Judging from outward appearances, there is nothing extraordinary about our church. In fact, one could easily pass by and deem our church irrelevant. In two years we will celebrate a century of existence. The building is rather small and unimpressive, the parking lot more a pasture than anything. Did I mention we are a rural church? The smell of cow manure usually greets a visitor long before any member, and our closest “neighbors” reside in the cemetery next to us. We are plenty friendly, but we are not trying to be “seeker friendly,” and our two stoplight town is not exactly growing. So how is it that God has chosen to use this “least of” Body to play a significant role in reaching one of China’s minority peoples? A little history is necessary.
In 1984, our pastor came as a twenty-something seminary student, to preach to the thirty or so faithful who were gathering on Sundays. With aspirations to do ministry in a large urban center, his plan was to give the church eighteen months worth of weekends, then graduate and head back to the city. After eighteen months, however, God said “stay,” and death was pronounced on his dream. He died to numbers, exposure, relevance, growth and “success.” In exchange, he asked for two things: that the members of the Body truly love one another, and that God would satisfy him with His presence. God answered those prayers.
In 1989, another prayer began to be voiced: “God, what could You do through a small church?” At the same time, a consistent request for God to bring hungry people was being offered. Again, God was faithful to answer. The Body began to grow. Not with the influential or wealthy, but with the broken; with those who knew of their desperate need for God; those who from having been forgiven much, began to love much.
In 1998, God would bring nations to the fore of our Body’s heart and mind. Our pastor, who had lost interest in missions following a less than successful trip overseas, attended a mission information meeting on work in Turkey. Having no real interest in Turkey, our pastor began to ask one of the presenters about work in China. Before long, an invitation was extended for the presenter to come and share with our Body.
It was with great joy that the Body heard and responded to the message of taking God’s glory to the ends of the earth. We listened throughout morning Bible studies, the sermon and an evening of informal questions. A challenge was extended: “If you will believe and obey God by going to the ends of the earth, He will ‘fill up’ everything in between.” Discussion ensued among the 150 who had gathered, and a resounding and unified “yes” was given to the task of making God known among an unreached people of China. The evening concluded with an hour of fervent prayer asking God to show His glory through us to a people in China. God would answer again.
Within a few months, the pastor and a lay leader were escorted to five different regions of China. At each location the prayer was once again offered: “God what could you do?” Though a specific people group was not revealed at this time, there was the impression that we were to be involved with a minority people in a certain region. A season of prayer began throughout the entire Body, and a team of eight was chosen to make the next trip to China.
There was nothing distinguished about these eight. They were teachers, housewives, students and the like, all unified by a love for God and a love for a yet to be revealed “neighbor.” Their task was to go and discern to whom God was leading us. Through prearranged contacts, they talked with other laborers in the area, were led through villages and prayed together, while the Body at home prayed earnestly for God to lead them. The Sunday morning of their return was a tremendous expression of worship as we heard for the first time the name of the people we believed God was calling us to love and serve.
Since that time, God has begun to answer what He could do. Where there was no known church among the people we embraced, there are now several hundred. A nationally led and indigenous church is reproducing among them. We have sent four families and a single to live long-term with our Chinese neighbor, and we will soon send another single and another family. Nearly 100 men, women, children and youth have gone on short term trips to China. The impact has been equally great upon our Body.
Fifteen months ago, after a similar process, we “adopted” an isolated and unreached people in Mexico’s Sierra Madre. We are also serving a clan of Navajo in Arizona. We have a family serving full time in Africa and have begun to discuss the possibilities of going to a Muslim people next. At His leading, we also began asking that our church would come to reflect our community, which would mean our Body becoming about twenty-five percent Hispanic. (Our first non-English speaking family joined our Body last week!) And the faithful thirty once attending our church has increased to nearly 1,100.
I share this only to boast of God and His faithfulness to “fill up everything in between.” It is not that we believe God needs us, because He does not. What we do believe is that as followers of Christ we are a sent people, and as the Body of Christ we are to be a sending people. God has invited us to be a part of what He is doing to advance His Kingdom, and it is our privilege and responsibility to say “Yes!” Missions is not something we do, but rather a part of who we are. Missions is not a program. The mission has become to glorify God as we seek to love Him and love others! Since we believe our life is to be about knowing God and making him known, our desire is to serve our neighbor, whether we have to cross the street, cross a border or cross an ocean.
Our journey has not always been an easy one. We have often found ourselves at the bottom of the learning curving staring up. We have not been as intimately involved in peoples’ lives prior to their being sent, which has hindered our ability to stay connected with them while half a world away. We have also had to receive members back from the field who have returned under very stressful circumstances. Their re-entry into Western culture and our ever-changing church culture has not always been easy.
We believe strongly that since we are created for community, we need to do a better job of nurturing intimacy between those we send abroad and those who remain. We like to say that when we send a member of the Body to the nations “we all go.” That sounds good, but the realities of working it out are difficult. Because God has called us to that which is worthyand not that which is easywe are moving forward.
We have begun a process at our church called “advocacy” in order to address some of these concerns. Basically, when someone in the Body is sensing a leading to be sent to the nations, they are encouraged to meet with our mission pastor (who served in China for seven years). If there is an initial sense of rightness about God’s leading and timing, the individual or couple is asked to meet with our pastor and elders in order to share how God is working in their lives and the story of their journey to this point.
Our Body has been blessed with a godly group of men to serve as elders. Their primary role when hearing from prospective candidates to be sent cross-culturally is to hear their hearts and then speak into their lives as the Spirit impresses them. If a candidate is encouraged to move forward, an elder is appointed to “walk” with him or her in the advocacy process. The candidate is asked to select five to eight others from the Body to whom they relate most closely in order to begin a series of meetings.
The advocacy group provides a safe environment for the candidates to share more intimate details of their life journey. No question is considered “off limits,” as candidates share on everything from their upbringing, influences, biblical understandings, sin life and so on. After a couple of meetings with the candidate, the advocates meet alone to discuss what they have heard. They consider a candidate’s strengths and areas of concern and then write an assessment that is to be given to the elders. Before the assessment is given to the elders, it is shared with the candidate in a meeting that is usually very affirming and filled with prayer.
After the elders are given the assessment, they meet again with the candidate to discern “next steps.” If at this point the mission pastor, advocates, elders and candidate all sense a “rightness” about moving forward, the candidate shares with the Body as a whole, and a season of training is begun. There have also been times where we have asked a candidate to wait in order to address certain concerns.
Obviously, such a process requires an environment of love and trust. We are discovering that walking more intimately in one’s journey toward cross-cultural service is fostering a much greater level of community with those we send, as well as heightening levels of commitment from the Body as a whole. We have a ways to go, but there is an increasing sense that when one of us goes to the nations, we all go. We have become truly vested in the lives of those we are sending.
Finances, logistics and cross-cultural partnering are other issues we deal with, but God has been faithful to bring increasing numbers of people into our Body who have significant ministry experience abroad. This has allowed us to connect with like-hearted people in China and other places with whom we can covenant to serve together. It has also afforded us the opportunity to provide relevant training in the context of Body life.
We are grateful for what God has done, but it does not prevent us from continuing to ask: “God what could you do in us and through us?” With increasing desire, we want to move to the fore of God’s glory among the nations. We believe that this is not only the Church’s responsibility but her blessing and privilege. We cannot abdicate to another! Our calling is to Christ, and as a result of that calling, we are sent, whether to the nations or to our neighbor.
Dave lived and served in one of China's large urban centers, equipping and encouraging local Chinese to be the Body of Christ. He was also indirectly involved in work among four of China's minority peoples. He is now working to train churches and individuals seeking to serve in China and …View Full Bio