Growing up, my musical education was of the Traditional sort. Studying first the piano and then also the violin, my teachers coached meticulously for hundreds, even thousands of hours of instruction and meticulous drilling, and I became well versed in reading the most complex sheet music, in executing the fastest and most difficult licks, and in unleashing my emotions through the music with power and grace. Yet, as I gradually came to realize that I lacked on thing: I was unable to improvise.
Early in high school, I began to become exposed to early jazz-style piano, played by guys with ridiculous names like Jelly Roll Morton, Fats Waller, Pinetop Smith, and the like. As I hunted for sheet music to begin playing their stuff, I ran up against a wall: it didn’t exist! These crazy guys would improvise effortlessly, making it up as they went along. But when I tried my hand at it, I came up with a big fat nothing. It was so different from anything else I had done up until that point, that I would just sit and stare at the keys with a blank expression of bewilderment. It’s not that I just didn’t know how to improve in playing jazz or rock piano: I didn’t know how to start or even where to begin!
This is pretty much how you or I can often feel about getting involved with global missions. If you’ve been reading for the last couple of months, we have investigated what missions is (May) and why we need to be involved in missions (June). But even if we know what cross-cultural missions is and why we should be involved in it, this doesn’t mean that we have a clue how to become a part of God’s work of missions in the world today. But, if you find yourself in this position, take heart! The purpose of this article is to illustrate some ways in which all Christians can become involved in global missions.
We get an excellent example of the two primary ways to be involved in missions in Acts 13:1-3. It reads, “Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.”
The two primary ways in which you and I can be involved in missions are to be either one who goes (a “Missionary”), or one who sends (a “Sender”). A missionary and a sender may be involved in two very distinct parts of global missions, but they are really two equally essential members of the same team which is bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to all peoples, tribes, languages, and nations.
How do you become a missionary then? As we see from this passage in Acts, just as missions itself begins with God (the whole thing kicks off as the church is praying), missionaries become missionaries because God calls them to be missionaries (it is the Holy Spirit who chooses Paul and Barnabas to be missionaries). While many missionaries can become what we might call “career missionaries”, that is, they might serve as missionaries for long periods of time or even their whole adult lives, all missionaries are sent out for a purpose, as the Holy Spirit says, “for the work to which I have called them.” When God calls someone to be his missionary, this call may begin as a general sense of desire to serve cross-culturally on a short-term mission trip or as a long-term missionary, but eventually it must become concrete and take on shape as a definite work that God has entrusted to the missionary or team of missionaries.
However, it can be genuinely difficult to distinguish between God’s call to do something and our own (perhaps selfish or sinful) desires to do the same thing. How can we know whether God has called us to be a missionary or not? Well, the truth is, God has not left us in the lurch: he confirms his inward call to missionaries with the outward call of being sent by his church. When God’s church discerns that a person or team is called to become a missionary, and makes it a priority to send that them, God confirms to the missionary and to the church that it is in fact his will that this person or team go on the mission field.
Senders then are not optional: they are essential to God’s work of missions. Paul makes this clear in Romans 10: 14-15, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” Paul says that those who share the Gospel, especially cross-culturally, have to be sent by the church, both as an institution and as an organism, so that the whole people of God can be involved in his plan to bring salvation to the nations. This is why the Holy Spirit tells the church to set aside Paul and Barnabas for missions, and it is the church that lays hands on them to send them out for the work appointed for them by the God who saves.
If God is calling you to be a sender (and make no mistake: as a Christian, he is calling you to be either a missionary or a sender), there are several concrete ways for you to begin sending missionaries:
- Identifying missionaries. The church needs to be on the lookout for people who are called to missions! Some people who are called to missions often do not realize it until a sender calls them aside and points out that they are being called to missions. Once called, they need to be trained, supported, and received back again into the church.
- Financial support. It may seem like missionaries are always asking for money, but seeking financial support from senders accomplishes two things. First, it allows Christians to become a part of what God is doing abroad; as Paul speaks of his own need in Philippians 4:10, “You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.” Second, it is the primary way in which God meets the needs of the missionaries and their families as they serve in sharing the Gospel cross-culturally.
- Prayer support. Missions work is war. It is a war not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil for the hearts and minds of the people whom God loves. Missionaries face incredible struggles on the field, and just as a tree will be blown over by the wind without an extensive network of roots, missionaries desperately need the prayers of hundreds if not thousands of Christians to be about the work that God has called them to do. This is God’s work, and so we have to be asking him for his help always.
- Advocacy. Missionaries often need help raising awareness for their missions, and they often need help making connections, communicating with potential senders, and finding accommodations as they beat the bushes for financial and prayer support. You can help to send missionaries by being a point of contact for them with others and by exercising hospitality when it is needed.
- Moral support. Missionary work can be difficult, lonely, and discouraging. There is almost nothing better for a missionary than to receive letters, emails, phone calls, care packages, and the like from their friends and loved ones, and even from strangers, back home in the United States. It helps them remember that they are part of a broad team of brothers and sisters in Christ who are committed to the same work to which they are, who confess the same Gospel that they do, and who have the same Lord that they have.
To finish the story of my musical training, in the end I did learn how to play jazz and to improvise like I had always wanted. But while my studies did come in handy, I really picked up the art of improvisation one day when I was playing with a small combo of musicians when, with much fear and trepidation, I just jumped into it! I let my inhibitions go and just started playing what came to mind. In other words, it was through doing it that I learned how to do it.
At the end of the day, these are just a few suggestions regarding the how of getting involved with missions. But, much like my experience with jazz, to know how best to get involved in it, either as a missionary or as a sender, you need to jump in, get your feet wet, get your hands dirty, and experience the marvelous work that God to which is calling you!
This is the third in a series of six articles by Fr. David on cross-cultural missions and the Christian life, initially published in the July 2010 edition of The Resurrection Times