed. The man said he wouldn’t pay. He told us to go away, but we stood our ground. When he went into the house and came out with an AK-47, I said we should go. I pleaded with my Gambian co-worker, telling him this wasn’t worth dying over. He stood firm and said he needed his money. The owner shot him! I ran and jumped over the fence. I don’t know what happened to him.

“That night in my bed I decided to leave.”

From Libya to Italy

“I couldn’t go back across the desert, and I had no other place to go to. So many people had talked about making the crossing from Libya to Europe. I decided I would get a boat to Italy. I made contact with a man who would get me across. He told me to pay the money and I could get on a commercial boat, not an inflatable zodiac raft. I went to the river at the appointed time and place to meet the boat. They lied: It was a raft!

“We were told to get on. I looked up and saw men above the river bank with guns. We had no choice but to get on; they didn’t want us to leave and tell others about the lies. They gave us a little food and water and told us it was a three-hour trip. The GPS broke. The gas ran out. We thought we were going to die. Some of the people on the boat lost their minds. One wanted to puncture the raft and all die together with courage. But amazingly, after three days, we were rescued by an Italian merchant ship.

“Sadly, I was one of only 35 of the 100 on the boat who survived.”

Asylum Granted

“We were taken to Sicily and I was placed in a home with six other migrants. We each began to work on our applications for asylum. Somehow, I don’t know why, the others’ applications were all rejected. Only I have been given refugee status. I can work throughout Italy, although there really aren’t any jobs.

“At least I’m alive.”

Many More Like Siddiq

Join me in thanking God for preserving this man’s life. Although from a Muslim background, Siddiq is finding himself more and more surrendered to Jesus. Ask God with me to move through Siddiq to extend the life of Jesus to many, many more Muslims.

To further inform yourself about the situation that millions like Siddiq face and to consider how followers of Jesus should wisely respond, please take advantage of this offer to download and read Facts, Fears, and Faith in a Migrant Crisis, by Patrick Johnstone and Dean Merrill. This digital single is excerpted from their upcoming book, Serving God in a Migrant Crisis: Ministry to People on the Move to be published by GMI Books in 2016.

» Want to take action now? Go to We Welcome Refugees to learn how your church can get involved, particularly in recognizing National Refugee Sunday this coming weekend (December 13).

» You can also shoot me an email so we can scheme and dream together for the millions of “Siddiqs” waiting to meet Jesus, or add your comments below or on Facebook page.

SUBVERSIVE MOBILIZATION: Starting Spiritual Conversations

I need your help! From time to time I’m in a situation where I’m talking to a Muslim I’ve just met. The conversation will likely only be able to last a few minutes with no promise at the outset of a future connection. As we start to chat, I’d like to know if they have any spiritual interest. If they care about the things of God. If they might like to talk about Jesus or hear a story he told. Sometimes it’s hard for me to move from, “How many kids do you have?” to “Hey, let’s talk about real stuff for a minute.”

On the slight chance I’m not the only one, could you do me a favor? Share, below, your best tips on how to do this. Or to post a link to the article I probably should have found on my own. Or maybe, if you’re feeling tremendously empathetic this Christmas season, just say, “No way, me too! I hope a lot of people are nice enough to tell us how to do this.”

Thanks!

Practical Mobilization

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Your Service Has Mattered:
Honoring the Faithful, Retiring Heroes of the International Mission Board

By Shane Bennett

The smoke and roar of the traffic were sufficient to beat back jet lag as our tuk tuk buzzed across Bangkok. My team leader and I, just a few days in the city, were on a quest to meet Bill Smith, destined-be-a-hall-of-fame missionary. After we found the right house, his wife Susan, also a hall-of-famer in the making, led us to Bill’s office. After cursory greetings and explanations, he sat on his roller chair in the middle of his file-cabinet kingdom and said, “Ask away.” For the next hour we pitched questions related to our church planting research. With each inquiry, Bill would kick off one cabinet, roll to another, and pull out a file with relevant documents.

We ran out of questions long before Bill ran out of information. But what he shared shaped the course of our team’s research for the next three months. The cashew chicken that Susan served following the interview remains the best I’ve ever had. And that was almost thirty years ago.

Bill and Susan were the first Southern Baptist missionaries I’d ever met. They set the bar pretty high. Over the intervening years I’ve become friends with dozens more around the planet. I tell classes and churches in the U.S., “I know almost nothing about Southern Baptists in America, but the ones you send overseas are amazing. In so many ways, they’re leading the rest of us.”

Changes at the IMB

I bring it up because you may have heard of the recent decision, at the same time both forward-thinking and gut-wrenching, made by the new president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, David Platt, to offer a voluntary retirement incentive to their missionaries over 50 years old in order to reduce their ranks by 600-800 staff. This is part of a multi-pronged effort to rectify an ongoing budget shortfall of multiple millions per year.

Platt writes, “For the sake of short-term financial responsibility and long-term organizational stability, we must put ourselves in a position in which we can operate within our budget, which necessarily means reducing the number of our personnel.”

“Words really can’t describe how much a sentence like that pains me to write. For ‘600’ and ‘800’ are not just figures on a page; they are people around the world. For many of you, they are your family, friends, and fellow church members. They are brothers and sisters whom I love, and brothers and sisters whom I want to serve and support. I not only want as many of them as possible to stay on the field; I want multitudes more to join them on the field. But in order to even have a conversation about how to mobilize more people in the future, IMB must get to a healthy financial place in the present.”

Let’s Raise a Glass

While this decision has been and will be discussed and debated ad nauseam, that is not my purpose here. Rather I want to raise a metaphorical glass to my sisters, brothers, colleagues, and heroes who have given long, good years to Kingdom service under the banner of the International Mission Board and now find themselves taking early, voluntary retirement.

My friends: There may not be a single reader of Missions Catalyst who has not been led, helped, or blessed by your collective labors, even if they do not know it. You have shown the way, not by simply pointing it out, but by sacrificially walking forward and calling us to follow in your steps. You have gone to the most challenging places and willingly raised your children there. You have embraced and implemented new ways of thinking and working. You have modeled the love of Jesus by deeply loving people who are deeply different from you.

We honor you. We are in your debt.

As you move into a new stage of life, I wish these things for you:

1. May you get the rest that you need.

I don’t know how this works out in reality, but I see you sitting on a porch on a winsome autumn afternoon, drinking coffee, enjoying a book you’ve long wanted to get to, sighing contentedly from time to time. May God help you know what you and your spouse need and how to get it. If it would help, you can come and stay for a few days for free in our garage apartment. We’ll feed you and give you some space.

2. May you have an accurate sense of your identity.

Your time has been well spent. Your value does not diminish even though your paycheck does. And you’re an ambassador of Christ regardless of who signs your check or even if you get paid for your ambassadorial service! You have mattered and you still do.

3. May you be able to maintain whatever ongoing connection to your work that you desire.

And by “work” I mean not only the job you did, but the people you’ve worked with, for, and among. Maybe it’s a relief to cut ties; I don’t know. But if you dread that, I pray God makes a way for bonds to remain.

4. May God appoint people to care for you in the way you need.

He appointed a fish to rescue Jonah, so there’s precedence! May he give you some people who know how to ask good questions then be quiet and let you answer. May he give you people who will help you re-adjust to American culture. (We’ve let some things slide while you were away!) May he bring people who will help you in all kinds of ways, particularly opening doors for the ministry God has ahead for you.

5. May hope and peace fill every molecule of your being.

Maybe you have financial concerns: I pray for abundant provision. Perhaps you’re concerned about relationships: I pray for friends and mentors, and for your marriage. If you’re concerned about what you’ll do with yourself, I ask God to fill you with a fiery, fresh sense of purpose.

Thank you for your work, your life, and your example. The world is better for your contribution. I am better. You have served your King well, and I look forward hopefully to serving shoulder to shoulder with you in future ventures.

Someday your race will be over, but today is not that day. May God grant you health, vitality, and opportunity commensurate with your skill and experience. May your long years of faithful service bear new fruit in the fresh soil of emerging work and workers. May you sense deeply the smile of Jesus as he puts his hands on your shoulders, looks deep in your eyes and says, “Well done my good and faithful servant… Now let’s take another lap!”

Conclusion

If you know an IMB worker, would you mind forwarding this to him or her? If you have connections to a Southern Baptist Church, please pass it along to them. Thank you.

If you would like to provide jobs, housing, vehicles, or other means of support to help returning missionaries, please email the Transition Team.

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