Practical Mobilization

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Triple Shot Summer Series: Kids, Churches, and Super Power Grandmas

By Shane Bennett

Editor’s note: We know you’re busy, maybe traveling this summer, or maybe getting some good catch-up time with the kids. We are, too. But we don’t want to stop getting helpful stuff into your hands.

Here, as in the June and July editions of Practical Mobilization, Shane shares three quick ideas you’ll want to think about and then pass along to your friends and family.

I. What’s the Matter with Kids These Days?

You’ve seen the reports: Kids graduate from high school, bail out of the church, and don’t come back. We can stand idly by (but for the occasional whining) or we can try to do something. My friend Tony Sheng is doing something. Tony heads up an intensive mentoring effort with high school students called The Ember Cast. I know it works because I just returned from spending a week with them Sicily and facilitating their connection with Muslim migrants and refugees there.

These kids rocked. They would talk to anyone about Jesus. They walked miles in the Mediterranean sun. And they never complained!

Tony is doing a great job with the kids he’s discipling. They finish high school with a deep love for Jesus and the nations and a sense that they’re made to make a difference. If you’d like that for some kids you know, get in touch with Tony. The Ember Cast has a story to share. I’d love to see their catalytic effort multiplied across the US and beyond.

II. Three Ways Your Church Can Focus

I love it when a church dials in on a particular vision or calling for the nations. Some of the most invigorating conversations of my life have been with churches looking to make a difference and kind enough to invite me to the chat. If your church, or one you love, is looking for a focus or a fresh blossoming of global involvement, can I recommend three friends?

  1. Mike Bell is the USA National Director for Hungry For Life. Mike helps churches begin multi-year partnerships with vetted mission situations throughout the world. These partnerships build a 3-5 year plan to carry out community-designed relief and development projects. After helping a church choose a partner, Hungry For Life handles all the logistics for teams and manages ongoing projects at no cost to the church. Watch this video for a snapshot of how it works. If your church has a vision for justice, for eliminating needless suffering, and you’re looking for a direction, get in touch with Mike.
  2. If your church wants to make a difference in the world, but you’re not really even sure how to start scheming and dreaming, connect with Matthew Ellison of Sixteen:Fifteen. Matthew’s coaching will help your church discover its unique vision for the nations. He’ll then guide you through designing a strategic plan and then deploying the resources and people to execute the plan.
  3. If your church knows its vision, and if that vision looks like big-time love and commitment to Muslim peoples, let me invite you to link arms with my tribe. Frontiers is seeing more and more churches jump on board with an idea that’s intrigued us for years: church-based teams to unengaged Muslim peoples. This approach combines the God-given vision of a local church with the field experience of Frontiers to see God’s kingdom flourish where it’s not right now. Churches stay in the driver’s seat. Frontiers provides some road maps and a “heads up” for hazards in the road. If you’d like to see your church consider sending a team, shoot me an email. I’ll introduce to the right guys.

III. The Granny Factor

Grandmas, are you listening to me? This, the last of the summer triple shots, is for you: The globe is facing the single greatest refugee crisis ever, and you might just be the answer. Before you get all humble, hear me out.

A hefty percentage of the refugee population are young people without their parents. Their moms are dead or a world away. They are in over their heads with “nobody told me it would be like this.” Evil people are taking advantage of them. And as tough as they want to look, a kind gaze or a maternal hug would sure be nice right about now.

I saw this happen a few months ago. The refugee was a friend from Liberia in his early twenties. The woman who brought the Granny Factor was Kenyan. She looked across the table and right into the young man’s soul. She ministered the kingdom of God to him with wisdom and kindness. I was honored just to sit there and watch it happen.

I saw it again a few weeks ago. This friend was a twenty-something Gambian. The Granny Factor oozed from a saint from Louisville, Kentucky. She looked at him and asked, “Tell me your story. I love to hear people’s stories.” He proceeded to trust her with the pain of betrayal, beatings, and a journey he shouldn’t have survived. She absorbed just a bit of the pain. And again, the kingdom of God was manifest.

You can imagine this, can’t you? Maybe you’ve experienced it. It’s your superpower! Too many of us think you don’t count any longer and maybe you’ve come to agree with that. Simply not true. If you’re tired and need to rest, that’s cool. If you have too many babies to hold and teenagers to scold in your own family right now, no worries. But if you’ve got some love to go around, I’m here to invite you to unleash your Granny Factor on five, fifty, or a thousand refugees, in your own country, someplace like Sicily, or beyond. You will make a difference.

» Please feel free to comment and share your ideas with us on Facebook, Twitter, or on our website.

Image: 1871 proof three-cent nickel piece, Wikimedia Commons

Practical Mobilization

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Three more

Triple Shot Summer Series

We know you’re busy, maybe traveling this summer, or maybe getting some good catch-up time with the kids. We are, too. But we don’t want to stop getting helpful stuff in your hands.

For the June, July, and August editions of Practical Mobilization, Shane’s going to share three quick ideas you’ll want to think about and then pass along to your friends and family. In this issue: Timely Travel Tips, Dopes Like Me, and the Value of a Second (or Third) Language.

Reading at (or on your way to) the Perspectives National Conference in Maryland? We’d love to meet you. The first five people who find Shane or Marti and mention seeing this edition can have a free book!

Timely Travel Tips, Dopes Like Me, and the Value of a Second (or Third) Language

By Shane Bennett

Eighty-two Steps and Other Travel Tips

It was eeeeiiiigghhty tttwwwoooooo steps from the street to the door of our flat in Catania, Sicily last month. That’s 82 steps hammering home a lesson: Bring less stuff! That pretty much sums up my go-to travel advice: Leave it at home. Granted, (A) I’m grateful I don’t have to travel with a CPAP machine, and (B) I don’t require all the accoutrements that some females do.

Honestly, though, I don’t remember the last time I thought, “Dang! I wish I had that thing I left at home.”

A full set of travel tips should go beyond “leave it,” though, so see my friend Carl’s Top 20 Medearis Family Travel Tips. While you’re there, snoop around the site; Carl has written some provocative and helpful words.

If you’re really into travel tips, check these (sometimes contradictory) lists as well: 61 Travel Tips to Make You the World’s Savviest Traveler (Nomadic Matt), a packing list for the traveling gal (A Beautiful Mess), and a list of really cool, I mean helpful, traveling gadgets (Rethink Modern).

What Dopes Like Me Can Do

It’s a perennial but pleasant surprise: God can and is apparently happy to use people like me. The most recent edition of the surprise came a couple of weeks ago and swirled around a series of Discovery Bible Studies I had with a young guy from Gambia in a piazza in Sicily. I’ve talked to around 6.3 gazillion Muslims in my day, but this may have been the first time we’d really dug into the Bible together. I walked away thinking, “It’s true what they say… pretty much anyone can do this.”

I often think my mobilization cachet is to leave people with this realization: “If he can do it, I probably can too!” I mean, really, I’m no Lottie Moon or Gladys Aylward. I couldn’t even carry lunch for the Dons (McGavran, McCurry, and Richardson, for those keeping score!). But sometimes God uses me. If you don’t want to hear this, run away now. Otherwise I’m looping you into the group of people that God can use. Yes, you!

Certainly many Missions Catalyst readers, humble though you are, know that God uses you. You don’t need me to remind you. Great. But most of the people we know? They don’t know it! A cursory look at the Bible, history, and our lives says it’s true, though. God delights in using the least likely characters. Yay for us, for God, and for the world who waits to know him.

Check out You’ve Got Libya for the story of one of my heroes who was surprised that God would use the likes of him.

Language Learning Is Worth It!

I say this more from observation than experience. Our first group in Catania, Sicily in June interacted almost exclusively in English. They spoke some other languages, but none that were in play locally. And they did amazing things with their English.

The second team, however had some ringers: a woman whose mother tongue was French, a young lady with good Arabic, even though it was Chadian, and a young man who could stumble along in both French and Arabic. The doors these guys opened! We were able to converse with Wolof women from Senegal, extend welcome to 14- and 15-year-old boys fresh off the boat from Egypt, and even score points with a friend who was an imam from Morocco and reluctant to use his English.

Are you working on a second or third language right now? Press on! It’s worth it. Are you considering downloading Duolingo and diving in? Yes! I’m behind you 100 percent. Are you in a position to encourage some young bucks to get another language? Grace to you as you do so. They’ll be annoyed now, but grateful as God opens cool, unexpected doors. (Are you a non-American who’s grown up speaking several languages? Good on you. Thanks for the grace. We’re working on it.)

» Please feel free to comment and share your ideas with us on Facebook, Twitter, or on our website.

Practical Mobilization

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Greetings!

We know you’re busy, maybe traveling this summer, or maybe getting some good catch-up time with the kids. We are, too. But we don’t want to stop getting helpful stuff in your hands.

For the June, July, and August editions of Practical Mobilization, Shane’s going to share three quick ideas you’ll want to think about and then pass along to your friends and family. So here’s a quick look at three issues (along with a hearty hope that God works in and through you this summer season!)

Blessings,
Marti

P.S.: If you missed it, be sure to check out last month’s Practical Mobilization, Warm Weather Welcome: Seven Ways You Can Make this Summer Soar for New Americans.

Triple Shot Summer Series: Three Quick Ideas You’ll Want to Talk About

Three more

By Shane Bennett

Gratitude for Luke 10:2 Answers

Can I tell you something really fun? I’m in Italy this week and ate dinner this evening in Catania, Sicily, one of my favorite cities on the planet. My dining companions were eight intrepid believers from all over the US, laborers for the harvest who have agreed to be our first “official” group, the real guinea pigs, for the Care for Catania vision.

I’ve asked you before to set a daily alarm on your phone at 10:02am to pray as Jesus told us in Luke 10:2, “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest.” That alarm went off this morning as I made my way to the airport to pick up my friends flying in. I had a moment of deep, profound gratitude: God has answered the prayer so many have prayed over the past years. Laborers have been sent to my town! And this prayer is not just being answered in my tiny corner of the world, nor with this group alone: God is sending ambassadors from all over to all over. But I sure am thankful for these guys. Will you join me in gratitude for the many ways God is answering this prayer?

Grieving For Orlando

While the young Italian hostess checked us into our AirBNB flat this afternoon, she asked what had brought us to Italy. I told her we wanted to learn about the migrant situation there and perhaps help people a bit. Even as I said that, it was hard to set aside the thought that it’s crazy for me as an American, a resident of a country that had so recently experienced the nightmare in Orlando, to think I could help other people in another country. On one level it feels absurd.

But what was true a week ago is true today: People who love Jesus need to try to follow him; not just believe what he said, but do it as well. One writer framed a Jesus-honoring, faith-over-fear response like this:

“First, look for practical ways to help. Many donated blood yesterday, but more will be needed in coming days, especially rarer blood types. CNN lists several organizations that have set up sites for financial donations to help cover the funeral and medical costs of the victims. Let us be ‘doers of the word, and not hearers only’ (James 1:22).

“Second, stand in solidarity with those who are suffering. Baptist ethicist Russell Moore was right when he tweeted: ‘Christian, your gay or lesbian neighbor is probably really scared right now. Whatever our genuine disagreements, let’s love and pray.’ As Ted Cruz noted, ‘nobody has a right to murder someone who doesn’t share their faith or sexual orientation.’ If we claim to love God, we must love those he loves (1 John 4:20). And he loves us all (John 3:16).

“Third, turn your fears into faith. Be careful and vigilant, but live with bold passion and triumphant trust. Every time fear attacks, name it. Describe it specifically to God. Ask his Spirit to give you courage. And you will discover that you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you (Philippians 4:13).

“In coming days, as we learn the stories of lives ended and families shattered, we will be tempted by despair. As we face the threat of further terrorism, we will be tempted by dread. But as believers, we do not grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Because no matter how bad things get, our Father is Lord. And he is love (1 John 4:8).”

Fundraising Feast

At dinner tonight, my friend Jenny shared this fundraising gem: “I figured if George Clooney could ask friends to pony up $300K for dinner with Hillary Clinton, I could ask $40 for a great dinner and a chance to hear me talk about God’s work among refugees.”

Turns out she was right. The dinner she cooked was hosted by a current supporter who invited several friends, each of whom paid $40 to attend. Between the three courses Jenny told about her upcoming work. Over dessert she invited the guests to contribute further to her efforts. That dinner has netted Jenny over $800 so far and also initiated relationships with several new people. Of course it also blessed the diners with fresh, helpful information and full, happy tummies. Contact me for more details or the info flyer Jenny used to describe the strategy and recruit hosts.

I hope you have a great summer. Look forward to more quick, talk-worthy ideas and a report on God’s growing kingdom among refugees in Sicily.

» Please feel free to comment and share your ideas with us on Facebook, Twitter, or on our website.

Practical Mobilization

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Kids soccer teamImage: Flikr / Penn State News

Warm Weather Welcome: Seven Ways You Can Make this Summer Soar for New Americans

By Shane Bennett

Editor’s note: Several of the ideas in this month’s Practical Mobilization column are US-specific, though with a little creativity, most can be adapted to other settings.

Here in the northern hemisphere, summer is just around the corner: Long days, warm nights, and no school. Schedules often get a change up this time of year. The seasonal shift closes some doors, but opens some interesting other ones.

What if you decided to do something different this year? What if you wove into your summer plans creative efforts to extend care to some of the most overlooked people in your city? If you wedge into your summer schedule some time with refugees and others from outside America (or your country), a few things may happen: Some precious people will experience God’s blessing, your life will be richer for the experience and effort, and your kids will learn a few swear words in a new language!

To get started, you’ll want to find two things: info about where refugees live near you and some friends to join you. Check out this helpful map to see what refugee agencies work where. Contact them to find out who’s coming to your town, who’s already at work to serve refugees, and how you and your friends can help.

To gather allies? Encourage your church to recognize National Refugee Sunday on June 26th. Then show the amazing film, The Good Lie to further sensitize your church to the challenges refugees face settling into a new country. Pass around a sign-up sheet or pay attention to who attends so you can follow up with specific invitations and ways to respond.

1. Host a Sports Clinic

Draft some high school students from the youth group to host a four-day intro to American sports. Spend a day each on football, baseball, and basketball. On day four, allow participants to double down on their favorite sport, then award certificates. Know a famous, or even marginally famous, sports figure? Ask them to show up early in the week to build interest or to attend a special wrap-up event.

2. Arrange a Muslim Awareness Day

Here’s an idea that would work great with families. Set aside a day to open your minds and hearts to Muslims in your city. Begin with an hour or so of introduction to Islam. If you can’t find someone better, you can do this! Check out Fouad Masri’s book, Ambassadors to Muslims for accessible fodder for training. In pairs, hit the streets of the densest Muslim neighborhood you can find for two to three hours of fun with a cultural scavenger hunt. The basic idea is to nudge your friends into conversations with Muslims. Here’s a sample from Amsterdam. Tally up the points and pick a winner over lunch at a pre-arranged ethnic restaurant. Round out the day with a guided tour of a local mosque and a solid hour to debrief the day’s experiences.

3. Organize a Foreign-friendly VBS

If your city has lot of kids from somewhere else (and a correspondingly high number of tired moms who raise them!), you may want to consider hosting a Vacation Bible School program. Some standard VBS activities translate easily from culture to culture, like that relay where you pop balloons with your bum! That’s global fun! Others, however, might be best left in the closet if your participants are Muslim, not Methodist. I’m thinking of the Salvation Story Bead Bracelet and the Macaroni Cross Craft, which might not go over so well when kids take them home. A brilliant friend and practitioner in the Southwestern US has developed a VBS curriculum that’s biblical, fun, and still honoring to Muslim kids and their parents. She’s had kids come back year after year and parents happily participate in closing celebration events. Email me for a copy of the curriculum.

4. Start a Summer Reading Group

Maybe your own kids are all you want to wrangle this summer. How about pulling together a reading group for adults? Raise some funds to hire baby sitters, advertise around refugee centers and neighborhoods, then get together for an hour to practice reading. Depending on the composition of the group, you may want to keep it pretty simple. If English language capacity is sufficient, I’d recommend Leif Enger’s Peace like a River for a group read. It’s funny, poignant, and has a description of heaven that never fails to make me cry. Plenty of great stuff to talk about.

5. Visit the Farm

Gather twenty to thirty refugee kids and parents, secure the necessary permissions, insurance, and vehicles, then get out of the city! Find a farm with some animals to pet, some work to do, and a kindly old farming couple who tell great stories! If you can’t find a kindly old farmer, a ride on a tractor is a close second. If you return home with bushels of free zucchini, there’s a good chance you found a farm in Indiana.

6. Head to the Hills with International Students

America in the summer is magical. But if your home is China or Saudi Arabia, it can be a challenging time. Check with a local university to see if they’ll help you link up with international students who are staying over the summer. Invite a carload of them on a hike to a nearby mountain, wetland, or forest. Hit up a local eatery on the way home.

7. Fasting and Fireworks

When we were newly arrived in England a dear Afghan family from down the road invited us to shoot fireworks with them to celebrate Guy Fawkes Day. The commemoration, as fascinating as it is, meant little to either them or us. But I’ll never forget the warmth and kindness I felt at being invited to share it with them.

This year’s Ramadan fast ends on July 5th. Can I encourage you to invite a Muslim family over on July 4th to eat (after the sun has set) and watch some fireworks with you? If they’re newcomers, it’s a great time to humbly share about America. It’s also a good time to learn about Ramadan and celebrate its near completion.

Conclusion

I’m grateful to God that he’s bringing the nations to our neighborhoods. Success to you as you seek to be a good neighbor this summer. I’d love to hear what you’re thinking about doing to make this summer soar for newcomers. Please share your ideas with us on Facebook, Twitter, or through comments on our website.

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

Missions-Catalyst-no-tagline_large

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”!