I awaken at 3:41 a.m. and listen for his breath. For a panicked moment, I hear nothing and I wonder if he could die of a broken heart right here in our bed. Could his heart break wide open from being pushed down and trampled on for four years? For four years he has gotten back up every time—until yesterday. God’s people keep poking him in his soft places until finally, he looks at them through bloody eyes.
I don’t want to do this anymore, he said to me yesterday.
And can I blame him? Watching him hurt this way is like dying slowly and I want to hold him close to me in the dark. But he is a grown man, who wants to find his own way. And God has warned me before about interfering between the two of them. Besides, he is sleeping—even though I can’t–so I just watch the clock and think. I think how I prayed for 12 years for him to find Christ. How I longed for him to sit beside me in the pew. But God placed him up front leading worship. I think how I prayed for him to lead our family. And instead he led an entire congregation through a dark time. I cry quietly and I think about these things until the clock says 6:00 and it’s time to get up.
Later, I am running and thinking about getting through to these people—how can I make them understand? How do I tell the message that Jesus cares more about helping our fellow man than about the coffee stains on the sanctuary carpet? How do I say it and make it mean something and make it stick? How to gently say that he cares more about bonding together for God’s kingdom than about the janitorial cleaning schedule? I am pondering how to make this message meaningful–more concrete–when I remember his words.
We just give them Jesus.
His name is Mike Robison and at that time he was the associate director of the Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship (PFF). He came to our church three or four years ago to talk about what God is doing through PFF in Central Asia.
Mr. Robison explained the typical MO of a missionary in Central Asia. They move into a community, take up residence there, and start working a job that supports the community’s needs. They might be a teacher, or a computer programmer, or an engineer. Point is, they become a part of the community before engaging in spreading the gospel.
The way he described it sounded like a clandestine spy operation…the agent infiltrates the community, gains their trust, establishes relationships, and THEN he very carefully begins feeling out the possibility of a church plant.
The regions Mr. Robison talked about (Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan) are approximately 99% Muslim and are generally recognized as having substantially corrupt governments. It is dangerous to be a Christian there. People die for it.
As soon a house church is established, the missionary leaves the area. Mission accomplished.
You don’t stay and oversee the church? An elderly lady sitting next me asked.
We just give them Jesus, was his reply. We don’t tell them how to worship, what it should look like, or any of our American traditions. We just give them Jesus.
The elderly lady looked uncomfortable. This was at the height of our Traditional verses Contemporary Worship conflict in our church. I knew what she was thinking.
But some types of worship are wrong.
And four years later, here we are. And I’m still trying to figure out why our message has failed with some. The Central Asian missionaries make their message concrete by establishing an entire life around it. They are the substance of the gospel. Their body is the concrete…the way they help, they way they love, the actions they perform every day. As I run, I think about Ann and her trip to Guatemala. I think about Dan in Haiti. How to be real like this to my church family here?
Have I not delivered Jesus this way to my brothers and sisters? Lord knows I have tried. Another thing I remember Mike Robison say: The most difficult missionary field today is the United States.
Are our hearts so hardened by excess that we can no longer hear the voice of God?
Some messages stick better than others, Heath and Heath tell us. And we are all just broken people that make up the church. It’s when our brokenness rubs up against each other and we hurt one another that our ears close to the messages the other carries. Nothing sticks when emotions are raw this way. We are both rubber. We bounce around and into and over and away from one another. Our words are never received.
I’m tired of thinking about it right now. Right now, I only find myself longing for that simple message the missionaries take to Central Asia.
Just give me Jesus.