What does it look like to follow Jesus in order to make him known among communities where he isn’t? A couple from Catalyst have just moved to a large, strategic, Middle-Eastern city in order to do just that – to build community and to equip leaders to plant churches who make Jesus known throughout the Arab-speaking world. In this blog, they share the story of God’s call to make this move; why they’ve gone for it, and what it means for them.
It’s October and today I celebrated my 55th birthday in a restaurant where I couldn’t read the menu and the temperature outside is 34 degrees.
One week ago my wife and I were saying goodbye to friends and family as we left for our new home in the Middle East. When we boarded the plane our feelings were a mixture of sadness at leaving so many precious relationships, a tentative excitement of what God was leading us into and nervousness for the challenge and cost of what lay ahead!
So why are we here?!
Growing up in a church family I read biographies of people who in previous generations left their homes and families and travelled to what seemed like tough places to simply make Jesus known to the people that lived there. The stories included accounts of suffering and difficulty mixed with incredible child like faith and perseverance to never give up. Some of these Jesus followers never came home!
Many years later a couple in the church I was leading were called by God to join the first team our movement of churches were sending to Turkey. I got involved in the process of preparing and sending them. A few months later I made my first of what would be many visits to encourage them and learn about the work on the ground.
That was the first time I saw the great city of Istanbul, at that time numbering 15 million people and I could count the number of churches on my fingers! A huge city in a huge country and Jesus wasn’t known there…
My heart broke…and I wept.
The Holy Spirit worked in me fanning into flame the sparks of a desire to make Jesus known in places where he isn’t. I began to understand that this fire burns through scripture – the glory of God being known among all peoples in all places.
That was 20 years ago. Since then I have had the privilege of helping to recruit others and equip churches how to send well. I have also had the privilege of meeting people with remarkable stories of how Jesus came to them in a dream, often in circumstances of brokenness and conflict. One of the biggest aches I have felt is simply for more labourers for the harvest. The activity of Jesus through dreams and visions alone is creating a huge need for people to go and make disciples. For several years I asked God if we should go or should we stay in the UK and continue to serve this context from there? One day after praying this again, the Holy Spirit said he would speak to my wife and then I would know.
Two years later we arrived in the largest city in the Arab-speaking world to visit a family sent from our movement. This was our first visit. After only a day, my wife told me she heard God say that we should move here and play our part in what God is doing. I shared what the Holy Spirit had said to me months earlier. That was all we needed to begin the journey of talking to other leaders, friends and planning this move.
So what are we doing here? We are following Jesus in order to make him known. We are playing our part in fulfilling the scriptural imperative that the name of Jesus will be known among all peoples.
Today I am 55 but tomorrow I begin to learn to be a child again – to learn a new language, to try and be at home in a culture very different from my own, to make new friends and in time see Jesus known among the communities where he isn’t.