That thought branded itself in my mind last week as I returned from a trip to the Middle East with other ECO leaders. We traveled together to seek discernment as to where we might partner in the mission of spreading the gospel and planting churches (part of our DNA in ECO, whether on this continent or beyond).
It’s always inspiring to meet believers who have faced huge loss and on-going danger in order to commit their lives to Jesus as Lord. It’s equally an honor to spend time with workers who have made the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom the core focus of their lives in an area of the world so resistant historically to the gospel. After so many years of faithful work, building upon the redemptive toil of so many missionaries before them, these workers report that God is up to something new – the barren, hard-packed ground is being broken up by the spade work of the Spirit, and the seeds of the gospel are bearing unprecedented fruit! But perhaps the most exciting news we came away with was their assessment that this is only the beginning of a spectacular movement of God.
They sense a huge wave coming, where many in the Arab (and extended) world will come to Christ as false religious systems give way to the truth of the gospel, which until the last three or four decades has not been accessible to millions walled in behind repressive dogmas. Apparently, no more! Beyond the direct work of the Spirit to awaken hearts and minds through dreams and visions, the viral capacity of internet access, which enables freedom of investigation, the courage of new converts to reach their circles of family and friends, the wholehearted commitment of long-term workers laboring in fields now white unto harvest, the wise use of radio waves and satellite TV, as well as smartphone and microchip technologies, have enabled hungry souls to discover and turn to Jesus. What a great age to be alive as a disciple of Christ, and through His Spirit to impact the larger world for eternity!
In the Qur’an, Jesus is known as `Îsâ. To be a disciple of `Îsâ in the Middle East is to stand out noticeably from the crowds, for the Qur’an calls human beings to a message and way of life far different from that of our Lord. When those who embrace the Qur’an with fervor seek to live out its commands, they often become like what is presently being modeled by the group known as ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Sham/Syria). When Christians embrace our Lord with fervor and seek to live out His commands, we become like…what?
There aren’t too many examples that come to my mind in the USA today. I guess the best answer would be: “like the church in the Book of Acts – far from perfect, but sold out to the life and mission of Jesus.” A community powered by the Spirit, filled with compassion for the lost, committed to one unitary message, directing all its resources to reaching the larger world with the love and truth of God, strategic in its vision, every believer a missionary, marked by joy, courage, and innovative freshness; indefatigable. In the language of the Middle East, a spiritual family of disciples of `Îsâ. What a contrasting vision to that of the disciples of ISIS! And what a goal for churches to set in the Middle East – to see the disciples of ISIS (and those less committed) become disciples of ‘Isa instead!
For most of us American Christians, this goal seems remote – what can we do here and now to help with what the Spirit is stirring in another part of the world? Let me offer some suggestions:
The best way for us to spiritually impact the Middle East and the rest of the globe in the long run is to spiritually impact our own immediate surroundings right now. The harvest fields are not only in exotic-sounding cities and countries, but right around us, even in Edmond, OK, where I live. As we are faithful here in raising new disciples with hearts to follow Jesus, He will use them and their resources (as well as our own) to send even more out to the highways and byways, so that all will hear the invitation to come to the banquet of our God, and receive adoption through Christ into His eternal family.
God is on the move in ways far beyond our puny imaginings! Don’t you yearn to be a part of what He is doing?