by Sam Lai
Revelation 21:5 (NRSVUE) declares, “And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’” This year marked the beginning of a new era. The world has reopened after three years of a paralyzing pandemic. Borders reopened, new visas are being granted, and domestic and international travels have resumed. This time of hibernation fostered a resilience and a long-awaited readiness in us for new things ahead.
Our resurrected Lord and Savior Jesus will certainly come back in His day to make all things new. During this state of expectancy—already but not yet—Jesus continues to show us glimpses of His new work here and now. We have a foretaste of the heavenly realm that we can now experience partially, if not wholly, today.
Living out God’s Kingdom now also includes the diversity and great multitude of people “no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Rev. 7:9–10, ESV).
From All Tribes and Peoples
Reaching out to those who were not yet God’s people was the great burden of our founder, A. B. Simpson. It propelled him to leave a prestigious pastoral ministry to engage, evangelize, and make disciples among the recent immigrants from Europe. Such people were not accepted by the typical churches in Simpson’s time. As the C&MA mission began, workers were sent to do cross-cultural ministry in the Middle East, Africa, and East Asia. Reaching the unreached and ethnically different is embedded in the DNA of our denomination.
Today, we witness a variety of people among many ethnic groups identifying as diaspora around the world for many different reasons. In most major countries and cities, we can now easily find people from every major ethnic group. People of different ethnicities are coming together to share their lives, which often leads to the formation of new cultural groups.
Recently, during a mission trip to the Holy Land, I was able to witness the blossoming of a new ministry opportunity. One Chinese pastor plans to form an English-speaking congregation geared toward Jews who are friends of Chinese students from different college campuses. This non-siloed approach for ministries creates a new space to experience the foretaste of all tribes and peoples in eternity.
Today, how do we continue the incarnational ministry of our forefathers who have faithfully and sacrificially committed their lives to missions? What does it mean to be relational, intentional, and missional as we fulfill the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations?
First of all, we are called continually to embrace people who are different from us with spiritual openness and cultural humility. We must be spiritually opened to a Kingdom perspective beyond our own familiar understanding. We must expose ourselves to the work of God around the world among a diversified population so that we can see other people as God sees them.
For example, Han Chinese people, one of the largest Chinese ethnic groups, are often born and raised among different cultures, which makes them unique even from each other. In order to truly understand these different ethnic groups that vary even among themselves, we must be open to hearing about their experiences.
Being culturally humble means having a willingness to listen, understand, and learn from any individual who comes from a different culture, speaks a different language, has a different worldview, or prays to a different deity than you do. Engage and make friends with people intentionally, relationally, and missionally like our Lord Jesus.
I remember an encounter I had when I first came to serve at San Francisco Chinese Alliance Church. In November 2018, the destructive Camp Fire almost destroyed the town of Paradise, California. One day, a group of 12 from our church drove up from San Francisco to provide support to those who had escaped the fire.
In the temporary shelter, I talked to a Caucasian lady who shared how her heart was broken when she only had a few minutes to gather essential items before being hurried away from her home. Although she was able to leave with her injured dog, she was desperate to find her lost cat.
As she shared in tears, I listened and offered words of encouragement. I prayed with her and guided her to trust Jesus, who is the only One granting peace and hope. She gladly accepted it, and after the prayer, she was drawn to Christ and decided to follow Him more closely. It was an important blessing to her, even amid her loss and hopelessness.
The Balance Between Faith and Work
Secondly, we need to explore new ways of engaging the world and sharing the gospel in a meaningful and relevant way. In addition to the traditional way of doing missions, Business as Mission (BAM) programs like running coffee shops, agricultural businesses, tourist centers, or educational centers have become more popular.
However, the successful practice of BAM is complex and demands that people have multiple perspectives, a Kingdom mindset, and the know-how to operate the business. Most importantly, it calls for a renewed mission with an expectation to see a new way of doing God’s work.
It involves the delicate balance and integration of faith and work. The work itself should not be just a channel to connect and share the gospel. The work should have an intrinsic gospel significance that fundamentally transforms Christians while also drawing the lost from every ethnic group nearer to the Savior.
Leaving Our Comfort Zones
Thirdly, we need a new way of defining and viewing the Church. As the world changes so quickly and churches start adding online services and gatherings, traditional churches might become less attractive and even obsolete for the younger generations.
Many megachurches are less popular as people are seeking genuine and personal relationships in smaller spiritual communities. Small churches and even home churches, which often provide easier access to authentic fellowship, are becoming a commodity, particularly after a collective traumatic pandemic experience where people were isolated and deprived of genuine human connection. In addition, there are increasing limitations and restrictions of running churches, especially in closed countries. It is essential that we find creative ways to nurture and cultivate new life in the Church to reach all peoples.
So, what do we expect when seeking God’s work in mission? It begins by renewing the original call the Lord gave to A. B. Simpson. When he left his monoethnic, middle-class church to reach out to multiethnic diverse people groups both locally and overseas, Simpson paved the path we need to follow.
We need our great God to challenge us like He did to the Early Church in Acts 6–8, enduring suffering and difficulties so that we will be ready to leave our comfort zones in response to the Great Commission to bring the gospel to people who are different from us. Let us expect to experience God’s Kingdom and His never-paused miraculous works here and now with the renewed strength He has given to us.
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