By Shane Bennett
One of the rare, exquisite joys of life is crossing a stream by hopping stone to stone. I don’t get to do it often. A lack of practice, along with what may be a low innate ability, shows through pretty clearly. But a couple of weeks ago, a great guy at church invited us to come and see some land he’d recently purchased. It consisted of a canyon with a small river running along the floor. The hike he led us on required crossing the stream a couple of times. Ah, the joy!
Since that afternoon, I’ve been thinking about how cool a metaphor rock-hopping makes for the journey to the nations. If you’ve been reading Practical Mobilization for a while, you know I’m not afraid of being a little cheesy. If perusing these few paragraphs compels you to roll your eyes, I wouldn’t blame you. Or you may feel it’s a little remedial for you. If so, I apologize—but encourage you to use that sense to spur you on to get it in the hands of people who might not have thought of these things yet.
Crossing the Stream: Fundamentals
What about Those Who Don’t Go?
Two of our party didn’t cross the stream. In my mind, they represent people who are not going to the nations. In the past, I might have thought of them as dummies or immature, worldly believers who don’t care about the important stuff like I do. Now I think of them as real people, children of God who are probably really smart and with whom God is pleased.
That’s because, as passionate as I am about getting bodies in the last places and among the least-reached peoples, I’m also growing in the realization that Paul is right: There are different gifts, but the same Spirit; one body made up of many vital parts.
One of the two who stayed did so because she’s recovering from an injury. Next time we go, she may lead the way. Feel free to listen in as I say this to myself: “Give people a chance to heal, to deal with their stuff. God’s probably not feeling as rushed as you are!”
Who Helps Goers Go?
My friend Greg, who owns the land and had done the walk a few times before, wore some nice, tall rubber boots. This allowed him to stand in the stream and hold the hands of the hoppers. He even lifted some of my kids from one stone to the next. This may be the role many of us play. In a thousand tiny bits of encouragement, along with a few big ones, we help the goers get gone.
Sometimes this feels like an also-ran, second-rate, B-team role. I’ll tell you what though: If Greg had not helped our kiddos navigate the stream, the whole hike would have come to an early and tearful end.
Are you a rock-hopper helper? Hear me clearly: You matter. Probably way more than you think. Keep at it!
One more fundamental observation: As fun as the stone stepping is, the goal is actually getting across. In this analogy, the work is on the other side. You gotta cross to get there. Some of us from somewhere need to get where none of us have yet been. Get hopping!
Your Dream Stream-Crossing Team
Visualize a stone path across a stream and those who are crossing with you. You need each other. Let’s take a closer look at the key people and relationships.
1. Your Spouse
While single women have done much of the heavy lifting in taking the gospel to the ends of the earth, most of us will partner up. If God’s nudging you toward the least evangelized parts of the world, do your best to find someone who’s similarly compelled. Let’s be honest, it’s almost always easier to live where you grew up than to sink your roots into a new culture. And marriage isn’t easy anywhere. Choose wisely. (And remember, grace abounds and God thinks you rock!)
2. Your Church, Agency, and Team
Start as early as possible to get known by a church that might someday lovingly launch you out. Build a track record of service there.
Many of us would be smart to link up with a sending agency. There are a gazillion, though. So how do you choose? Ask someone smarter and older than you for starters. My friend Jeannie Marie who is smarter (but not older) than me offers this great list.
Few of us will go alone. Consider carefully who’ll you’ll team up with. Do you have the same ministry goals? The same vision for team life? Similar ideas about how to have meetings when you all have noisy little kids?
3. Those All-Important Partners
Americans (like me) can so easily think it’s all up to us. But God has got so much going on. Increasingly, our role might be to come alongside and serve the efforts of intrepid local pioneers who have crossed smaller cultural and geographic distances to begin new ministries among previously unengaged peoples. How can you help?
The Stones of Preparation
You may not be able to drop into an unengaged situation and find a viable, productive role being who you are right now. Ministry in most parts of the world requires training, preparation, and development. I’m guilty of a “we just need warm bodies” mobilization, but the reality is that it’s tough to live in another culture. And if you’re going to work a job or run a business in a “foreign to you” place, you probably need to be very good at what you do.
So imagine the stones across the creek being the aspects of preparation that will get you from here to there.
1. The Stone of Study
What does that early stone look like? Should you get a Bible degree? A welding certificate? An MBA? Given my inability to predict the future, sometimes I think, “Just jump to the rock you can reach!” Look at how God has made you, then ask smarter, older people what they think. Take a step, knowing you’ll probably skip to a different stone before too long!
2. The Stone of Practice
Starting as soon as you can, become proficient at what you do. A track record takes time. The best time to begin building one was “before now.” The second best time is when you finish reading this!
3. The Stone of Service
Hop over this rock and you’re going to take a bath! Even knowing that, I’m tempted to sneak around the service stone. But nothing replaces cleaning toilets, taking out the trash, and working in the nursery. Whatever the other side of the stream holds for each of us, the essential nature of the disciple is servanthood. It wasn’t on a whim that Jesus used some of the most precious last moments of his life on earth to wash feet!
Finally, for some of us, getting to the place across the river where God wants us will require following a well-trod path. We might even be blessed to watch others go from stone to stone ahead of us. Thank God for that.
But my heart longs for unengaged peoples to get what might be their first gospel attention. The path to places where those peoples live is yet uncharted. You might have to launch out on your own. You might do what I did on our hike: Toss some stones into the stream to fill in gaps too big to hop. Let’s not be cavalier, but let’s also not bemoan lack of precedence when God is calling us to set precedent.
If you’ve ever crossed a stream like this, you know a couple of other things as well, don’t you? Some of the rocks are slick with moss, others wobble and tip when your foot lands on them. In either case, you could end up bum-down in the creek. It’ll happen. Grab a hand and get up. Shake and shiver. Then keep going.
If anything in my life is certain, it’s this:
The other side of the stream is worth getting to.
Editor’s note: If you know someone who could use some encouragement on their “stream crossing,” please forward this to them. If your heart longs for unengaged peoples, give Shane a shout.