It was several years ago that I wrote about a ministry tool called the E-Scale. Used mostly in cross-cultural contexts, “The E-Scale helps compare the cultural distances that Christians need to move in order to communicate the gospel with others. E-0 refers to evangelism of church-going Christians. E-1 extends to the very same culture through one barrier, that of “church culture.” E-2 evangelism presses into a close, but still different, culture. E-3 evangelism pushes to very different cultures.”(1)
The basic idea is that the closer a person is culturally to the people they are trying to reach, the fewer the barriers there are to overcome. Sharing with an old high school friend has few barriers for communication. Moving to a Central Asian village presents a profusion of barriers to overcome; language will need to be mastered, worldview will need to be understood, customs, history, and more will need to be learned and applied to the sharing of the gospel. The relative cultural distance in this setting is immense compared to talking with an old high school buddy. On the E-scale, a high school friend is E1 where new acquaintances in Central Asia are an E-3.
Missiologists and missionaries alike have discovered the importance of partnering well with national churches and near culture churches in seeing the Gospel introduced into frontier mission fields. Investing deeply in the discipleship of believers who already know the language or who grew up in a culture that was more similar to the target people group than the western missionaries then becomes an important strategic work in frontier missions by reducing barriers to communication. Some have called this “near-culture missions” which The East West Center for Missions Research and Development defines as “reaching unreached people groups through sending missionaries from geographically, culturally, and linguistically proximate people groups. This has also been referred to as proximate missions.”(2) The more we can harness the innate skills and gifts of local believers to share the gospel the more often the gospel will be shared clearly and understandably. Near-culture missions is an important strategic opportunity that the global church has been embracing.
Reading a new book, Mobilizing Gen Z: Challenges and Opportunities for the Global Age of Missions by Jolene Erlacher and Katy White, I’ve begun to re-evaluate what it means to be ‘near-culture.(3)” It started with a statement from a training document for Steiger International, a ministry focused on reaching urban youth around the world.(4)
The current urban generation, connected by consumerism, social media and the entertainment industry, forms the largest global culture to ever exist. It spans the globe, sharing the same values, listening to the same music, watching the same movies and sharing the same posts. This global culture is largely influenced by one predominant worldview: Secular Humanism—God is irrelevant and man is at the center. In this relativistic culture, we are god and consumerism is our religion.
Many have called Gen Z digital natives. Born between 1995 and 2010, the first of Gen Z were twelve years old when the iPhone was introduced in 2007. As a generation, most did not choose to have smartphones, their parents simply bought them for them. Embracing them fully however, they have come and are coming through their teenage years with 24/7 access to the internet and social media. While the mental health results of this has been nothing short of devastating,(5) it is clear that they are more connected globally than any previous generation. It has been said that a ten year old in Omaha could very well have as much in common with a ten year old in Rome or Rio or Riyadh
than with their own grandparents.
And so if it is true that Gen Z is the largest global culture to ever exist, then Erlacher and White are on to something important when they say, “Given the trends in shared perspectives and values of young people across cultures, Generation Z possesses a unique opportunity. An understanding of generational views in one cultural context may equip them to engage young people more effectively in other contexts.” Could Gen Z Christians be near-culture missionaries to Gen Z Muslims, Hindus, Buddhist and atheist Chinese around the world?
I’m not sure they are waiting to find out.
Last year I had a zoom call with a fifteen year old in Dallas who was leading discovery Bible studies with teens from different religious backgrounds from all across the globe on the Discord, a social media platform used by the online gamer community. My daughter is connected with friends in France, Turkey and the UAE.
No one mobilized them to go, they were already there.
For all the challenges that Gen Z faces, I am excited to see where they will lead us in the work of completing the great commission. We certainly need to continue to focus on equipping near-culture Christians living inside the 10/40 window, but might it be that Gen Z believers who are already connected with Gen Z friends inside the unreached nations of the earth will be the next powerful force in kingdom expansion.
Perhaps we need to focus less on getting them to go as we went, and rather on developing disciples who love God and love others and have a heart for making disciples wherever they are . . . because for many, they are already there.
1. Missionary statesman Ralph Winter and Bruce Koch wrote “Finishing the Task: The Unreached Peoples Challenge” in which they shared the idea of the E-Scale and how to apply it to missionary strategy. This was published in an eleven page article in the Winter 2002 issue of the International Journal of Frontier Missions.
2. THE BRIDGES OF GOD: Exploring the Strategic Significance of Near-Cultural Mission. This is an extensive article written by David Bogosian filled with clear definitions and examples from both the Bible and modern day missions efforts. Accessed Nov. 22, 2023 (http://ewcenter.org/?p=8786).
3. Erlacher, Jolene; White, Katy. Mobilizing Gen Z : Challenges and Opportunities for the Global Age of Missions. William Carey Publishing. Kindle Edition.
4. Steiger International website, “Is There More?,” downloadable PDF, 9.
5. It is beyond argument that giving pre-teens and teens smart phones and social media right as they are navigating what we all know as the most difficult time of our lives - junior high - has had devastating results on the mental health and overall quality of life for Gen Z. Jonathan Haidt writes about these issues at his Substack, After Babel. See also the Varkey Foundations global study of the general health and well being of Gen Z. Through over 20,000 surveys from 20 different countries there is a wealth of information in their report which you can read HERE.
Historians estimate that the population of Christians in the Roman empire was 7,500 in 100 A.D. From there, rapid growth ensued so that 150 years later the population of Christians surpassed 1 million and a hundred years beyond that, in 350 A.D. the population had exploded to 34 million so that over 50% of the population of the Roman Empire claimed Christ as Lord.1 How did such substantial and rapid growth occur in a context so opposed to the Christian message? Michael Green, in his book Evangelism in the Early Church says that “The very disciples themselves were, significantly, laymen, devoid of formal theological training. Christianity was from its inception a lay movement, and so it continued for a remarkably long time. This must often have been not formal preaching, but informal chattering to friends and chance acquaintances, in homes and wine shops, on walks, and around market stalls. They went everywhere gossiping the gospel; they did it naturally, enthusiastically, and with the conviction of those who are not paid to say that sort of thing.”2
We see the first example of this kind of lay-led expansion in Acts 8:4 where those fleeing the growing persecution in Jerusalem after Stephen’s death “were scattered everywhere, and in every place they went, they told people the Good News.” Through the work of these amateur missionaries, the church in Antioch is planted. Later in Acts we see a similar pattern. In Acts 19, Paul has come to Ephesus where, after once again being rejected in the local synagogue, he moves to the lecture hall of Tyrannus where he hosts daily discussions. Luke records that “This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord (v. 10, emphasis added).” While Paul plays a crucial catalytic teaching and training role, the fact that Luke so confidently records that everyone in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord points to what Green identifies as the “informal chattering to friends and chance acquaintances, in homes and wine shops, on walks, and around market stalls.” Regular Christians gossiped the gospel wherever they found themselves.
Missiologist Doug Birdsall reminds us that, “The Great Commission is for every church in every culture in every generation. There are no exclusions. But . . . every church in every culture in every generation must determine the way in which they respond to this responsibility -- in a way that is appropriate to time and context.”3
Like the early church, in order for the great commission to be completed, the whole church - missionary and layman alike - must have vision to be involved in the work God is doing among the nations and have appropriate and accessible opportunities to do so. As a stay at home mom, Sarah is a great example of this kind of vision.
Sarah is thirty eight, the mother and homeschool teacher of six rambunctious kids and busy with all that life has for her and her family. She and her husband live in a small town in Michigan about an hour and a half from Detroit. They have a good life. Sarah however has always had a heart for the nations and a desire to see Muslims have an opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel. She serves on her church’s missions committee and they support several missionaries serving inside the 10/40 window. Sarah however has had a deep longing to do more and so when she heard about Embassy, a program that helps Christians connect with Muslims online, she jumped at the opportunity to join.4
After an initial orientation and training, she quickly made her first friend, a young lady from Pakistan whom she met on a secular language exchange app. Fatima, her new friend, was looking for a native English speaker to practice English with but she was also looking for friendship. The two began messaging several times a week and talked via video chat every Tuesday morning at 8 am. Over the course of the next two years, Sarah became a sort of auntie to Fatima. Her attempts at spiritual conversations however were almost always met with cold rejection.
That all changed in March of 2020. The pandemic was just beginning to shut down the world and Fatima began to descend into a spiral of despair and insomnia. On their regular Tuesday morning call as twenty one year old Fatima unloaded all her worries and fears, Sarah offered to pray. For the first time, Fatima said yes. There on the video call Sarah prayed for the despair to go away, for a good night sleep and she prayed in Jesus name. She said amen and looked back up at her screen to see Fatima with tears in her eyes. Fatima wondered at Sarah’s prayer, so personal and so unlike her Islamic prayers. She commented that Sarah prayed as if she knew God, as if she expected him to listen. Sarah of course did.
The next day, Sarah received a text from Fatima. “I’m about to go to sleep. Can you pray for me again? Last night I had the best night sleep I’ve had in weeks.” God was on the move and the next week, Sarah and Fatima began to read the Gospel of Luke together. Fatima began to pray to Jesus herself and a few months later, Fatima prayed with Sarah to accept Jesus as her savior.
For the past 200 years, the paradigm of western missions has been to send missionaries to the places where the gospel had not yet taken root. This was the appropriate response for that time and context. In this paradigm of missions, the missionaries went and the local church partnered with them through prayer and financial support. Missionaries did their work overseas among the nations who had yet to respond to the gospel and the local church did their work back home. There was little overlap and few opportunities for a local church in the West to do anything more than pray for and send money to the missionaries they supported. We praise the Lord today that we now live in the shadow of a tremendous legacy of those faithful missionaries who went and the churches that sent them. The testimony of the rapid expansion of the Christian church in the global south reminds us of their faithfulness. Today we in the West are learning to partner with these majority world churches to continue the ministry of the great commission. We are working to determine the new ways in which we can respond to the responsibility of the great commission, in ways that are appropriate to our time and our ever changing context. It need not be noted that globalization, which is responsible for the greatest movements of peoples around the world in history, and the rise of new technology have changed the great commission context in extraordinary ways. While we surely must continue to send missionaries - and to send more - we must also work to find creative ways to respond to the new opportunities brought about by globalization and to utilize ever expanding technological developments.
Much has been written to raise awareness and equip the local church to respond to the increasing opportunities to minister to the nations through the growing diasporas in our local context. We have a unique opportunity to mobilize the lay members of our churches into the harvest among Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and others from non-Christian backgrounds who are finding their way to the West as immigrants and refugees, university students and professionals. Diaspora ministry offers for the first time an exciting opportunity for the local church to join the missionary in the work of evangelizing the least reached of our world, an opportunity that was rare even fifty years ago for most members of a local church. This is the appropriate response to globalization and the migration trends of the nations.
Globalization has been driven in many ways by the technological advances in communications and computing that have taken place in the last century. The Apostle Paul watched legions of soldiers traveling across the Roman empire on a newly built and innovative system of roads. These soldiers were on their way to subjugate nations and oppress people but as he watched those soldiers march past, Paul saw the potential for those very same roads to carry the gospel all across that same empire. The printing press, radio, television and movies were all at one time new innovations that Christians quickly began using for kingdom purposes. The Internet and smartphones are the same. Missionaries and their sending agencies have quickly begun to utilize social media and online marketing strategies to sow the gospel all across the world. These media to movement strategies place simple gospel ads on the smartphones of tens of thousands in unreached nations. Systems of response allow for instant interaction with followers of Christ who can answer questions and send gospel resources to seekers and when the time comes, to connect them with a local Christian. The ability to sow the gospel abundantly has never been more achievable.
An analogy that has helped me understand the media to movement ministry strategy is the picture of a lighthouse. If we imagine the unreached people of the world as individuals sitting in row boats in great seas of their own people groups and geographical regions, with a social media outreach strategy we can shine a great light into that people group or region. Most will inevitably ignore the light. But for those who have been seeking the truth and asking questions about faith, they will see the light and begin to row toward it suspecting that the answers to their questions can be found there. This all happens of course in the privacy of their own online interactions.
The story of Sarah above highlights another opportunity that has received much less attention. Most of the members of our local churches in the English speaking West do not have the technical or linguistic expertise to be a part of media to movements strategies. Like it has for Sarah however, technology has created openings for everyone in the local church who loves Jesus and has an Internet connection to travel into the digital neighborhoods where the least reached of the world are gathering and there, to build relationships, demonstrate the love of Jesus and share the good news of the Kingdom. These opportunities are simple and accessible.
If we go back to our analogy, the lighthouse is a powerful tool to sow the gospel abundantly but the lighthouse requires a significant level of technological expertise. We absolutely need to raise up more with these skills and to do a better job of identifying those in our local churches who already have them and inviting them to partner with the cross cultural missionaries who are working to develop media to movement strategies. We need more lighthouses. But there is also Sarah. Sarah isn’t able to run a lighthouse. But what Sarah is able to do is to step into a small rowboat, row out into that great sea of unreached peoples and bump into a rowboat containing someone who speaks her language and who is looking for friendship. By mobilizing the lay members of our local churches into their own row boats and sending them out, more Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and people from other religious backgrounds will for the first time be connected with a true follower of Jesus. They will for the first time be the recipients of specific prayers for them and their family. They will for the first time be able to read and interact with the living and active word of God. If those things can happen we have created a tremendous opportunity for the Holy Spirit to move.
The goal of mobilizing the laity of the church into online outreach ministry is of course that more people in places where there is little or no gospel witness will hear the gospel. There are however other ways that God moves through these opportunities. As I’ve led Embassy, a ministry at Crescent Project that mobilizes people like Sarah into online outreach among Muslims over the past five years I’ve seen a number of exciting side benefits.5 Our volunteers tend to become champions for Muslim ministry in their local context. They talk with friends, small groups and Sunday school classes about what they are doing and others wonder if they too could be used by God to impact the life of a Muslim living in the Muslim majority world. Our volunteers also talk a lot about the ways they have grown in their own faith as they’ve stepped out to build relationships with Muslims who believe very differently from any of their friends. When our Muslim friend scoffs at the idea of a Triune God as utterly heretical, it forces us to dig into the word of God, to pray more and to seek wise counsel. Most would say that joining our ministry has caused them to mature in their faith. Another reality is that many of our volunteers tell of how their online outreach has acted as a sort of training for their hearts to be more bold in reaching out locally. We have also had several of our volunteers move on from online outreach to actually going as missionaries to the Muslim world. Some joined us to prepare for their upcoming move. Others began to sense a new call to missions after they began interacting with Muslims online. And finally, when the lay members of our churches begin reaching out online, it creates a greater connection to the missionaries their churches are sending. My family and I served in Central Asia for a number of years and our small rural church loved and supported us in amazing ways. But we never really sensed in our church a deep heart for the Muslim people we were living among. Imagine how that might have changed had there been five or ten members who were connecting with people from our same country, building relationships with them, praying for them and seeking opportunities to share the good news of Jesus with them. The nature of the relationship would have moved toward a fuller expression of partnership in the ministry as they asked the congregation to be praying for their Muslim friends and inevitably asked us for training.
While the list of opportunities for this kind of online outreach is long and exciting, some might push back and say that it's dangerous to turn untrained people who don’t know the language or the culture loose into online relationships with people living in the 10/40 window. To this I’d first say that our ministry does give initial and ongoing training to our volunteers. It is not as in-depth as a missionary sending agency and few of them are learning the language; they are connecting with English language learners. Furthermore, this objection assumes a neutral reality but the digital world is far from neutral. I recently did a search on a common language exchange app that our volunteers use to make connections. I searched for Arabic speakers living in Algeria between the ages of eighteen and twenty two. I quickly found over 200 Algerians who had signed onto the site in just the last day looking for connections to a native English speaking friend. They will connect with someone. It may be a secular humanist or a radical atheist, a new age religionist or a jihadist but they will make connections online. Our hope is that more and more of them will connect with a follower of Jesus.
Mobilizing the members of our local church is in no way going to replace the work of the professional missionary. Indeed, we need to send more missionaries. But these kinds of missional opportunities can be another spoke on the wheel of outreach among the unreached, ensuring that a few more will have an opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel.
Jack is a great example of this kind of work. He is fifteen and loves video games. He also loves Jesus and as he was interacting on Discord, the instant messaging app favored by gamers, he began to realize that he was interacting with people from all over the world, many of them from the Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist worlds. He soon began to share about his faith and invite people into discovery Bible studies. Rita is seventy two, retired and joined our online ministry because she was convicted by the question, “Am I going to crochet my way to heaven?” She volunteered with us and on our orientation call, I was able to open up Facebook, search for “crochet Pakistan '' and we discovered four private groups of women who love to share their pictures of the handiwork they have created and to interact online. Rita asked to join one of the groups and was quickly welcomed by these Pakistani Muslim women, most of whom spoke some English. She was the first follower of Christ any of them had ever met.
The opportunities for online outreach are nearly unlimited and they are available to the members of our local churches. Because of this, we in the mission community have a unique chance to invite our local churches into the harvest among the unreached in ways that have never before existed. In doing this, we can help ordinary followers of Christ find their way into the extraordinary work of God among the unreached.
1. Stark, Rodney. The Rise of Christianity. HarperSanFrancisco; unknown edition, 1997.
1. Green, Michael. Evangelism in the Early Church. W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2004.
3. Borthwick, Paul. Western Christians in Global Mission: What's the Role of the North American Church? IVP Books, 2012.
4. Embassy is a ministry of Crescent Project and mobilizes followers of Christ into the harvest among Muslims online. Learn more at: https://www.crescentproject.org/embassy
5. Crescent Project’s mission is to give every Muslim the opportunity to respond to the gospel and be connected with a follower of Christ. Embassy is just one of many of the ways they are working to complete this mission. Learn more at: https://www.crescentproject.org/
If you found this article helpful, please take a moment to share it with a few friends. Thanks so much!
If you walk long enough in the various neighborhoods of the Christian faith, you will inevitably begin to notice the cul de sacs where groups gather around all sorts of factors: ethnic identity, doctrinal beliefs, native languages, experiential aspirations, worship style preferences - even favorite translations of the Bible. Finding our way into groups who are like us and with whom we feel we can walk out our understanding of Christian belief comfortably and faithfully is of course natural. In as much as we have all grown up being shaped by family and church life experiences, books we read and sermons we listen to it is a wonder we don’t have more groups dotting the landscape of Christianity.
Like a cityscape filled with the architectural styles developed by generations of creative genius, the world of Christianity is a vivid expression of the beauty of the image bearing nature of human personality and perspective and cultural creativity. We are of course the body of Christ, individually and corporately. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another (Romans 12:4-5).
When lived in balance and with a proper perspective built on love and humility toward one another, Christianity is an amazing expression to a lost and broken world of the goodness, truth and beauty of God. Our witness is bold and our fellowship is a reflection of the love of 1 Corinthians 13. We are patient and kind and we don’t envy or boast. We aren’t proud. We don’t dishonor others and are not self-seeking or easily angered. We keep short accounts - no records of wrong. We never delight in evil and together rejoice in the truth. We always protect - even those we disagree with over doctrine or politics. We trust and hope and persevere, and we do all of this because love never fails.
When we live Spirit filled and activated lives in the shadow of the 1 Corinthians 13 rubric of life, we become together what Corrie Ten Book called, “tramps for the Lord” who have left our hiding places to roam the Gap with the Savior. We are heaven’s expatriates, camping where the kingdom is best served. We are earth’s dispossessed, who’ve journeyed forth to give a dying world not only the Gospel but our own souls as well. We are members of God’s global dispersion down through history and out through the nations, reaching the unreached and blessing the families of earth.*
Our differences then become the seasoning of our witness rather than the warts about which the world sees us fighting and arguing. We will still have robust discussions - arguments even - over points of interpretation, ideas about how to engage the world, what worship should look like and everything in between, but these discussions will be covered in love and cloaked in humility knowing that in this life, we see through a glass darkly. We will strive to walk in the paradox of grace and truth, knowing that grace without truth is not grace and truth without grace is not truth. And because we will fail often, we’ll be quick to ask forgiveness of our brother or sister.
While all of this seems a tall order, it is the way forward for the North American church. We’ve been duped into kingless kingdoms of social justice, culture warring kingdoms of god and country or the bland sort of cultural Christianity which is little more than a safe civil religion. None of these hits the mark. Let us therefore work together in love to pursue our Lord into the harvest, shining our light in the darkness, being salt and yeast in a broken and distorted world, edifying and encouraging one another, dedicating our lives to studying the word of God, to prayer, to fellowship, to bold witness and above all, to love.
A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
Ramadan is an important month in the Islamic lunar calendar because it is the month in which - according to Islamic theology - the first revelation of the Koran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed. During Ramadan all Muslims across the globe are required to abstain from all earthly pleasures - food, water, cigarettes, sexual relations - from sun up to sun down. Fasting like this during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam and it is one of the most important religious and cultural holidays for Muslims. This year Ramadan runs from March 22nd through April 21st.
Ramadan is a unique opportunity to pray for our Muslim friends and the Muslim world. There are a host of great resources to help Christians and their churches dedicate time to prayer for the Islamic world during this month.
30 Days of Prayer
Since 1993, the 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim world has been a helpful resource to guide prayers throughout the month of Ramadan. Available in booklet form or as a PDF, you can order your prayer guides at:
The Pray4Movements team have partnered with churches and missionaries to create 24/7 prayer for individual countries and regions during the month of Ramadan. This is a great opportunity to partner with the global body of Christ to see non-stop prayer for Muslims during the month of Ramadan. We've partnered to form the Pray4Turkey initiative through the month of Ramadan and would love to invite you to sign up for one fifteen minute slot of prayer or a daily fifteen minute slot.
You can sign up at: pray4turkey.pray4movement.org
You can find the complete list of pages here: pray4movement.org/ramadan-2023
Prayercast creates powerful videos that will help you and your church pray for the Muslims world. They have videos for nearly every country on earth as well as a whole section of videos focused on raising up prayer for the Muslim world. You can watch the Ramadan prayer video below but here is the link to all the prayercast videos focused on the Muslim world:
When God is about to do a powerful thing, he always sets his people praying.
Prayer is an important work in seeing the great commission fulfilled. These are just three ways you can be involved. Sign up for one today and share this post with a friend. We need the whole body of Christ to join in this important time of prayer.
Did you find this post helpful? Share it with a friend!
“I can’t see anything dad.”
My seven year old son squeezed my hand ever tighter as we both recognized the obvious truth of his statement. He and I along with my wife and five year old daughter had scrambled up the canyon wall in the Cappadocia region of central Turkey where we were hiking and had climbed into the entrance of a man made cave, a tunnel actually, that angled back into the cliff face and into what we knew from our guidebook was probably a complex of tunnels and rooms; the ancient homes of an ancient people. We had walked the sandy path for nearly twenty yards when we came to a right hand turn. The tunnel was four feet across and just over five feet tall, a rectangular shaft cut straight and true. A few steps into our right turn and we had run out of light. There was a shadowed outline of what appeared to be another tunnel or perhaps a doorway a few feet further into the gloom but beyond that we could see nothing. Darkness stretched out before us.
I crouched to rest my bent back and together we discussed our options. We had taken a tour of an amazing underground city the day before which had ignited the flames of our inner explorers. Unfortunately, while none of us wanted to turn back, we didn’t have a flashlight. The flip phone I had at the time didn’t have a flashlight and the gray green glow of its one inch square screen gave barely enough light to see our hands in front of our faces. What we did have was our compact digital camera which had a flash. It was worth a try and so I pointed the camera into the smothering darkness and took a picture. In an instant the tunnel burst into light and just as quickly receded back into darkness. In that moment however we had seen a vision of the future; there wasn’t just one doorway on the left, there were three evenly spaced entrances off of the main tunnel we were in, a tunnel which disappeared ahead in a distant darkness.
Dragging my hand along the wall, we made our way into the darkness until we came to the fist cleft in the sandstone. Another flash and we knew it was the entrance to a small and rather insignificant room. The next was the same but the third entrance led into a room that had a very large and rather deep pit carved into its floor. From our tour the day before we knew this had most likely been used to store grain in ages past, however the possibility of stumbling into one of these deep pits was unnerving. We squatted for another conference, reiterating to the kids to stay together and agreeing to not take any unnecessary risks. We proceeded another thirty yards or so when we noticed light ahead. We made our way forward and found a tunnel returning to the face of the cliff. It was another way out and it brought both relief and courage.
We turned back into the darkness and continued to explore. When we ventured deep enough, the light was non-existent and we rarely knew what was beyond the edge of our flash. Ten feet at a time, we wandered this complex of tunnels and rooms, discovering what felt like ancient secrets, including a large room where we imagined the community gathering for meals or worship. Fear and joy mingled as we spent the next hour chasing the light into the darkness.
As I read the Biblical stories, it seems that in many ways, faith is the simple act of chasing light into the darkness. When Moses’ mother coated a papyrus basket with tar and pitch she was simply taking the next step of faith. She hadn’t seen the whole story but in faith, she had followed the flash of God’s grace into the darkness. Moses’ sister had only seen a glimpse of a better future but she knew her God and so she took tentative, faith-filled steps into the river where she waited, standing in the shadows, standing in the muck and mire of the river, standing in the light of expectation. Joseph’s dream was followed by a pit and slavery and prison but he held on to hope, trusting that God was working behind the scenes and would remain true. When the twelve disciples watched their risen Lord ascend into heaven, the great commission was still ringing in their ears. Go and make disciples of all nations. The whole world was the vision Jesus had given them and yet they had no budget, no buildings, and no infrastructure to speak of. They did have a promise, that Jesus would be with them until the very end of the age, and they’d spent three years watching Jesus do the work of His kingdom and so they simply moved forward into the next thing God showed them.
The story of the book of Acts is the story of the disciples peering down dark tunnels expectantly looking for the light to flash. They lived with a deep trust that God was working and that His kingdom would expand. They knew beyond a shadow of a doubt what they were supposed to do - Go make disciples of all nations - but they didn’t necessarily know how it would get accomplished. They prayed and planned and took daily steps of faith, all the while trusting that God was orchestrating His will. As the disciples took those daily steps of faith, God stepped with them into their context to infuse it with His power in His timing. It is the faithfulness of the disciples that is paramount. The planning was helpful. The strategies were important. But as Andy Stanley points out, “believers with vision live with the knowledge that “how” may come about independently from their planning. But it will not come about apart from their faithfulness. Faithfulness is critical to success.”*
This is the pattern I watch weekly in the volunteers who serve in Crescent Project’s Embassy ministry which I help lead. Embassy works to equip followers of Jesus to go into the online spaces where Muslims congregate. There they build rich, lifelong friendships through which they’ll have the opportunity to share the good news of Jesus as they share their lives. Every interaction is an act of faith. The will of the Father is clear - He desires that none should perish so he sent his only begotten son to seek and save the lost and to give His life as a ransom. In Jesus is life and that life is the light for all mankind. While the vision of the Father is clear, how it will actually come about is another question all together. Meaningful scriptures shared with Muslim friends are met with smug comments that give no hint of interest in the gospel. Honest probing questions are deflected and avoided. For many of our volunteers it can be a long, bent-backed slog through tunnels of darkness as Muslim friends respond with seeming indifference. And yet as we look to the scriptures we find hope that the Father is drawing people to Christ. He is at work behind the scenes whether we realize it or not. Seeds are planted which the Holy Spirit will water in His time.
This truth was highlighted in the story of a young lady from Central Asia. One of our Embassy volunteers had been laboring for nearly two years, meeting only indifference and the needy immaturity of a nineteen year old teen wanting to learn English even as she became a sort of surrogate aunt for this young lady. But then Covid-19 spread across the globe carrying in its wake a growing sense of anxiety and fear. This young lady was swept into a dark tunnel of despair and insomnia. And then suddenly a light flashed in her heart as the prayer of our volunteer struck a nerve. A prayer in Jesus' name broke down a door of insomnia. A prayer in Jesus’ name brought a bright calm into a heart swirling in the darkness of increasing anxiety. An invitation to read the scriptures was hesitantly accepted and a few months later this young lady placed her trust in Jesus. The blinders fell off and she stepped into the light.
It is a truth that you can can almost certainly trace back through your own journey of faith. Someone took a risk to share with you. Someone stepped through their fear to point you to the truth. Something happened that in the moment seemed like disaster. Faith always requires the active pursuit of light into darkness. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see”.
We rarely know what lies on the other side of the darkness, but as we take steps of faith, as we move forward in prayer and hope, as we step into the light - even the dim flashes born of our weak faith - God shows up.
* This quote is from Andy Stanley's book, Visioneering: Your guide for discovering and maintaining personal vision (2016). Multnomah Publishers. (pg. 58)
Learn more about Crescent Project and Embassy.
Did you find this article helpful? Share it with a friend.
If you have been involved in ministry to Muslims for more than a few months, you’ve undoubtedly heard of Nabeel Qureshi. His journey from devoted Muslim to apologist for the Christian faith was masterfully documented in his New York Times best selling book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. His dedication to pursuing and proclaiming the truth with grace and humility shows up in his hundreds of talks, interviews and debates which can be accessed with a simple search on Youtube. His writing is generous, never belittling the Muslim worldview but giving it a fair response as he did so well in his short book Answering Jihad. Nabeel sadly was diagnosed with advanced stomach cancer in 2016 and died a year later at the age of 34.
C. S. Lewis famously said that, “Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realize the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors.” The psalmist exhorts us to “Sing of the Lord’s great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations (89:1).” One of the gifts that thinkers and writers like Qureshi leave to all generations is the gift of their books. No God But One: Allah or Jesus? is one of those important books that will indeed be a gift to generations of Christians as it makes His faithfulness known.
“No God But One: Allah or Jesus? addresses the most important questions at the interface of Islam and Christianity: How do the two religions differ? Are the differences significant? Can we be confident that either Christianity or Islam is true? And most important, is it worth sacrificing everything for the truth?”
With a description like the one above, I came to this book expecting an academic tome, something created for the intellectual heights of academia or those dedicated missiologists who read everything they can get their hands on. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to find that Nabeel's voice in the book had stayed true to his voice in both of his other books: winsome, accessible, narrative and generous. I think this highlights one of Qureshi’s greatest gifts to the church: His ability to speak with authority and deep knowledge about complicated and complex topics in ways that we can all understand. He is engaging without being flippant, compelling without being preachy and committed to the truth without being pedantic.
No God But One: Allah or Jesus? Is written in two main sections which each explore two important questions through five different parts.
The two questions are:
With these questions framing up the discussion, Nabeel makes a rock solid case for the claims of the Biblical understanding of Jesus and graciously pulls apart the Islamic arguments both for Islam and against Christianity. At nearly 300 pages, this is an in depth study of the topic. Just about everything a person has heard or wondered about Islam is covered.
A few years ago I was sharing with a group of high school students who were reading Kate McCord’s book, In the Land of Blue Burqas. Most of them were not interested in ministry to Muslims but all of them felt that they had grown in their understanding of the God of the Bible because for the first time, they’d seen their God side by side by the god of the Quran. The distinctions they were sensing brought about a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the God they worship.
With No God But One: Allah or Jesus?, Nabeel Qureshi gives readers a chance not only to learn about Islam, but in so doing, he invites readers to grow in their own understanding of and appreciation for the God they serve. Because of this, I want to encourage everyone who follows Christ to read this powerful book.
* links to books are affiliate links
Did you find this post helpful? Share it with a friend.
In Curtis Sergeant's book, The Only One, he suggests the discipline of writing poetry as part of our Bible reading.
"Poetry is by nature a limiting form of expression. I find that it forces me to think deeply as I search for just the right word to convey the nuance I am contemplating."
As I have immersed myself in the first few chapters of John these past few weeks I decided to give it a try and tease out the nuances of what I've been contemplating. It was a rich experience and forced me to wrestle with what I feel the Lord has been highlighting for me. Writing poems from my Bible reading won't become a daily discipline, but I'll certainly come back to it when I come across a passage of scripture that I really want to dig into.
I'd encourage you to give it a try sometime.
Here is my poem, "Come and See" that I wrote as I dug deep into John 1:29-51. It may not be great poetry but it certainly helped me meditate and learn from this passage of scripture.
I wrote about the idea of inviting people to come and see for themselves in last week's post, Come and See. You can read it HERE.
Did you find this post helpful? Share it with a friend.
In the first few chapters of John an interesting pattern emerges. The numbers of those following Jesus begins to grow as his followers simply invite their friends, family or, in the case of the woman at the well, entire village to "come and see."
To be sure, none of those activities are wrong and God uses all of them to help people come to faith - they are simply not the example of Jesus' first followers in the first four chapters of John.
For them, "come and see" was enough.
It seems they knew that if they could just get their friend to spend some time with Jesus - even a cynic like Nathanael - that would be enough. And Jesus is still enough today. Like his first followers, we can ask our friends to come and see Jesus by sharing the stories of Jesus from the gospels and by inviting them to read these stories.
We can do this by having them read through one of the gospels or we can invite them to into a discovery Bible study using one of several story sets:
My default has been to invite people to church or to open up deep philosophical conversations with my far from God friends. God has of course used both of these tactics, but increasingly I'm learning (and trying to learn) to default to simply asking them to come and see Jesus for themselves.
How about you? How have you been inviting people to Jesus lately?
Did you find this post helpful? Share it with a friend.
One of the great challenges we face as Christians in an increasingly globalized world is understanding how to share the love of Jesus and the good news of the gospel cross culturally. As if language barriers were not enough, deep cultural differences in worldview, in customs, in values and history all have the potential to create barriers to good communication and open up wide avenues for miscommunication. Debbie DiGennaro, in her book Acclicmated to Africa: Cultural Competence for Westerners, shares a humorous story that highlights this challenge:
There was once a certain British man who went with his company to Nigeria. He immediately noticed about Nigerians that the men did not step back to allow ladies to enter a room ahead of them. This bothered him very much. As a proper gentleman, whenever he approached a doorway at the same time as a Nigerian woman, he courteously motioned for her to pass through the door ahead of him.
It is not hard to imagine why, in a country where for thousands of years families most likely lived in grass huts with snakes being an ever present issue, the custom of how to enter buildings developed differently than it did in England. It's also not hard to imagine the looks of confusion and even disdain this British gentleman must have received from Nigerian women as he emphatically ushered them into their potential death by snake bite.
This cultural nugget of difference is multiplied thousands of times with every new cultural context we enter. Some issues are minor while others can lead to tremendous damage to relationships and potential opportunities to share the gospel. As disciples of Jesus it is important to first realize that those differences, both the deep and the shallow, will always be present when we move into cross cultural settings. We then must do the hard work of trying to understand these differences to see where God is already at work and how we can join him there. This is hard work. Just when we think we’ve figured something out we’ll run into nuances that will confound us once again.
If cross cultural ministry is something that you are or will be a part of then it is vitally important to do some homework. Cross cultural ministry can happen in varying degrees wherever you are. Crossing the ocean to engage with people from a different religious background that speak another language is of course more complex than a midwesterner traveling to New York City, but both are cross cultural ministry.
Regardless of the complexity and depth of difference between cultures, we can train ourselves to do better at recognizing both the differences and the opportunities they present. Part of that training could be reading books like Foreign to Familiar by Sarah Lanier or Global Humility by Andy McCullough. Context specific books like the one shared above can be a next step. There are also great trainings for missionaries preparing to move overseas at places like Mission Training International and the Center for Intercultural Training.
Here at Everywhere to Everywhere though we are working to equip and empower the local church for local cross cultural ministry and so have created a fun and interactive one day training we call the Cross-Cultural Scavenger Hunt Training Module. This training can be done in any local city in about 5-6 hours. It includes discovery Bible study, interactive lecture and activities, lunch at an ethnic restaurant and a cross-cultural scavenger hunt that takes participants to three to four different immigrant-owned grocery stores. All of this is followed by a debrief while eating snacks purchased at the stores.
This has been an amazing way to help local congregations move past fear and begin to get to know their new American neighbors - many of whom come from Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or Animistic backgrounds. Many of whom have never had an opportunity to hear the gospel. The goal of the training is to bring awareness of the different cultures around us and then give participants a beginning framework for understanding the differences so that they can more effectively love well and share the gospel more confidently.
If you would like to explore hosting your own Cross Cultural Scavenger Hunt Training Module you can find a fuller description of the event and all the necessary resources by clicking the button below.
Did you find this post helpful? Share it with a friend.
Sometimes you need a book that, through reading a chapter a day, you receive encouragement in your faith. Fear Not: Living a Life of No Regrets was just that book for me this past summer. Author James Cha weaves captivating stories, Biblical truth and a lifetime of wisdom into this great devotional. James and his wife Faith spent over a decade serving the Lord in Central Asia, saw more than 120 Muslims come to faith in Christ and experienced their own share of persecution. It is because of these experiences and James' deep knowledge of the Bible that Fear Not is an excellent resources for any believer wanting to grow in their faith. It will be an especially helpful resources for any interested in moving to the Muslim world to serve the Lord. The book covers a myriad of topics all of which work toward helping the reader to respond to the call of Christ in obedience and surrender. It was incredibly encouraging, filled with exhortation and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to grow closer to Christ and learn to be a more active participant in His kingdom mission.
Fear Not: Living a Life of No Regrets
*Links to book are affiliate links.
The E2E Community