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Summer Flowers

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Our yard was transformed with the planting of some beautiful flowers. When I bought them at the greenhouse, they were already in bloom. The journey from no flowers to beautiful flowers was quick and easy . . . almost instant results!

This experience reminded me that in our quick, results-oriented culture, we want to see an impact almost immediately. With a strategic combination of ingenuity, technology and resource investment, we think we can quickly accomplish almost anything!

But sowing the gospel isn’t always a quick process. Jesus talked about four areas into which the sower’s seed can fall: the soil along the path, on the rock, among thorns and in good soil (Luke 8:5–15). Most people groups that have had churches grow up among them are “good soil”; they have been generally responsive.

However, most of today’s unreached peoples are resistant. The situation is similar to seed falling along the path, on the rock or among thorns. For this reason, the remaining work in completing Christ’s mission is going to take patience, faith-filled risks and Holy Spirit empowerment. And lots of resilience and perseverance will be required of the sowers.

Five core concepts, each one rooted in Scripture, help us better understand what it’s going to take to bring the gospel to these tough places.

Dr. A. B. Simpson, the founder of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, was determined to take the gospel to peoples with little or no access to it. He was fully convinced that lost people matter to God. He wants them found (Luke 19:10). Simpson knew that among more resistant peoples, this was a costly investment that would take time.

Intercession is essential to seeing God work in ways that break up hard soil. That’s why prayer is the primary work of the people of God (Phil. 4:6–7). For more resistant people groups to respond, persistent prayer over many years is often needed.

Without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, we can accomplish nothing (1 Cor. 2:4–5). The Spirit has the power to break down strongholds and to enable Christ’s representatives to persevere lovingly over the long haul in resistant contexts.

Visas to get into the remaining areas of the world where the least reached are concentrated usually are not available to Christian clergy-missionaries. Committed laypeople must therefore be involved. Completing the Great Commission will require the mobilization of every fully devoted disciple (Matt. 28:19).

Investment of financial resources in a way that feels countercultural to most North Americans is critical. In general, North Americans tend to give to causes closer to home. For example, Del Martin notes that “in 2006 Americans gave more than $295 billion to charity, but less than 4 percent of that went overseas” (quoted in “‘Disaster Fatigue’ Leads to Drop in Giving” by Lisa Tomlin at http://apnews.myway.com). Everything we have belongs to God. We are only stewards (1 Chron. 29:14). Our faithful stewardship must be demonstrated in giving selflessly and counterculturally so that those without access to the good news have opportunity to hear, understand and believe.

Measuring effectiveness in terms of big results in a short time works well when planting summer flowers and when working among very responsive peoples. However, taking the gospel to least-reached peoples is much more risky, requiring resiliency and perseverance.

There’s an oak tree standing strong and tall near my boyhood home. Never requiring special watering or fertilizing, it’s resilient. Year after year, it loses its leaves in the fall, sleeps during the winter and then has fresh new leaves in the spring. This majestic oak took years to grow. No quick results, no rapid transformation . . . just steady, solid growth.

In 1911, Robert Jaffray initiated Alliance missions in Vietnam. In the years that followed, there were areas of resistance, protracted wars and myriad problems. Missionaries and national partners persevered through challenging times. Much prayer was focused on the peoples of Vietnam and the establishment of prevailing churches there. Financial investment by North American churches was consistent. It was a high-risk venture that took lots of time and effort.

Today in Vietnam, the family of Alliance churches is not like the flowers I planted, beautiful for only a few summer months. The Vietnamese church is much more like an oak tree. Following many years of persistent development, it now stands tall with more than 1 million inclusive members. As the largest national church in the Alliance World Fellowship, it has greatly outgrown its mother, The Alliance of North America. Not instant results, not rapid transformation . . . but perseverance that has resulted in something that will last forever.

May God give us the countercultural, long-haul commitment resulting in more Vietnam-like families of prevailing churches!

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