This week I’m in the stunningly green English countryside with friends from around the globe who gather every four years general conference of Torchbearers. It’s difficult to accurately portray the power of what happens when 200 leaders from 27 Bible centers around the world gather in one room to pray, worship, study the scriptures together, and do business as they seek, each on their own unique setting, to make God’s good reign visible through the power of the resurrected Jesus.
Every day we’ve gathered from morning to afternoon by gathering in the great hall and hearing various reports of the work God is doing around the globe to bring hope, healing and light, through the works of the various centers. We’ve heard of the challenges unfolding in Indonesia, due to a population explosion and subsequent traffic congestion. We’ve heard of new programs in Sweden that are training leaders. We’ve heard of the ongoing marvelous work of Schloss Klaus in Austria, as they provide for the needs of people with disabilities. We’ve heard from Malaysia, and the Bible School that is receiving Pakistani students who are returning to share Christ among the Taliban. We’re heard from Northern India, where the director is presently organizing relief work to save the lives of thousands after massive flooding. He’s serving and blessing Hindus in Jesus’ name. We’ve heard about the marvelous work in Switzerland, where there’s presently a retreat for missionaries, the goal of which is to provide ministry to the whole person: body, soul, spirit, and includes time spent with physicians, counselors, spiritual directors.
We’ve also heard wrenching stories of personal challenges and loss, reminders that though those who serve aren’t granted immunity from the effects of living in a fallen world. This same truth was brought home to me in the text from which I spoke this morning, where Christ followers suddenly become “the hunted” and are scattered from Jerusalem, running for their lives. It’s right there, in the midst of trials, challenges, setbacks, that we find Phillip sharing the “good news of the kingdom of God” with a despised subculture, and a an African man whose sexuality is distorted. Neither encounter would ever happen in a merely religious world, where we like to spend time only with people who act, think, and vote just like us. Few encounters at all would happen if we were intent on only serving when it’s convenient, when we’ve had enough sleep and our stomachs our full. Like Phillip, we’re on the run, sometimes afraid, tired, hungry – and then right in the midst of our vulnerability, someone approaches us with a need: that’s when ministry happens. It’s often not in the meeting…or the big event – it’s in the margins.
I love hearing both the public reports regarding programs, and the wrenching stories of personal challenges because I realize that all of it – our personal messes and our involvement in serving and blessing our world, both formally and in structures, is woven together into a single piece of cloth. Those who serve only when they’ve strength, effusive joy, excitement about a particular project, will only last as long as the sailing’s smooth. Many of the people I’m hearing from this week though, have been planted for decades in the same place – building brick by brick, through conversations, relationships, vision, prayer, setbacks, opportunities, personal challenges, and o so much more. I’m inspired by their example, as they become yet another page in the long role of saints who constitute the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ in Hebrews 12.
If I’m to still be standing when it’s over I’ll need:
1. Endurance. I love endurance races because they are vast distances when there are no fans, and vast amounts of training time when there are no accolades or excitement. All that’s needed is the discipline of putting one foot in front of the other – day after day after day. As grow older, I’m increasingly skeptical of loud and flashy movements that are the “next great thing” because I’m not sure they’ll still be around next year, let alone sixty years from now. But tonight, I’m writing this from where a ministry begin shortly after WWII and has not just continued, but has grown and multiplied. Slowly. Faithfully. Not without problems or setbacks. Not with lots of fanfare. Just simple, faithful growth. Along the way people got tired, but didn’t quit. People were discouraged, but kept doing their jobs. People saw little fruit, but continued to believe that they were in the stream of God’s activity. I’ll take that over hype, flash, and “how to grow your influence through twitter” any day.
2. Availability. “Off to Samaria with ya’ ” is what God said to Phillip, who grew up in an environment where Samaritans were hated. He went. “Go talk to that African on the chariot” God said, and he went again. I know that there are questions about how we here and know the voice of God, but for now, I’ll just observe that when Phillip heard God’s voice he went. He surely had misgivings. It was definitely out of his comfort zone. He could have found a million reasons not to go. But he went anyway. I sat stunned as I listened the other night to the testimony of a young couple from Canada who have moved to Japan to take over a work there. When people live close enough to Jesus to sense his call, and then take that call seriously enough to obey it, they’re available. And when they’re available, they’ll find themselves, quickly, in places they’d not have chosen. And that will be fine – because they know that the best place on the planet to be, by far, is right in the middle of God’s better story.
We’re together for two more days with these wonderful people, and I’d commend a course at any school for anyone, because learning to live faithfully by drawing on the resources of the very real resurrected Jesus is, in the end, the grandest adventure possible. We won’t find it by spectacular miracles, or spiritual adrenaline. We’ll find it by showing up and being available, day after day after day.