A Guide for the February 3rd Worship Service
Scripture for this Week: Jeremiah 1:4-10
Scripture for Next Week: Luke 5:1-11
In the opening movements of the book of Jeremiah, young Jeremiah is given the divine task to speak for God to the peoples of all nations. Jeremiah replies with words we have all probably thought or uttered at one point or another, “Oh no God! I can’t do this task! I am not skilled enough, I don’t have the strength, I am only a child!” God replies as God always replies in these situations, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.” This defines the challenge for Jeremiah, and the challenge for everyone who is called to follow God. We will only discover if God’s promise to be with us is true when we make the effort to do what we believe God is asking us to do.
In answering the call of God, we move from being a “believer,” to becoming a “follower.” The word “believer” has a strong negative connotation for me. I have heard too many people self-describe themselves as “believers” and been disappointed by their behaviors. I am not alone in this frustration. In large part, the decline of the mainline denominational churches in the western world stems from the dissonance between what “believers” say and do. There is statistically no difference in the moral behavior between people who call themselves Christians and the rest of society. I have made this statement to people many times, and experienced opened disbelief, but unfortunately there has been significant research done on this subject. Click here for a summary of several studies.
This past week, I began to respect the word “believer” again. It is the word that the missionaries who worked with us In Cartagena used to describe themselves. I was part of a team consisting mostly of Bentonville’s First United Methodist Church members. We were in Cartagena, Colombia to work with children served by the El Refugio Mission. We washed the children’s feet, prayed with them, and gave them Croc’s donated by a Bentonville shoe distributor. In order to do this work, we needed translators. The translators were volunteers from the local Youth with A Mission base. The YWAM base offers immersive English language instruction for their missionaries, and they were thrilled to come practice their English skills with us. While working with these missionaries, were learned their stories. Most were in their late teens or early twenties, yet they had already served for years all over the world. They work with the poorest of the poor at YWAM bases in places like Turkey, France, India, Mexico, Guatemala, China, or Ozark, Arkansas. The work of these missionaries is to demonstrate what it means to believe that God is present in every moment by actively following the way of Jesus.
The missionaries had a powerful impact on every member of our team. We were deeply moved by the way they put their lives in God’s hands. Every one of them has a story of hearing God’s call to become a missionary. And every one of them has experience upon experience of how God has been actively present in their lives helping them to do what they never thought they would be able to do. At most of the missions where they have served, they work with people who are refugees or otherwise deeply impoverished. The missionaries offer what we would consider to be typical missionary services of medical care, food, and worship services. However, they are much more interested in teaching people to develop their own self-care communities of faith that can stand alone when the missionaries leave.
I was speaking with one of the YWAM directors one evening, and he was describing some of the curriculum being offered at their Cartagena base. He said in many communities where they serve, life is desperately difficult, and people tend to focus only on themselves. Even within families, parents take a “me-first” attitude. The stress of life causes much fighting, and people have rarely heard the word “forgiveness.” If they have heard of forgiveness, they have never experienced it or offered it. So, the missionaries are taught basic Christian family counseling techniques. Families are taught to play games or do activities with each other. Parents are shown how to walk over to their children and talk to them instead of yelling at them from a distance. Men are taught that their mouths are God’s gift to offer words of kindness and peace for their families. Additionally, the missionaries teach basic hygiene and first aide techniques. They work to develop local teachers who can teach these skills without reliance on the missionaries. The director of YWAM told me that these are the essential first steps in teaching people about Jesus because no one will believe in the presence of God when they do not feel safe in their own homes, when they are sick, or when they are hungry. This, by the way, is exactly what John Wesley taught the first people called Methodists.
In every conversation we had with YWAM missionaries, we heard stories of how God had been guiding their missionary efforts. When we would ask them what they planned to do this coming year they would say things like, “I sense that God is calling me to go to India, so I am working on raising funds to pay for the trip. If that is where God wants me to go, God will provide the way. I’ve been on three missionary trips, and God has always provided the way.” Our team was struck deeply by the difference between our own worry about the future, and our interpreter’s calm assurance of God’s overt present guidance.
I bring this post to a close with the fact that every one of our YWAM hosts described themselves with the word “believer.” These believers have changed the way I hear that word. They have rejuvenated my faith and have demonstrated to me how powerfully present God is in our lives when we follow the way of Jesus. When I am with WYAM missionaries, I know that I am with people who believe because they put their faith into practice.
May you experience God’s peace.