In November 2016 I tagged along with a Catalyst Missions team to Kupang, Indonesia (across the Timor Sea from Australia). Indonesia is as beautiful as it is Muslim. In fact, at 200 million adherents it’s the largest Muslim populated country on earth.
It was my first ever international trip, much less international missions trip. I was like a newborn discovering for the first time details that soon become familiar. It wasn’t just an airport; it was the Tokyo airport or the Jakarta airport. All the details mattered. Traffic, currency, language, breakfast and bathrooms fascinated me.
But even more impressive was seeing Christ’s ministry among the nations. Jesus was not kidding. He is building his indestructible church (Mt 16.18). And not even the most Muslim populated country on the planet will stop him.
I served as wingman to a dear Christian brother and trip captain. Together we taught biblical theology to local pastors and church leaders as part of the broader ministry of K-PACT International. Other team members taught English and music in the associated school and boarding house.
Now that the “Let’s pack up and move to the mission field” impulse has subsided (although, I’m not necessarily sure it should), here are some initial reflections.
Jesus is building one church (Eph 4.4-6)
There is one body and one Spirit. One Lord. One faith. One baptism. One God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.
Brothers and sisters halfway around the world (literally) had the same desires I did. They loved Jesus and their Bibles like I do, even more so. They loved singing his praises, demonstrated faithful brotherhood, and boldly declared their allegiance to our Older Brother. They had the same questions we do and sought the same answers we seek.
I could not understand anything they sang, but I know what they meant because I have the same Spirit. I didn’t want the fellowship to end because that’s the sort of fellowship Jesus sows in our hearts. Every tribe, tongue, people and nation celebrating our Redeemer (Rev 4.9).
There is no us and them when it comes to Christ’s kingdom. There is only we. And I have more in common with Indonesian brothers and sisters in Christ, whose language I cannot understand, than with my red-blooded, flag-waving, democracy-loving unbelieving American neighbors. I was a sinner long before I was an American. And I’ll be a New Jerusalemite long after America is destroyed. It was refreshing to gather with some of the other exiles to refresh the hopeful taste of Zion in our hearts.
Jesus is doing what he promised. With the sword of the Spirit he unites a worldwide kingdom.
Jesus intend the same grace for Indonesian churches as he does West Tennessee churches. Those brothers and their churches did not need anything we ourselves and our churches do not also need. And should equally crave.
I pray to be as passionate that the Spirit move among West Tennessee churches as Indonesians expect him to do among theirs.
Knowledge is a means to humility and love (1 Cor 8.1-3; 13.1-3; 1 Tim 1.5)
Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies (1 Cor 8.1). Rural Indonesian pastors have very little orthodox resources in their language. They have their Bibles, the Spirit, and one another.
And they are humble. They love learning, asking, exploring, receiving. If anyone disagreed with any of the material, we never knew. They did not protest, humiliate, or criticize. They laughed, prayed and learned. No egos or agendas or oneupmanship.
That is not to say we should always receive teaching hook, line and sinker. It does mean we need not mark our theological territory in every corner of Christendom. They examined everything carefully and will hold fast what is good (1 Thess 5.21).
I have much to learn from them. I have Bibles in every shape, size, color, and translation. I have a roomful of books and commentaries. And I can confidently say I do not love like those brothers. I am not humble like those brothers. The church hardly needs more of my ego. In fact, it needs none of it.
Paul, educated as they come, was right. We can glut ourselves on knowledge and starve from lack of love.
Perhaps we need less commentary-diving and more brotherly swimming with Bibles on our laps. And love in our hearts.
Affluence is deceptive (Rev 3.15-18)
Jesus warned us about riches (Mt 19.23). He warned us that affluence can trick us into false eternal security. Again and again.
The Laodicean church fell for it. Their affluence convinced them they “have need of nothing” (Rev 3.17). They fit right in the world around them. But heaven saw them wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.
“And He will delight in the fear of the LORD, and He will not judge by what His eyes see, nor make a decision by what His ears hear” (Is 11.3).
The American church is the heir-apparent of Laodicea. We insist on manicured campuses, comfortable seating, full calendars, and put-together professional pastors. Worship must be entertaining and “you can’t miss” exciting.
All the while, there is hardly any sobering, tear-filled, knee-bent congregational prayer, silence, or grace-drenched Lord’s Supper. We quickly fiddle through baptisms that for much of the rest of Christendom is a death wish. We have substituted the very hot and cold expressions of desperation for God with lukewarm frivolity. We have become rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing.
These bi-vocational, Indonesian pastors and their churches have comparatively nothing. The world will never know who they are. They seem impoverished only to those who try to ride camels through the eyes of needles. And it seems Jesus has more room to roam in their hearts and churches than in our cavernous buildings and coffee nooks.
They pray long and fervently. They sing loud and cheerfully. They buy fire-refined gold from Jesus, not sanctified trinkets and ministry playthings (Rev 3.18).
I am jealous.
Joy and gladness thrives in community (Eph 4.11-13)
K-PACT was probably the most glad and joyful place I have ever been. The water and electricity were sketchy, but their joy was not. I would love to import the ethos of such a place. It was not a spirit but The Spirit.
But it would starve here.
There is a joy and gladness that grows only from a communal culture. It is impossible to expect communal fruit from a culture hell-bent on individualism.
The means of grace are quite simple: Scripture and prayer in the context of local church community. Somehow we’ve been snookered to think we can read our Bibles and pray on our own and still thrive in the gospel. Yet, despite all our devotional resources, quiet-time techniques, and study Bibles we do not see much thriving in the gospel. In fact, we see more and more depression and isolation in the church. We’re simply not good at sanctification on our own. Why?
Because the gospel flourishes in communal soil. We, not merely our utilitarian spiritual gifts, are God’s gifts to one another (Eph 4.11-13). We can and should read and pray on our own, but only with the community of faith in view.
Jesus is a Bridegroom who will have his Bride. He will not live without her. Therefore, we cannot live without her. If we want to be with Jesus we must live where he lives: among one another. The gospel assumes it.
Perhaps I often live joylessly, and frustratingly, because I insist on living out the gospel alone.
These Indonesian Christians served and worshiped together. Always together. And they have the joy to show for it. Maybe they should send a couple of brothers to our soil to help us truly understand biblical theology.
I neither assume nor even think I did anything to change Indonesia. But, Indonesia changed me. Whether or not I ever need my passport again, I cannot wait to enter the New Jerusalem where I’ll hear my brothers and sisters sing again.