Christians = God’s Admin [Part 2]
[Disclaimer: The following thoughts are personal, and don’t necessarily reflect those held by Care for Children or my colleagues.]
For [Part 1] go here.
8 And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: 9 “This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. 10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’
In part 1 I suggested that ‘administering true justice’ is the Church’s mandate: a unique Christian calling based on the fact (yes, fact) that Jesus is true justice personified, that his resurrection administered true justice once-and-for-all by defeating death, and that as citizens of a new and eternal nation under his Kingship, Christians are called to give up their lives to bless the nations by administering (i.e. doing) true justice, equipped by scripture, and guided by the Holy Spirit. Yes, it’s as exciting as it sounds.
I also used Zechariah 7: 8-10 to illuminate why Rachel and I have moved to Thailand with Care for Children: to work with the Thai government, developing their child welfare system to focus on placing orphans into good, local families as a positive alternative to institutional care. God designed the family to care for children. Children need to know they belong in a loving family – I believe it’s one of the fundamental needs of any human being (even in adulthood), and as essential even as food & water is for our sustenance. I also believe that the pursuit of correct family relations and structure is more theologically and spiritually critical than we usually give credit (or attention). But ultimately, I believe the work Rachel and I are doing here in Thailand is part of the much bigger picture of ‘administering true justice’ to the nations that millions of Christians (the worldwide Church) around the world are involved in.
But I finished the post with a nagging question:
Why does God call a young English couple to undertake this work in Thailand? Why doesn’t God simply call local Thai Christians to do it? I already know of a number who have a sincere desire to see reform in their country’s approach to orphan care, and who would love to see the church at the forefront of it.
I think this question needs to be clearly answered because it can linger in the back of the minds of people doing the work, and skeptics looking on can lobby numerous accusations about importing ‘Western’ ideals that will have negative cultural implications, etc. – a rightful concern.
Here are the verses I believe God gave to me in the next chapter of Zechariah to answer that question:
20 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Many peoples and the inhabitants of many cities will yet come, 21 and the inhabitants of one city will go to another and say, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the Lord and seek the Lord Almighty. I myself am going.’ 22 And many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the Lord Almighty and to entreat him.”
When reading this, I was immediately struck by the imagery. I’m drawn to the idea of a wide variety of people from different backgrounds and origins travelling toward the same destination – a journey that takes them (us) across borders, and into contact with different people groups, and along the way urging others to join them (us), freely sharing the good news of the purpose of their (our) travel. It’s an image that reminded me of some of the old communist propaganda posters that I saw for sale on the sides of streets in China when I lived there: the masses all moving and pointing towards a perfect future that they believed to be a tangible reality, and which was their great hope.
But more importantly, I learnt about God’s design for mission. Here is verse 21 again:
…the inhabitants of one city will go to another and say, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the Lord and seek the Lord Almighty. I myself am going.’
I realised that this was speaking directly to my heart about why Rachel and I were going to Chiang Mai. In fact, it dawned on me that journeying to share the Lord’s message is ultimately what mission is, and reveals God’s sovereign design behind all mission work. There are a number of ways to explore this deeper, but I’ll limit myself to the following:
1) Leaving home
I like how Richard Rohr puts it (but many have said much the same thing):
I am convinced that when Jesus sent his first disciples on the road to preach to ‘all the nations’ (Matthew and Luke) and to ‘all creation’ (Mark), he was also training them to risk leaving their own security systems and yet to be gatekeepers for them. He told them to leave the home office and connect with other worlds. This becomes even clearer in his instruction for them ‘not to take any baggage’ and to submit to the hospitality and even the hostility of others.
This has both a highly practical and spiritual application (although I don’t usually like to separate the two). Practically, it supports the image in Zechariah of people physically journeying – leaving their own cities and travelling through others on their way to Jerusalem. But I believe it also speaks of one’s own spiritual journey. Of being prepared to leave behind the comforts of wordly matters, and instead to ‘seek the Lord Almighty’, or God’s Kingdom (aka the ‘promised land’, aka ‘Jerusalem’).
Mission work does not always involve leaving your home for ‘the nations’, but it does always involve the pursuit, and building, of God’s Kingdom (home) instead of your own. Of course, in mission, these ideas inextricably intertwine (or, you become the ‘gatekeeper’ as Rohr puts it) when you understand you are leaving your temporary home (whether in a physical or spiritual sense, or both) in order to encourage others to join you in an eternal heavenly home (John 14:2):
In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.
Mission changes your understanding of home. Again, the words of Jesus from Matthew 8:20:
Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
2) Rejecting a homegrown prophet
Familiarity breeds contempt. There is a dynamism and freshness to taking a new message to a new place. Just by being from a different culture, an old message has the novelty of being fresh (perhaps just by the way you deliver it), but maybe also with a new and helpful perspective, understanding, or expertise. Even Jesus was rejected by his own hometown despite his overwhelmingly successful ministry in other cities and regions (Mark 6:4-6):
4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honour except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.
Were Jesus’ relatives and his hometown simply too familiar with him? Did familiarity prevent them from accepting his change of career from local carpenter to a famous, miracle-working, controversial Rabbi? Mission often means you have to leave home to find a listening ear – perhaps God’s way of keeping his people mobile.
3) Sharing cultural strengths
From my experiences to date of living internationally (UK 19 years / Pakistan 7 years / China 5 years / Thailand 4 months & counting), I have seen first-hand how cultures vary in their strengths and weaknesses. For example, Asian cultures tend to have a stronger sense of family and communal living, with several generations of family living and caring for each other in the same home. In the West (or at least in the UK) we value our independence, and tend to pay people to care for our elderly, letting them fade away in old people’s homes (yes, you do note a cynical tone).
My point is, no country’s culture has everything sorted, and could therefore benefit from the strengths of another. This can also be true of the many Christian cultures and traditions. My Dad said of the international, interdenominational Church he led for seven years: we celebrate unity amidst great diversity. It conjures up the image of the ‘body of Christ’ in 1 Corinthians 12:27, where each member has its role to play: ear, leg, hand, stomach… It’s not a surprise then, that Christians from the UK can bring something new and necessary for the Church in Thailand to learn – and vice versa, of course.
So, to conclude – mission has always involved travel. Ever since the fall, when Adam and Eve were evicted from Eden, mankind has been on a journey back to God’s Kingdom. Moses, Abraham, Joseph and David were all travellers. Jesus was a traveller, as were his disciples. Paul and the apostles were travellers. Christianity has a long and rich tradition of people packing up their bags and travelling to do God’s work: administering true justice in the world. It’s how Jesus did mission when he was on earth. It’s how God continues to do mission through his people when they follow Jesus’ example. It’s how the Spirit is still guiding people in mission today.
God has a sovereign plan, and there is a finite amount of time to get it done. As our world gets smaller, you can feel the momentum gathering. God’s people are going from city to city, country to country, saying ‘let us go at once to entreat the Lord and seek the Lord Almighty’, and they are showing the lost The Way, and in so doing ‘administering true justice’ in people’s lives. I look forward to hearing stories of Thai missionaries in England, Ugandan missionaries in Greenland, and North Korean missionaries in Brazil… and it’s why God has called Rachel and me, an English couple, to do his work in Thailand.
Come and join the club!
On a side note…
Recently, I was delighted to see that World Relief has started selling t-shirts with the slogan ‘DO [JUSTICE]’ emblazoned across the front. Amen to that! This is just the kind of message I feel increasingly passionate to help spread. As it happens, the decapitated male model posing with the t-shirt (and what a pose) used to attend our church in Norwich while studying his Master’s at the University of East Anglia. Now based in the US, and when not modelling, he is also a key member of WR’s communications team.