If we cannot be part of the lives in these unharvested fields, we go against biblical principles. Isn’t that the essence of Christ’s Great Commission in John: “As the Father has sent Me, so I send you.” That’s the call to be incarnational in our missional efforts, and to do that with these unharvested fields is simply impractical and impossible.
Moving forward with the noble intent of “taking them the Gospel” leads to disparaging anthropology and dubious missiology. This is not to be obscure but to state the obvious. This anthropology assigns no value to their systems of health, education, justice, and family. They are merely souls to be won. The missiology justifies pressing on no matter what, but the results are all too often tales that leave Christians with red faces of embarrassment.
There are alternatives. We have inroads into a myriad of needy people within our reach. For these we can enter into their lives, understand their deep needs, and have the opportunity of influence, improvement, and mutual benefit. That is where we ought to be deploying our mission energy.
The question this raises is whether there are ways of incarnational mission to the fields that remain unharvested. The answer is, yes, there are, and the places are the cities of the world.
Before I give a microcosm of this from our recent trip to Ireland, let me give a link to a 16-minute talk I heard this recently at a Sunday School class. It is by Tim Keller, given at the Cape Town Assembly a couple of years ago. He expands on three simple points: why we must reach the cities, how we should, and why we can. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZfHx2NiV50
Now my microcosm. I’ll start with a report of our return trip from JFK airport to Leo House on 23rd Street, New York City. We took the E Subway from Nassau Station to the 23rd Street Station and were on the train for about 45 minutes. From where I was sitting I observed or spoke with these people:
A Serbian grandfather here for his grandson’s college graduation;
Three visitors arriving from Stavanger Airport, Sola, Norway;
Two others with the Russian airline “Aeroflot” on their baggage tickets;
Two women in intense conversation in their Eastern European language;
A Moroccan escorting the Serbian grandfather;
And the rest either giving attention to their screens or speaking Spanish.
Since I was sitting beside the Moroccan, I can tell you a little about him. He has been in the United States for eight years, studying film. He was from Casablanca, where I have visited, so we talked about the grand mosque right on the ocean and McDonald’s which serves travelers during Ramadan. He will return to his family and their village in three weeks for the month of Ramadan. He said that is a holy time for prayer, and the family time is most precious then. I forgot to ask my standard question of Muslims, “How many times have you been a suicide bomber?” I did tell him that I always join the Ramadan prayer discipline towards the end of the month when they pray for special revelations of God. He appreciated that but was unaware of the particular revelation of God that I pray for.
A couple of other spottings in the time away:
- Backing out of the car park at Cashel Rock, near Cork, Ireland, I was astonished to see the model of the Nissan right beside us: Qashqai! Who would have expected the Japanese to draw attention to this non-Persian people of Iran?
- If the Irish people are easy to spot with their peach complexion and red hair, most of the young walking the streets were definitely non-Irish. What drew them to Dublin? Learning English. These students were there by the droves and were obviously from other parts of the world.
- If “the world’s largest village,” Dublin, has a multitude of internationals students, I’m probably not too far off the mark to say that the number of international students here in Richmond at Virginia Commonwealth University outnumbers the whole count of internationals in Dublin.
- If New York City has 95% of the world’s countries, again I am not too far off the mark to say that Richmond probably has 75%.
Another worthwhile link, after listening to Tim Keller, is to absorb the insights at https://globalgatesinfo.wordpress.com. This ministry, Global Gates, actively pursues the opportunities I refer to here. It brings understanding, reports, ideas, and encouragement in the metropolitan environments of the world. The postings show ways of effective outreach in metropolitan environments.
What about world cities where US citizens are prohibited? The answer is another question: What about Chinese Christians who are not prohibited, or Philippine Christians, or Nigerian Christians, or Indonesians Christians? And the list goes on.
I know there are some who prefer not to travel like us, with 10 pounds in our backpacks for twelve days. Some actually prefer cruises! 🙂 A cursory search about life on cruise ships below decks reveals society of many different nationalities. Each has its specific tier in the service structure–to clean, serve, cook, run the casino, and do on. Many of them have Bible studies in their common places; many others sell pornography to supplement their salary. For Christians, the opportunity for witness is there almost at every turn. A little time, an introductory conversation, repeated interest, and “a word spoken in season” can take root.
What do these random observations have in common? Opportunities for incarnational mission among unharvested fields. On the subways, the buses, the streets, the classrooms, and around the pools of the ships, God is ready to expand these relationships and use them to show His love and mercy to the nations of the world.