Jesus was hungry.

The gospel of Matthew tells us that He and his disciples were leaving Jerusalem when they spied a fig tree in the distance; covered in green leaves, it was laden with promise, as enticing as the tree in the center of Eden. But something was wrong.

The tree, so full of life from a distance, was found to be barren. No fruit rewarded the travelers’ eager search through the foliage. Jesus, never shy about expressing himself, cursed the tree, and it withered.

The Lord was not angry at the tree, as if the plant were capable of plotting deception and deserved punishment. Jesus chose to turn the incident into a teachable moment for His disciples, a living parable about fruitfulness, leadership and faith. The psalmist likens the righteous to a tree planted by the waters, bearing fruit in its season (Psalm 1:3). The prophet Hosea likened Israel’s leaders to a fig tree bursting with the first fruits of harvest before they were drawn away from their love of the Lord to worship Baal (Hos. 9:10). Just as the tree Jesus and His disciples saw that day was empty of figs, He said, so would be the nation of Israel. The tree had died from the roots up; its leadership had spiritually withered.

The articles in this issue tell the story of C&MA roots in several situations spread among four nations. Two articles focus on the recent decision to transition out of Latin American nations where the Alliance has a strong presence. In one country, the U.S. C&MA supported international workers for more than 100 years; in the other, less than half a century.

The church in these countries has proven to have strong roots: its leadership is grounded in faith, the people are committed to loving others and the demonstrated goal of the C&MA church members is to make disciples of all nations, reaching out to those in their own cities, towns and regions who have not heard, as well as sending workers to spread the good news abroad.

On the back page is the story of a Congolese man and his wife who were ready to sacrifice all in order to obey Jesus’ command to go and tell, in this case to an area of their own young nation that was hostile to the gospel. Although they lacked food and friends, they had an abundance of faith, which set the stage for a miraculous breakthrough among the villagers who had reluctantly given them “hospitality.” In modern times, a conflict has raged in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for more than a decade, sending thousands on a different kind of journey—into refugee camps or fleeing across the rivers into the Republic of the Congo. An Alliance doctor and his family decided to move to the region and help the people of both nations, binding up the wounds of the broken hearted. Along with their colleagues, they share the good news with those the Lord brings to them to heal, growing the Church in the midst of brutal confrontations that often confuse civilian with combatant. Although the conditions are uncertain, the faith is sure.

Jesus is still hungry. He looks for fruit grown from healthy roots—spiritually committed leaders and lay people who will go the distance to make disciples, not merely recruit converts. While the seed is being planted, it is often difficult, at times virtually impossible, to imagine the outcome of the effort. The Rev. Stephen Zimmerman, author of The Faith-Seeking Journey, restated in a recent sermon God’s answer to Moses, called to what was surely the most daunting leadership task in history: “When you’re done, you’ll know that you couldn’t have done it without Me. Until then, walk in faith.”

The men and women who planted the churches in the countries featured in this issue had no idea what would happen 100 or 50 or even 1 year later. They merely obeyed the Lord’s command and the roots of their faith were—and are being—sent deep into the stream of Life. “‘But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit’” (Jer. 17:8).

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