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Following God across borders

The presence of borders invites us into a multi-tribal fellowship in which we can share whatever God has given us.

VISTA JOURNAL AUTOR 333/Harvey_Kwiyani 11 DE MAYO DE 2022 09:15 h
Photo: [link]Kyle Glenn[/link], Unsplash, CC0.

This article explores the Gospels and Acts to make an argument that the mission of Jesus to make disciples of all nations in the world, is a call for his followers to cross all kinds of borders to bear witness to his name.



Focusing on geographical borders, I argue that diaspora people, those who had crossed physical borders, played a significant role in the spread of Christianity right from its inception.



This does not call us to cancel the borders but rather to use them to enrich our experience of the faith through cross-border exchange, to invite us to the multicultural reality of the Body of Christ in which God makes a new tribe out of many, one in which each people’s identity is just as important as its ability to belong together and exchange with other peoples.



In essence then, the borders exist not to enforce any hierarchies of the tribes, Christ flattened those, but to incubate and share the gifts God has given each tribe for the mutual enriching of the tribes to the glorifying of God to whom the earth and everything in it belongs.



The Kingdom of God makes the borders porous and calls each tribe to a receiving and sharing posture.



 



Crossing borders from Galilee to all nations



It is beyond dispute that the mission of Jesus was to the entire world. To fulfil this mission – to reach the world – Jesus had to start somewhere, in the real-life context of the backyard country around the northern end of the Sea of Galilee, in what was called Galilee of the Nations (or, as Luke translates, Galilee of the Gentiles).



Jesus came as a Jewish Messiah and on this premise – that he was indeed the Messiah, the Son of Living God (Matt 16:13) –he gathered his disciples (John 1:40), all of whom were Jewish (even though the mission was to touch the ends of the earth).



He spent over three years traveling with them up and down the country, teaching them to save “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt 15:24) before they would embark on a mission to save the world.



While he was with them, their ministry would be limited to the lost sheep of the house of Israel and nobody else.



However, as His ministry drew to a close, Jesus started to talk about reaching the nations. The limited commission was replaced by the great commission in which Jesus sent the disciples to all nations.



Matthew tells us that as Jesus prepared to leave them, he said to his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mat. 28: 19).



This is the telos of the three years of hard work. A new community of disciples was finally ready to take on the nations. But were they?



 



Jewish diaspora as God’s people crossing borders



The timings of God’s work are always multi-dimensional. That is why it is always best to look at the wider context of history to understand some of God’s background work that may not seem obvious.



Before Jesus showed up, God had been setting up the stage for the world-transforming movement that he would initiate.



The event of Jesus’ life and mission is of utmost importance, it therefore required thorough preparation. The whole of Jewish history was pointing to the arrival of Jesus as the Messiah.



However the two most outstanding ways in which we see God preparing for the mission of Jesus are migration – especially the scattering of the Jews from Palestine to the wider world of the Roman Empire and the Middle East and beyond – and the cultural diversity of the Roman Empire.



The birth and spread of Christianity would take advantage of these two factors and because of them, we have world Christianity today.



By the time Jesus was born, Jewish people had gone through series of dispersions from Palestine and many Jewish diaspora communities had emerged in the wider world beyond the Mediterranean basin and the Graeco-Roman territories.



For several centuries since the Assyrian Dispersion (722 BCE) and the Babylonian Captivity (597 BCE), there had been a constant dispersion of Jews from the Promised Land.



While many of them returned in waves from Babylon during the Persian period, a sizeable Jewish population remained in Mesopotamia. By the third century BCE, as Greek influence spread, Jewish communities continued to mushroom across the empire.



The Greek diaspora prompted further scattering of the Jews. Both the Greeks and the Romans moved thousands of Jewish soldiers to towns outside Palestine.



Large Jewish communities emerged in Antioch and Damascus, in the Phoenician ports and in the Asia Minor cities of Sardis, Halicarnassus, Pergamum, and Ephesus. It was the Jews of Alexandria who translated the Old Testament from Hebrew to Greek, completing the Septuagint in 132 BCE





[photo_footer]  Diaspora synagogues in the Roman empire. / Wikimedia commons, via Vista Journal. [/photo_footer] 


 



 



Devout Jews from every nation



By the time we come to Acts 2 when the church is born in Jerusalem, the Jewish diaspora was quite large and influential.



Jews lived on most of the islands of the eastern Mediterranean, (such as Cyprus and Crete), in mainland Greece and Macedonia, on the shores of the Black Sea, and in the Balkans, Rome and throughout the Italian Peninsula, Egypt, Libya, and as far west in North Africa as Carthage.



Luke takes time to mention that there were present in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost “devout Jews from every nation under heaven … Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs” (Acts 2:9-11).



All these diaspora Jews witnessed the event of the pouring out of the Spirit that day and would take the news about it to their towns even before any missionaries arrived.



They would tell in their synagogues right around the then known world, of the strange thing that happened in Jerusalem; “we heard them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.” This would prepare, even in a small way, for the time when the gospel would be preached in their cities.



Within a few decades of Pentecost, there would be more Jews living in the diaspora than in Judah. Even more so after 70CE when the Romans destroyed the Temple of Jerusalem and deported many more Jews to Syria, Asia Minor, Italy and other parts of the empire.



Jewish communities sprang up in every large city of the empire, from the Persian Gulf on the east to Spain on the west. With the temple destroyed, there was not much to look back to and so the diaspora became home.



This extensive presence of Jewish communities in the diaspora at the time when Christianity was just emerging would play a very significant role in its spread.



As we follow the story further, we learn of Paul’s engagement with the Jewish diaspora. Luke depicts Paul attempting to evangelise the Jewish diaspora in the synagogues first when he arrived at a new place.



We see Paul first preaching in the synagogue of Damascus (Acts 9:20), Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:14), Iconium (Acts 14:1), Philippi (Acts 16:13), Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-2), Berea (Acts 17:10), Athens (Acts 17:17), Corinth (Acts 18:4-6), and Ephesus (Acts 18:19, 19:8).



In Pisidian Antioch, Paul declares that he would “now turn to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46) because the Jews rejected the gospel, but we see him continue to address fellow Jews first in synagogues (Acts 18:19, 19:8).



Thus, people who had crossed borders served as natural bridgebuilders for the Gospel.



In Europe, it was Lydia, a border-crosser from Thyatira, who became Paul’s first convert to Christianity in Europe in the town of Philippi (Acts 16).



 



Our mission and borders



Using this precedent, we can see that following Christ in mission will for many of us involve crossing borders.



While we will certainly cross geographical borders, more often than not, we will have to negotiate cultural, ethnic, theological, denominational, and many other types of borders.



Our mission does not erase these borders. The same Paul who crossed many borders said, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:22) also said, “I am made all things to all people” and that he was a “Hebrew of the Hebrews.”



The presence of borders invites us into a multi-tribal fellowship in which we can share whatever God has given us. They call us to be hospitable to strangers as we ourselves once were, or may soon be.



This is how the Gospel will reach the ends of the earth. Let us keep crossing them with humility, well aware that God’s Spirit is already at work wherever we find ourselves.



Harvey Kwiyani is CEO of Global Connections, and co-editor of Vista.



Vista is an online journal offering research-based information about mission in Europe. Founded in 2010, each themed edition covers a variety of perspectives on crucial issues for mission. Download the latest edition or read individual articles here. This article first appeared in the April 2022 edition of Vista Journal.



Further reading





  • Adeney, Miriam. Kingdom without Borders: The Untold Story of Global Christianity. Downers Grove, IL.: IVP Books, 2009.




  • Carroll R., Daniel M. The Bible and Borders: Hearing God's Word on Immigration. Ada, MI: Brazos, 2020.




  • Castles, Stephen, and Mark J. Miller. The Age of Migration: International Population Movements in the Modern World. 4th ed. New York:




  • Guilford Press, 2009.




  • Groody, Daniel G., and Gioacchino Campese. A Promised Land, a Perilous Journey: Theological Perspectives on Migration. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008.




  • Hanciles, Jehu J. Migration and the Making of Global Christianity. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2021.




 

 


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