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Have you ever thought of yourself as a missionary? Maybe not called to go overseas or the inner city, but an everyday missionary, reaching those in your sphere of influence for Christ.
Jesus introduces an idea in John – that all believers are missionaries.
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21)
The word sent used here (apostello) is associated with missions. And the word missionary (or apostle) means one that is sent on an important mission, somewhat like a delegate in our contemporary sense, who represents a nation, or an institution, in negotiations or important discourses.
Jesus is saying two things in the verse here. Firstly that he is a missionary. God the father has sent him on the father’s mission. This mission is the most important one on the face of the earth. It is to redeem God’s humanity, and bring them into relationship with him once again. Jesus understood clearly that he was the “sent one”, sent to be the answer to humanity’s lostness. Through his vicarious death on the cross, anyone who believes in Christ, will now receive life and forgiveness since Jesus has paid the ultimate price for their sins; his death.
Secondly, and more importantly for our conversation, Jesus is saying that we are also called to be missionaries in the same manner as he was called to be one. We are also sent by the father (via Christ) to go on the same mission, to bring humanity back to God.
Thomas Hale, a missionary to Nepal, speaks on the importance of every Christian being a missionary.
“No one can say: ‘Since I’m not called to be a missionary, I do not have to evangelize my friends and neighbors.’ There is no difference, in spiritual terms, between a missionary witnessing in his home town and a missionary witnessing in Katmandu, Nepal. We are all called to go—even if it is only to the next room, or the next block.”
So you see, you and I, whether in ministry or the marketplace, are called to be missionaries.
The question though, is how do we go about doing this in our daily lives? Particularly if we are in a secular educational institution or a vicious corporate work setting, where there is no room for God. Many believers living in the western hemisphere have the same concern. It seems like God is dead in society, and people just don’t care about spiritual things anymore. Thus, Christians find it hard to share the gospel, and when we do muster up the courage to talk to people about God, it seems to fall on deaf ears. It’s as if we are speaking a different language, and we cannot be heard or understood.
Language and, more broadly, cultural barriers are not a new phenomenon in missions. Missionaries from centuries ago understood this challenge in dealing with a foreign culture. When Hudson Taylor went to China as a missionary in the 1800’s he did the unthinkable – he identified with the Chinese culture. He could be seen sporting the native clothing and even wearing pigtails as the indigenous Chinese did. Similarly, around the same time, across the oceans, Mary Slessor in southern Nigeria refused to be culturally distant from the people she ministered to. She chose to live in a mud hut and speak the native tongue of the Efik and Okpoyong people. Both these pioneering missionaries made great headway because they became relatable to the people they were ministering to. As the old adage goes, people don’t care how much you know, unless they know how much you care.
The problem we have in secular society is that Christian culture has become foreign to many. Whereas decades ago most went to church, today Christianity is divorced completely from the lives of the masses. Just as the missionary of yesteryear had to cross the barriers of culture, we have to learn to use culture as a bridge, if we want to impact our lost neighbors, co-workers and friends.
I am reminded of a friend whose child was heavily involved in sports. The team was very competitive and thus would travel to various places. Naturally the parents of the children got close because of the many shared experiences. My friend and her spouse, who saw themselves as missionaries, were able to use their platform of athletics to draw the parents into deep meaningful conversations and eventually close friendship, that led to some of them coming to know Christ.
The cultural language here was athletics. For you it may be something else such as being a new parent alongside a neighbour, or enjoying the same hobby as someone else. It doesn’t matter, the principle of the old adage resounds here. Unless they know you care, they won’t care about your Jesus. To reach this culture, we need to slow down on the preaching, and instead learn to know, love and befriend people. Then allow the Holy Spirit, through deep times of prayer, to show us how to reach our lost friends. Like the missionary who is “all in”, (having committed their life, family and finances to live in a foreign field) we also have to be all in, at least in our attitudes. We must realize that our ONLY mandate from God is to be sent to this world to reach others for him.
– Pastor Olu Jegede