Kami dating di hadirat-mu
As we come into your presence Lord
Dalam satu kasih,
Lifting our heart as one
And with one voice we sing
Berjanji setia sampai akhir
Promise to be faithful till the end
Forever love you, our God
As we commuted to the location of the Jelambar Corps Family Camp up in the mountains, I was captured by the words of this song which was chosen as the theme for the weekend. It spoke of a deep desire for God’s presence and a unity of spirit, which, as we would soon discover, characterised the heart of this congregation. This was to be the beginning of an extraordinary encounter with God for our team as we engaged with this group of Indonesian Salvationists.
From worship, leading and teaching at the camp to engaging in manual labour and pastoral visitation at the church, we experienced the presence and power of the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of these people. Their faith, witness and worship touched us deeply as a team and allowed God to speak specifically into our own personal faith journey. The following reflections, taken from my journal, highlight three key ways in which God formed me spiritually through our mission trip experience.
1. Alignment of Vision
Listening to Captain Nyoman Timonuli communicate God's vision for the Jelambar Corps to his congregation was inspiring on a number of levels. Firstly, because the vision captured the heart of Christ's mission to reach a lost and broken world with the gospel. Secondly, because of the incredible alignment between what God is saying to Jelambar and what God has been saying to Noarlunga. And thirdly, because God's Spirit affirmed a number of things in my spirit and spoke to me from Matthew 9:13, as Nyoman spoke about the mission of Jesus Christ.
"But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.'" (Matthew 9:13)
Jesus made it clear what His mission was and who it was aimed at. Although, these are familiar words and are in alignment with where we are being led, it was the focus on mercy, rather than sacrifice that struck me. So often our teaching and engagement in mission highlights the importance of sacrifice. Although, mission clearly involves sacrifice, this is not the object of mission. In fact, too often we can be tempted to measure the impact or success of mission by how much we sacrifice for the gospel; but that shifts the focus to self. This can also be a reflection of how we can approach worship. In the spirit of the prophets, Jesus is clear that He is not interest in our sacrifice but in how we show His love and mercy to those whom we serve.
Our mission trip has nothing to do with what we have given up or how much we have given, but everything to do with how we have shown mercy, which flows out of a spirit of love and grace. Mercy reflects the heart of Christ and keeps the focus of our mission upon those whom we serve.
2. Universality of the Spirit
As we launched into the practical projects of our mission trip today, I found myself wondering how God might reveal Himself within the tasks of the day. I never thought that God would speak to me, so powerfully, through working alongside two Indonesian Muslim men, constructing the next stage of the building project of a Salvation Army Church!
This unlikely working relationship left both parties with a mutual intrigue: I was amazed that two devout Muslims would be assisting the Jelambar Corps to build their church and they were amazed that two Australians (Neville and myself) would be assisting them with mixing and pouring concrete. It seems we defied their expectations of Westerners by 'lowering' ourselves to do manual labour. Equally, my expectations and perceptions about Muslim people were deeply challenged by their working relationship with a Christian church; especially in a country known for persecution against Christians!! While there is still much that concerns me about the global impact of the Islamic faith, I found myself today having to separate the ideologies of a religion from the character of two people who follow that system of belief.
The personal impact of learning about the expression of faith of these two men after working a day with them is difficult to describe. Except to say, that my recent study of the prevenient work of the Holy Spirit, who has been "poured out upon ALL people" (Acts 2:17), took on flesh today. I believe that the Holy Spirit is drawing these men of an opposing faith to work in partnership with Christians to build their church. This encounter has left me with much to think and pray about.
3. Generosity in Poverty
The visitation of local congregation members in their homes amidst the slum area of Jelambar had a profound impact on each one of us. We observed the same group of people we shared the weekend with in their neighbourhood where we were confronted by poverty, over-crowding and filth. Yet, despite the low standard of living, we observed a level of joy and experienced generous hospitality that took us by surprise. Out of the very little they had, they treated us like honoured guests and eagerly desired to generously bless us with food and gifts.
God spoke to me from 2 Corinthians 8:2-4, where Paul speaks of the Macedonian churches who, “out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.” I saw this passage manifested through the lives of the people we visited. Their love for Jesus and the church transcended their circumstances and they passionately lived out of the overflow of God’s blessings in their lives, despite their apparent poverty. As the leader of a church in a relatively prosperous western context, this experience stirs a “holy discontent” (Hybels 2007) within my spirit with the materialism and spiritual poverty that is evident among some members of our church. I am inspired and challenged by this sort of integration of faith and life, which not only reflects the heart of Christ, but fulfils His mission. There is much we can observe and learn from Christians living in adverse circumstances that should challenge the faith and life of the western church.
I stated to our team at the commencement of this trip that I suspected we would receive more than we gave, which has proven to be true. God used this mission trip to strengthen our faith, affirm His vision for our church, and expand our view of the work of the Holy Spirit within another culture and religious context. The alignment of vision, universality of the Spirit and generosity in poverty has profoundly impacted my own faith journey and fuels the fire already lit by the Holy Spirit to passionately embrace and share all that He has blessed us with to a lost and broken world. This applies to my current ministry context but also intensifies my strong belief that God is leading us towards mission and ministry in another culture. Together with my wife and family we continue to pray with open hearts and minds for the Spirit’s direction.