Mike Smailes is a local church pastor, passionate about the Lord’s Great Commission. Here, Mike shares some of the questions he has had about traditional mission work.
Nations are now ‘on our doorstep’. Partnership with indigenous churches across the world is bearing fruit. God is humbling us in sending many ‘missionaries’ to our own shores and in highlighting the harm that sometimes well-meaning missionaries from these shores have done.
Should we still serve as senders?
With my Bible open, I could never doubt the Lord’s priority in sending us into the world to make disciples. But whom should we be expecting the Lord to send? Is the plight of lost people in unreached people groups mainly dependent on those who live nearest to them? So then, are we better resourcing and encouraging those ‘on the ground’ instead?
Or, if we are serious about pioneering work among unreached peoples, where do we start? I want to see our church connecting with local churches on the ground – but what if there aren’t any yet? As you can see, I had a lot of questions!
Challenging my mindset
I was still grappling with these questions when I was invited to partner with others in an exploratory trip to an unreached people group in West Africa. Though months in the planning, it was within just hours of my arrival that my presuppositions were vigorously challenged. It’s hard to describe how it feels being in a country with so very few who know Jesus. As you cast your eyes across a city whose millions have no opportunity to hear even the simplest explanation of the gospel, it does something to you.
Whilst on the two leg journey out there, our leader was contacted by a long lost acquaintance. She doesn’t yet know the Lord but she’d been profoundly touched by contact with him many years before in another country. She grew up in the city we were visiting and her uncle wanted to meet us. Our first evening would be in their home. Our leader tried to prepare us as best he could. This was a high caste man and our visit was not without risk. With a very small number of ‘workers’ in this city, it was imperative that our visit didn’t hamper their long term mission work in any way. We all had so many questions. How shall we explain our strange presence here? What of our supposed tourist agenda? Most of us were pastors for one thing! Do we answer questions about faith? Perhaps this nervousness would have been less marked if we could have predicted the warmth with which we were welcomed.
An open door
We sat in a crowded front room, surrounded by government officials who couldn’t have been more delighted by our presence. By the end, it felt like we’d made genuine friends. Our visit was only for a week but another long afternoon and evening was spent with this same group. They were keen to get to know us. Open to heartfelt conversation. Serious about wanting us to consider living and doing business there. In short, I came away with the profound sense that God was unravelling many of those questions in this one encounter. Here were a number of families who had no contact with Christians, no knowledge of Christ and little access to his word. But here we were – less than 24hrs in the country – and a door was already opening!
Please don’t misunderstand me – this is not an easy mission field. The ground is hard. Those working there are often discouraged, lonely and in some cases feel unsupported. But here was the message I couldn’t miss. These people need people like us to go and live among them!
There is still an aching need for us (yes those of us in the UK) to send people. The harvest is ripe. The opportunities vast. The need urgent. We need to pray for God to send people from our churches here. God is still in the business of sending people. Spending time with those already sent simply confirmed it.
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