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The Center of His Will

To win the world, Quito '08 started at zero

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Strange things happen at 0° latitude. Water swirls in opposite directions depending on which side of the equator you stand. And yes, an egg can be balanced on a nail and not fall over. I’m even told that, due to differences in gravitational pull, you weigh less in the middle of the earth. But no one told me how much the Lord would transform my life—twice—as I stood on the equator.

Middle Ground

My first middle-earth experience was almost 12 years ago in Gabon, Africa. I had come with members of a Rocky Mountain District work team to build housing for professors at the Bethel Bible Institute in Libreville. That Sunday, the missionaries drove us south to Lambaréné, where we would worship with our African brothers and sisters in Christ. On the way, we stopped to take pictures of a road sign indicating that we were at 0° latitude.

baptismI was excited about being part of an African worship service for the first time. What I didn’t know was that I would be preaching. I literally had five minutes’ notice that I had the honor of ministering from God’s Word that morning. I prayed earnestly for a word to speak, the missionary translated into French and God’s Spirit moved powerfully in the hearts of His people.

I was profoundly changed. It was worth the cost of leaving my pregnant wife and young children behind for a few weeks to step out of my comfort zone. The Lord Jesus took the soil of Africa and placed it in my heart, cultivating within me His desire for the nations. Those seeds became the catalyst behind my passion to mobilize others for missions.

High in the Andes

The second life-changing equator experience happened in Quito, Ecuador, in January. This time I was leading a small college team from the Rocky Mountain District to the 20-something conference called Quito ’08. When we arrived at the host Nazarene seminary, a banner hung across the stage of the worship center: “Desda la Mitad del Mundo hasta lo Último de la Tierra” — “From the Center of the World to the Ends of the Earth.” As I pondered that statement, I anticipated God doing something significant in the lives of everyone there. I was there as a missions mobilizer, but I had no idea how deeply God would once again change my own life.

Quito ’08 was designed to mix several hundred college-aged students from the northern and southern hemispheres to help them discover where they fit in God’s plan. Over five days, using a mixture of Spanish and English, we engaged in mind-stretching seminars, faith-growing service ministries and friendship-building small-group discussions. We listened to Spirit-anointed messages by both American and Latino speakers and were led into God’s presence by Corban, a Peruvian worship band. We saw the passion and humble service of Alliance missionaries like Rich and Lisa Brown and Bill and Ann Mangham.

By week’s end, the chaos and challenge of crossing language and cultural boundaries had been morphed by the Holy Spirit into the formation of closely bonded multicultural teams. They scattered across Quito and into the surrounding jungles and mountains to engage in significant Kingdom-building activities. What God did in those few short days was nothing short of amazing!

I was part of a group of Americans, Puerto Ricans, Ecuadorians, Peruvians and Hmong that worked alongside members of a small C&MA church perched on a steep slope in a large barrio. Together, we labored to haul sand up to the roof of the church to help add a second story to accommodate more people. We painted benches and prepared the sanctuary for painting. Between work projects, we played soccer with the neighborhood children on the rocky streets and later hosted a special event, where they learned about Jesus’ love for them through a clown, action songs and special gifts. Some of us joined our Ecuadorian hosts to invite people to come to the church for a celebration service that Sunday night.

new friendsA number of teams shared the gospel with people on the streets. That night, the tiny church was packed with visitors and sister church music groups that lifted up the Name of Jesus in worship. The angels rejoiced as we learned of those who had put their trust in Christ. Then it was time to get in the bus and head back to the seminary, bone-tired but filled with joy.

At the end of the weekend, each of the Quito ’08 mission teams returned with similar reports of life-changing experiences. We gathered together for one last worship service, where Jason Ostrander, director for Alliance Youth of the U.S. C&MA, confronted us with the question of where we fit in God’s plan to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. Many responded with a commitment to serve as full-time Alliance missionaries. Others vowed to become those who would mobilize people at home for missions. They would be the pray-ers, the givers and, by God’s grace, the senders. One young woman told how she had come to Quito ’08 as an atheist and was leaving as a Christ-follower (see Cassie’s story, Faith like a Child). Another couple shared that they had sealed their commitment to serve wherever Christ might lead them—and had gotten engaged as well.

Together, the students gave almost $3,000 to support a ministry to children whose parents live and work in a Peruvian garbage dump. Life-long friendships were forged as we realized that language was no longer a barrier. The love of Christ could be felt enveloping us.

For a brief moment we got a taste of heaven. We were the Church, made up of many nations, joined together around the throne of God, lifting up the Name of Jesus in worship. We sang a new song: “‘You are worthy . . . with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation’” (Rev. 5:9). We renewed our commitment to invest our lives in finishing the job. Then it was time to say goodbye. The tears flowed as we acknowledged that it would be eternity before we would all be together in one place again. We left the middle of the world to reach the ends of the earth, changed by our encounter with God and each other.

You’re warned before you come: Strange things happen at 0° latitude. Quito ’09 is already being planned for late December and early January. If you’re in the 20-something crowd, keep an eye on www.cmalliance.org for upcoming details.

Are you willing to step out of your comfort zone to let God show you how you fit into His grand design? Are you willing to go to the middle of the world to reach the ends of the earth? I guarantee that you won’t come back the same—I didn’t.

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