As I was clearing the files off my desk at the end of another working day, my mobile rang. It was “Hal” (name changed to protect identity), a local friend who sometimes attends the Arabic international church, and he wanted to talk about a few things. I offered to meet him for coffee after work the next day, at a nearby shopping mall.
While waiting for Hal to arrive, I looked around the food court for a fairly discreet table where we could talk privately and out of sight. I didn’t need to bother – when Hal arrived, in white robe and Arabic head-dress, he chose a table in the very middle of the food court, in full view of everyone (as with most of our local friends, he is sociably inclined). At least the tables were far enough apart for our conversation to be confidential. Hal shared about his family background, and how he had come to faith in Jesus Christ. I was excited by his story, and was also impressed at how Hal remains well-connected with his family and culture, and not “extracted” (which unfortunately happens to many of our local friends, who trust in Jesus and jump across to the international Christian community, leaving their original community and culture behind).
As I listened to Hal sharing about how the Lord was leading him to become a more active witness, I felt the Holy Spirit was also leading me to ask him about his friends, and whether any of them were interested in Jesus too. One was, Hal said. I followed-up by asking what Hal would wish to tell this friend, if they happened to meet each other. He replied with the important lesson that the Lord is teaching him these days, about how God chooses very ordinary people to be His friends. I commended Hal for being willing to serve the Lord where he was, and we both observed that the Lord had given Hal a message, and a friend to share it with too....
My experience of ministry in this country has been very much “a journey into the unknown.” There is no blueprint, guidebook or manual for me to follow – instead I am reliant on the Lord for daily guidance. Sometimes the guidance comes from His written Word – like when, after reading about compassion in one of Paul’s letters, I am prompted to imitate this quality in the workplace, by looking out for any local colleagues who seem sad or anxious. Another day the guidance comes from the Holy Spirit’s direct intervention, like when my friend Hal called, and I changed my plans in order to meet him. Yet another source of guidance has been where a need or opportunity has, as I turned it over in my mind, been used by the Holy Spirit to excite my heart, for example when the Arabic pastor asked me to develop their junior church programme.
Evangelism, discipleship and indigenous church-planting here is also a journey into the unknown. Although our team follows guidelines and they received wisdom of other pioneers in this work, we quickly find out that the Lord Himself is leading the new believers and organizing His church. For example, rather than sticking to one discipleship programme, our local believing friends will eagerly attend six or seven different church groups as they learn to follow the Lord, mixing freely with expatriate Christians. From this my co-workers and I are eventually learning that the Holy Spirit is taking care of their spiritual nourishment by His own means and sovereign leading.
So what are some qualities that I have discovered to be essential for this journey onto the unknown, called “church-planting”? Sensitivity to the Lord... and the availability and flexibility to respond to His leading.
Excerpted from “Journey Jumbles – Real Stories...Real People...A Real God,” a JMM publication for Bartley Christian Church July Mission Month 2008.