Friday, November 29, 2019

Resounding Anthem : How God is Amplifying the Voice of the Church in Asia and whether we're Listening.

What can one really hope to say of the Church in a Continent so vast and diverse after a mere sixteen day trip to India, Nepal and Thailand? I don't presume to offer anything more than an impression. Mind you, it's an impression that has deepened with each visit I've made to this region these last twenty years. It's this. The Church in the East may have more to teach us than learn from us.

Not to mistake this impression for Christians in Asia being unteachable. Nothing could be further from the truth. I've seldom seen such hunger to learn from God's Word as I did on this trip, always taught through a translator, sometimes in three languages, seldom for less than four, one-hour sessions a day. Not to mention a couple hours of worship and prayer.   I guess there's something about traveling 3 days by bus to attend a conference that feeds hunger like that.

Though each nation is unique, Christians in all three regions experience significant forms of hostility because of the gospel. In two of the three, that hostility could be described as persecution.

But the quality of their faith reminded me of Paul's description of the Thessalonian church. "For you received the Word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers...for not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, your faith in God has gone forth everywhere."  (1 Thessalonians 1:6)

Like the Thessalonians, the word of the Lord is sounding forth from the Church in Asia as an example to us, not of perfection, but of radical authenticity. We dare not ignore the sound of it.

So what does their resounding anthem teach us? 

To lean into long-suffering I'd just preached two sessions and went to a bathroom  that had a very low doorframe. I bashed my head on a rusty latch on the doorframe and had to go off to hospital for a tetnus injection and to have my head wound cleaned up. It wasn't very deep, but I was feeling pretty sorry for myself on my return to the meeting where a man called Ude was reporting back. He told us that he'd planted ten churches and had been beaten for preaching the gospel in every new region he had been to. "But the Word of God never seems to spread until I get beaten," he explained, "And so, I am willing to keep getting beaten if it means that the gospel continues to spread."

Suddenly my little head wound seemed inconsequential. On a masala chai tea break after the session, my friend Chad and I were pensive. "Are we even playing the same game?" Chad ventured. "Back in Arkansas I'm trying to get the coolest design for my next sermon series in the hopes that people will show up to church instead of watching football and this guy is getting beaten for proclaiming the gospel!" I had no real answer to explain the yawning gap in reality that we both felt. Make no mistake, Chad is experiencing some real challenges in his church in Arkansas. But most of his are associated with comfort-loving cultural Christianity, the problem of a majority faith that has been assumed and ultimately denied because of its popularity in the USA. We need to learn greater long-suffering from the Church in Asia.

To love our enemies. I sat on the edge of my seat as my friend Raman taught those who were experiencing persecution on how to respond. This was a lesson that none of us from the USA, Australia or South Africa could teach with any real experience. With fatherly wisdom, he explained, “We engage those who persecute us with love because the spirits behind them have no defense against the weapons of love." I had never heard such practical teaching on how to face persecution well. I wondered what these Indian and Nepali believers would think about our tendency to cry foul at the slightest opposition. Still, even if we do not face persecution per se, we all face some level of hostility because of the gospel, and the principle applies. We do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against spiritual powers. We are to engage those who oppose us with the irresistible weapons of love not war. One addendum to this. When you have a real human enemy you are less likely to think that a Christian brother or sister with whom you disagree, is an enemy.  Those of us who enjoy freedom can easily squander that freedom by mistaking brothers and sisters in the Church with whom we disagree for enemies.

To turn to God from idols. Our Southlands team witnessed a woman from Yafu village in Thailand getting baptized as a follower of Christ. This is always amazing, but the context makes it even more remarkable. Just three years ago two missionaries were martyred for trying to evangelize  her previously unreached village. This lady is only the 20th person in Yafu to be baptized as a Christian! The gospel is taking root and bearing fruit in Yafu village!  But before baptizing her, the team helped her to demolish her idols to the spirits she had previously worshippedShe turned to God from idols. She did not add God to her idols. I wish it were that cut and dried in the West. Our idols are far more subtle. More respectable. More material, but no less spiritual in essence. They still break our hearts when we worship them. I think we can learn about turning to God from our idols when we recognize what they are. What competes with Jesus for my allegiance and confidence? That is my idol. Let's be a people who recognize and repent of our idols, as surely as if they were a statue to a foreign god.

If we could learn to sing their anthem in these ways, the Church in the West would be far stronger and richer for it. God has chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith. Of course, we still have much to teach and give to the Church in Asia. They need our support and solidarity in many ways.  But let's give upwards, not downwards, as humble  learners, not just teachers.

I was not able to post many photos because social media in some regions can result in greater persecution, but I did happen to post one photo of a Punjabi man who fell asleep on my shoulder while I traveled on a bus. At the end of our time in India, one church leader mentioned that photo saying, "That's how I feel with you guys. We can relax around you and rely on you." 

Maybe that's the best posture we can hope to take; to aim to be a shoulder to lean on even as we learn from the resounding anthem of the  Church in Asia.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing. Thought provoking and your conclusion on ‘being a shoulder to lean on’ pulled at my heartstrings. Sometimes that’s the most powerful thing we can do for our brothers and sisters. Greetings from the LRC Church family in Johannesburg.