I love seeing New Testament dedication services. When a New Testament (or full Bible) translation is completed, we celebrate with the people for a full day, rejoicing, singing, feasting, and praying – marking the Word of God coming to their language group for the first time. I love to see how people begin to apply God’s Word to their lives. They sometimes apply the Bible to issues that I had never thought of before.
How do you defend against the evil eye?
How do you plant your crops now that you are a believer? (They used to pray to the rice gods for favor.)
How do you treat people from the rival tribe?
These aren’t questions I have ever asked before, but the Bible certainly has answers for them.
It’s easy to feel like as missionaries that we are providing all of the answers to people who have lots of questions, but that’s not the full story. We also have a lot to learn from them, and I have learned a great deal from my brothers and sisters from other cultures.
Miro was a young pastor in the waning years of communism in Eastern Europe. He told me the story about how his church had to meet in order to avoid being discovered by the KGB. They couldn’t meet in the same place every week or they would be easily found out. It was obvious that they had to meet in an entirely different location every single week. They thought about simply spreading the news by word of mouth. The problem was that the information could easily be overheard by electronic listening devices that were everywhere. Worse than that, a “member” of the church might actually betray them to the police. So, they found a solution. The pastor would select a place to meet and tell no one. Each member of the church would pray and ask God to show them where to meet. Their services averaged around 200 weekly.
I have grown up believing in the power of God, but my Eastern European brothers and sisters had a different level of commitment and faith. I have a lot to learn from my fellow believers in other countries. They weren’t perfect people just because they encountered persecution or the power of God. All of us still need to be conformed more to the image of Christ, but I have something to learn from them just as surely as they have something to learn from me.
Believers in other countries have a commitment to hospitality that we in America do not often understand or practice. I have met believers who will give their last scrap of food to feed a guest regardless of the cost to themselves.
There is also an understanding in many places in the world that our faith is not to be lived out in isolation. We deeply need to live out our faith in relationship with others. This is something that is often lost in our individualist American culture. We have a “personal relationship” with Jesus. We should, and this is critical. But look at the Lord’s prayer:
Lead us not…
Notice it’s not “My father” or “give me” or “lead me not.” In the New Testament, Jesus always sent the disciples out in pairs or in groups, never alone. But how do we live our Christian lives? We struggle alone, celebrate alone, come to our own personal theological conclusions. Hebrews 3:13 says, “encourage one another daily… so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God.” Those are pretty high stakes if we neglect this, and those are pretty amazing benefits if we pay attention to it.
The truth is that we don’t really live out our spiritual lives in connection to our brothers and sisters. Why don’t we? We’re taught to be self-sufficient. We are afraid of what people might think if they knew what we really struggle with. It often never occurs to us that we are missing something incredibly valuable, but we are. Our walks with God can only go so far without real, authentic input from fellow believers. You and I need to be mentored, and we need to mentor others. We need each other. I learned this from my brothers and sisters around the world.
We have much to learn from our fellow believers in the global church. May God grant us the humility to learn from brothers and sisters around the world. We have much to offer them. They have much to offer us.
Timothy Hatcher, PhD, is a Scripture Engagement Specialist at Wycliffe Bible Translators