Introductory Note:

Mekdes Haddis came to the US from Ethiopia as a college student so that she could train for full-time ministry. She was floored by the pattern she saw in Western church circles, where underdeveloped disciples routinely go as disciple makers to other parts of the world. She writes that American churches often “send people they have no business sending at the expense of the receiver.”

In this excerpt from her book, A Just Mission, Haddis points to some wonderful Western missionaries who are exceptions to this pattern. I’m sure you can think of some too. As we celebrate these exceptional missionaries, I hope we will also have ears to hear the harder parts of Haddis’ message. Can we prayerfully submit our approach to missions to some outside scrutiny? If so, I believe Haddis’ biblical framework for missions can help us live as more faithful partners in God’s work.

Grace Pouch
Content Manager

The Pow­er of Character

A clos­er look at Acts 1:8 shows us the clear instruc­tion and swift strat­e­gy Jesus gives to his dis­ci­ples for mak­ing an impact around the world. It’s a sim­ple and pow­er­ful yet heav­i­ly over­looked mod­el in West­ern Chris­tian­i­ty. The church was birthed on Pen­te­cost when the Holy Spir­it filled the dis­ci­ples with pow­er and sent them on mis­sion. Before that moment, they had been wait­ing dili­gent­ly in prayer and com­mu­ni­ty because they knew going with­out the Holy Spir­it was fruit­less. Their char­ac­ter was devel­oped dur­ing their time with Jesus and after his death and res­ur­rec­tion in their wait­ing. These dis­ci­ples stood up for the rights of the oppressed and con­tin­ued to heal and teach peo­ple just as Jesus had taught them to do.

Being in wor­ship of Christ and in min­istry in the Unit­ed States, I have observed a false dichoto­my in West­ern mis­sion move­ments, one that empha­sizes going some­where far away with­out first mak­ing sure those going have a lifestyle that resem­bles Christ.… I have seen greater empha­sis on stay until you’re filled with pow­er” than on go and make dis­ci­ples” in oth­er cul­tures who cling on to the pow­er of the Holy Spir­it for their abil­i­ty to be a missionary. 

There is in West­ern the­ol­o­gy a lack of empha­sis on prayer, fast­ing, and the teach­ing of Chris­t­ian per­se­cu­tion and iden­ti­fy­ing with Christ in our suf­fer­ing; there­fore we don’t see the fruit of long-suf­fer­ing in believ­ers. This robs the church of the abil­i­ty to not only send but even have faith­ful Chris­tians who can do gospel work where they are. An empha­sis to BE” a dis­ci­ple before MAK­ING” dis­ci­ples is nec­es­sary if the West­ern church is to remain an essen­tial part of the glob­al mis­sion movement.

The pow­er of a believer’s tes­ti­mo­ny is the ulti­mate weapon of destruc­tion against the ene­my. As seen in Rev­e­la­tion 12:11:

They con­quered him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their tes­ti­mo­ny;
for they did not love their lives
to the point of death.

As believ­ers who are called to car­ry the gospel around the world, our abil­i­ty to tes­ti­fy of God’s good­ness in our lives has far more pow­er than our abil­i­ty to indoc­tri­nate others.

Greg Ogden uses the acronym FAT in the book Dis­ci­ple­ship Essen­tials, which stands for faith­ful, avail­able, and teach­able, to describe the peo­ple Jesus invest­ed in and sent off as dis­ci­ple mak­ers. Ogden also incor­po­rates this tool and describes mak­ing dis­ci­ples a few at a time in his book Trans­form­ing Dis­ci­ple­ship, empha­siz­ing char­ac­ter and will­ing­ness as decid­ing fac­tors in whether time and ener­gy should be invest­ed in teach­ing some­one to become a dis­ci­ple mak­er. This is ulti­mate­ly the call to the mis­sion field. We must ask our­selves, What type of tes­ti­mo­ny do we have as believ­ers that is wor­thy of spread­ing to the ends of the earth?” 

The mis­sion is not an expe­di­tion, nor is it a sto­ry of us sav­ing oth­ers. It is a call to die to self and live for Christ. It is sac­ri­fi­cial, it is cost­ly, it is bru­tal, and it tru­ly is a call to lose our pre­sup­posed iden­ti­ty so we can be one with Christ. Our life is to be eclipsed by his all-con­sum­ing fire that unites us with every­thing he is so that we are sure exam­ples of Christ when the world inter­acts with us.

Faith­ful Legacy

There are many faith­ful West­ern mis­sion­ar­ies whose sto­ries have served as an encour­age­ment to mine. George Müller, who was used mas­sive­ly by God to reach the orphans of Bris­tol is one of them. When I thought that God required a faith like that to do his work in my life, I prayed that he would give me a tes­ti­mo­ny like Müller. 

I’ve mulled over how a woman like Gladys Ayl­ward dared to step out in faith and go around the world to spread the love of Jesus Christ. Ayl­ward not only preached the love of Christ through her ser­vice in Chi­na as a foot inspec­tor” but also made room for the orphans in the com­mu­ni­ty. These tes­ti­monies don’t escape me, nor do I chal­lenge mod­ern West­ern mis­si­ol­o­gy and prac­tices because I want to rewrite history.

How­ev­er, what stands out to me when I read their sto­ries is how much these peo­ple loved God and did what­ev­er he required of them, and often they suf­fered for it. That suf­fer­ing was the main vehi­cle to their matur­ing in faith and what allowed them to see and iden­ti­fy oth­ers’ pain. When we’re wrapped around with com­fort it’s easy to turn a blind eye to another’s pain, but when we, too, are suf­fer­ing, some­thing in us wants to pre­vent oth­ers’ suf­fer­ing because we know they don’t deserve it. Christ suf­fered on our behalf so he could take away our pain, and there is a beau­ty in our abil­i­ty to suf­fer with oth­ers — we get to hon­or the king and be close to him: Con­sid­er it a great joy, my broth­ers and sis­ters, when­ev­er you expe­ri­ence var­i­ous tri­als, because you know that the test­ing of your faith pro­duces endurance. And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and com­plete, lack­ing noth­ing” (James 1:2 – 4).

Look­ing at the lives of these mis­sion­ar­ies we view as heroes, we see that they didn’t start prac­tic­ing sac­ri­fi­cial liv­ing once they got to a des­ti­na­tion but were faith­ful­ly serv­ing the Lord at home in their com­mu­ni­ties. At the end of the day the gospel may cost us some­thing we hold onto tight­ly, some­thing of com­fort or a posi­tion of pow­er. Are we faith­ful enough to sub­mit to it?

Con­nect the Dots

One of my favorite sto­ries of the Bible is the inter­ac­tion of Philip and the Ethiopi­an eunuch in Acts 8, which beau­ti­ful­ly describes our role and God’s role in missions. 

The Lord instructs Philip to go south of Jerusalem toward Gaza, where he meets the Ethiopi­an eunuch. The sig­nif­i­cance of how they meet is one we must not over­look. This man is the trea­sur­er of Queen Can­dace’s wealth and has a copy of the book of Isa­iah, which makes him a very wealthy man. He is com­fort­ably sit­ting on his char­i­ot read­ing from Isa­iah out loud when Philip approaches.

Upon the instruc­tion of the Holy Spir­it to go join this man on the char­i­ot, Philip obeys with a curios­i­ty that is beau­ti­ful to see. He asks, Do you under­stand what you’re read­ing?” … He choos­es to lead with a ques­tion, which opens up the eunuch to a con­ver­sa­tion. The eunuch invites Philip in, to help him under­stand God’s Word clear­ly. God by gen­er­al rev­e­la­tion has revealed him­self to every­one so that no one is with­out excuse (Romans 1:20). We have to be able to con­nect the dots by ask­ing ques­tions rather than lead­ing with our assumptions. 

Philip approach­es the man with curios­i­ty, which hon­ors him as an image bear­er of God and acknowl­edges him as some­one God has been pur­su­ing from long before his meet­ing with Philip. What’s sur­pris­ing to me is that the eunuch had the aware­ness that he need­ed some­one to guide him through the scrol­l’s con­tents. Because God had been prepar­ing his heart to hear the good news, he was in a way wait­ing for Philip. 

God ful­fills his role and pre­pares the hearts of the peo­ple he will send us to. Our role is to keep in step with the Spir­it and obey when he calls us. Once we meet those whose hearts we believe have been pre­pared, we must lead with ques­tions rather than assumptions. 

My hope is that our church­es pro­duce mis­sion­ar­ies like Philip, who go where God calls them, who say yes to the things that are asked of them, who share with curios­i­ty to learn about where peo­ple are with God and fig­ure out their role, and who have no agen­da to con­vert peo­ple so they can con­quer their lands and dom­i­nate their culture. 

When we empha­size going on mis­sion as the ulti­mate call­ing with­out expos­ing peo­ple to ways of becom­ing true mis­sion­ar­ies, we build insti­tu­tion­al­ized reli­gion. But when we empha­size faith­ful­ness, avail­abil­i­ty, and teach­a­bil­i­ty, we empow­er each indi­vid­ual believ­er to take up their cross and car­ry it to wher­ev­er the Lord calls them. 

Adapt­ed from A Just Mis­sion by Mekdes Had­dis. Copy­right © 2022 by Mekdes Abebe Had­dis. Used by per­mis­sion of Inter­Var­si­ty Press. www​.ivpress​.com

Image: Fres­co of the Seck­au Apoc­a­lypse by Her­bert Boeckl (19521960) in the Angel’s Chapel at Seck­au Abbey, Styr­ia, Aus­tria: Philip and the Ethiopi­an Eunuch.

Text First Published September 2022 · Last Featured on Renovare.org October 2022

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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