The year was 1989 and it was the summer before my senior year in High School. I was about to embark on a course that would take me in a direction that I was completely oblivious to at this time, not unlike most teenagers. I had signed up to go to Indonesia to help construct a wall around a local college that was training native pastors. My decision to go had been pretty spur of the moment, and I only had a few days to secure the $4,000 needed to partake on this two-month mission. The outfit that I had signed up with recruits teens from all over America and sends them around the world to complete projects like the one we were about to do.
Two days before we were supposed to leave, I only had $1,000 on hand. I showed up at a youth meeting at my church, and people began giving me envelopes; some were filled with cash and others with checks. Amazed, I totaled the amount that night. It was $4,000 exactly. I was in awe at how quickly and specifically God had answered my prayer and my faith was soaring.
Paul was pretty direct in his letter asking people to fund his missionary journeys (1 Cor 16:6; Rom 15:24). He asked rich Christians to give to the poor Christians in Jerusalem ( Rm 15:26). Since that day in 1989 when I was a young teen, I have asked many people and groups for their prayers and financial support. It started with requesting people to help me get to India during every summer holiday while studying at Baylor University. After I graduated, I began asking people to help fund a other projects. Well, now it is 2010 and I am still needing support but in a different way. The funds I am requesting (and other members of ServLife’s team around the world) is for a vision embodied in ServLife International, encompassing 120 indigenous ServLife missionaries, 300 children in six different orphanages,and many more people and projects to extend the love of Jesus Christ in word and deed..
In my own Baptist heritage, it is amazing to read of those, who, in the words of the great Baptist missionary Wiliam Carey, “Attempted Great things for God and Expected Great things from God!” On October 2, 1792, almost two hundred years after the reformation and a period of little to no protestant missionary outreach, the Baptist Missionary Society was formed. The model was based upon a trading company of the day, with private subscribers contributing large or small amounts of money to a common enterprise: World Evangelization. Other early groups modeled after these Baptist pioneers about a decade later: the Missionary Society (also, London Missionary Society), Church Missionary Society, established by Evangelical Anglicans. In 1793, Carey was the second missionary sent by this organization and did incredible work. Carey’s efforts fueled interest in the USA, sparking a group of Baptist and congregational women to form the Boston Female Society for Missionary Purposes in 1800. America’s first missionary, Judson, studied at a Baptist school, Brown. He was sent by a congregationalist who set up the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. While completing the journey to India by sea, Judson felt he could not baptize infants without having been baptized himself, and was baptized immediately upon his arrival to Calcutta at what is now the Carey Baptist Church – a church I preached at in the early 90s. Luther Rice was another congregationalist turned Baptist over the issue of baptism by immersion and helped organize the General Missionary or Triennial Convention in 1814. In 1845, Southern Baptists began their global efforts and the stories could go on and on. Today, the most exciting movements are not the ones happening in the west but the ones taking place in the non-western and southern regions of our globe.
In recent years, the North American church has deliberated over, and often debated, how westerners fit into the changing face of God’s work in the greater world. Quite simply, the world is changing, and doing so exponentially with the perpetuation of globalization. Not surprisingly, the church is shifting, too, and with equal impact. This is especially true as the gospel continues to sweep the southern hemisphere, influencing ancient religions, tribal practices, and customs, causing these communities to challenge how Christ changes the lives of individuals and entire communities.
People often ask me, “Don’t you get tired of asking people for money?” and my response is always the same. “Never!” God’s global mission in the world is central to His heart and purposes throughout history. Since God seeks to restore and redeem all humanity and creation to Himself, the work He authors is always angled toward this highest goal of restoration and transformation. Each time a human life is changed through an encounter with Jesus Christ, God has a new witness, one who may also enter into the mission of His work in the world. Being a God-witness is more a promise to be trusted than merely a command to be obeyed. This promise is what Peter realized in his encounter with Cornelius in Acts, “Then Peter began to speak: I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism…” Providing funds for His work all over the world is a chance to share in the transformations that take place, making disciples of all the nations.
One summer while I was in college, I worked on staff in an inner-city church in Houston, TX. One Sunday as I was locking up, a Hispanic woman said she had to go get her tithe for that day and asked if I could wait while she went to get it. Little did I know that I would wait for 45 minutes while she walked home. I got impatient and was very hungry. Finally, she arrived and handed me the small envelope and she went on her way. I saw that it was open and looked inside and found 1 dime. That is right, a 45 minute walk for ten cents. I could not believe it, but I should. That was not just a 45 minute walk for ten cents, it was a 45 minute walk to be part of spreading the Kingdom of God. It was a walk that was obeying God’s command to go and make disciples, and a walk of trust that God’s promises are true. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” (Matthew 13:44)
Give generously. Love generously. live generously.