Mission is a threshold experience, but not only in the sense of crossing difficult borders and plunging into foreign cultures.
"My name is also John," the young man introduced himself to me on the sidelines of a mission conference in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
He looked Asian, and upon hearing my astonishment, he explained that he had come to faith in Jesus through a talk I had given, had changed his name from Mohammad to John, and was now here for me to bless him for missionary service in Afghanistan. "Pray that I survive a few weeks there," he asked me. Admittedly, I have never found prayer as difficult as this one. John, a Tajik, left for Afghanistan. I haven't heard from him since, but in the meantime small house churches are sprouting up everywhere in Afghanistan. Also a work of John? I think so.
A few weeks of mission, even if it means losing my life. This sentence marks the tension. Mission is crossing borders. We, followers of Jesus, are sent to all the peoples of the world (Mt 28:19). Countless are the borders that separate these peoples - cultures, languages, ideologies and political systems. And all too often they have built high fences to the outside world. Getting to know this colorful world of peoples sounds like an adventure. And who of us Euro-Americans, who are said to have a tourism gene, would not be interested in experiencing such a real adventure!
Then welcome to the mission. Crossing borders is part of the essence of mission. In my now more than 40 years of mission service, I have been able to learn a number of new languages and cultures. Not only once have I faced seemingly insurmountable natural and man-made barriers and yet moved forward. All these border crossings have left a deep mark in me and have grown the conviction that I serve a Lord who is a God who works miracles and nothing, indeed nothing at all, is impossible for him.
[destacate]The liminality of mission finds its best expression in the spiritual experience of God's presence in difficult contexts
Of course, mission involves crossing borders, but it also involves dangers, even dangers to life. Apostle Paul describes political, religious and natural threats that he was confronted with on his missionary journeys and then was able to experience again and again how God saved him. No, the apostle does not praise his strength, his cleverness, but rather his neediness and his dependence on God's intervention. (2Cor. 11,21-33).
Mission is a risk. It is always connected with challenges and risks. And it is not a matter of the clumsy formula: No risk - no fun. Rather, it is about experiencing the power and strength of the Lord, to whom all authority has been given in heaven and on earth. With these words Jesus also introduces his Great Commission (Mt 28:18). Disciples who are sent by Him into the wide world know what He can do and they also know that He has promised to be with them always, even to the end of the world (Mt 28:20).
Mission is a threshold experience, but not only in the sense of crossing difficult borders and plunging into foreign cultures. The liminality of mission finds its best expression precisely in the spiritual experience of God's presence in difficult contexts. We cross the thresholds of worlds where the Gospel is not yet at home, perhaps even risking our lives, but as soon as we do, we see God standing by, ready to intervene at any moment. And this should not surprise us, after all, we cross borders in the mission because He Himself has instructed us not to stop before such borders. As messengers in His place, we walk on paths that He knows and face challenges that He also faced. And who else should know how to master them if not He, to whom all authority is given in heaven and on earth.
As a young man, I refused to serve in the Soviet military and was tried. It was a difficult time in every way. Whenever I had to go to the next "conversation" with my tormentors, my knees trembled. And then one day, on the way to the examination chamber, about above my body, I saw a figure of light walking with me. It was an angel! I had never seen one before. But here he was and with him my Lord. In an instant, the fears were gone and I felt more secure than I had ever felt before.
The very next moment I remembered the words of Jesus who said to his disciples: “But before all this they shall lay hands on you, and persecute you, and shall deliver you up to the synagogues and prisons, and shall bring you before kings and governors for my name's sake. This will happen to you for a testimony. Take it to heart, therefore, that you do not worry how you shall defend yourselves. For I will give you a mouth and wisdom that all your adversaries will not be able to resist or contradict. But you will be betrayed by parents and brothers and sisters, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake. And not a hair of your head shall be lost. Be steadfast, and you shall gain your life." (Luke 21:12-19).
[destacate]We cross borders in the mission because He Himself has instructed us not to stop
As missionaries, we cross boundaries, but we are never left alone. What God expects from His children, He also provides with His special blessing. And wherever He sends us, He goes with us in His Spirit. And yes, as missionaries we sometimes risk everything, even our lives, but actually only to gain our true life. Where else can we do the works that He, our Lord Jesus Himself did, and do even greater works than these? This and nothing less than this He promised us when He said to His disciples, "Verily, verily, I say unto you: He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also, and greater works than these shall he do: for I go unto the Father." (John 14:12).
This promise of Jesus, which seems to every normal Christian to be completely exaggerated and unrealistic, becomes true in the liminal spaces of the mission. For where we are at a loss, where borders block our way and mountains of problems loom before us, there we can, in faith, command the mountain to disappear and the mountain will be moved (Mt 17:20). And nowhere else do we become so aware of this and so possible as in the cross-border use of the mission.
So, it makes sense to go on mission, whether abroad or just around the corner in our home town. After all, it is the Holy Spirit who endows us with special gifts and our Lord Jesus who assigns us his missionary tasks according to the gifts and God, the Father, who works power where the good gifts of his Spirit are used in the exciting tasks of his Son (1Cor.12,4-6). And this power moves mountains and raises the dead. Not least for this reason, the Apostle Paul longed for nothing else so much as to know this power of resurrection, even where it meant sharing his suffering (Phil. 3:7). Welcome to the mission!
Johannes Reimer, professor of Mission Studies and Intercultural Theology at the Ewersbach University of Applied Arts (Germany), and director of the department of Public Enagegement of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA).
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