Hang up your capes: Jesus is the real hero of the faith
By Amy Bareham Chapman | Thailand in international
It is 2 p.m. on a Sunday. I have donned my distressed jeans and oversized sweater for another predictable church service (three songs, twenty-minute sermon, closing prayer), and I have met friends for lunch at a trendy new spot in the city. We’ve gone our separate ways to “sabbath” (i.e., nap, Netflix, watch football, grab a coffee).
There is nothing overtly wrong with any of this. Our worship was sincere, our rest is necessary. But there are moments when everything about church feels comfortable. Too comfortable.
And perhaps this is why: When someone stands before the congregation with a burden on their mind and a community on their heart, I tend to believe we aren’t just commissioning a missionary but a hero.
Of course, I do know missionaries are not heroes. They are normal people leading surrendered lives — the same existence God calls all of us to, regardless of where we live or how we work.
But, after talking with Chris Stark, team leader of SIM’s Faithful Witness team in Ayutthaya, a few months ago, I realised that many missionaries have seen themselves portrayed as “other.” Namely, a superior, turbocharged Christian with angel wings and a fast pass to the throne room.
Is this what John the Baptist felt when he declared: “After me comes the one more powerful than I”? Were the religious people of the day so fixated on the human before them that they missed John’s prophesies about a Saviour come to restore them?
Chris affirmed what I was beginning to sense from conversations with his peers: admiration turned exaltation unnerves missionaries. Deeply. When I plant missionaries on a pedestal, I cement my feet to the ground below. I assume I cannot invest my time, resources and energy quite so nobly … or rather, biblically.
I take myself out of the running because I see Chris and his team as courageous in ways I am not. This is the opposite of what they intend. The Faithful Witness initiative is created to draw people in, to increase the community of believers sharing the message of Jesus with those who are living and dying without the gospel.
The more I talked to Chris, the more I appreciated his perspective. As the Ayutthaya team leader, he’s learned that “hit-and-run evangelism” isn’t the approach. Being a missionary is about abiding as a child of God and offering an authentic expression of Jesus to the world. It is not about racking up a number of lives saved.
Being a missionary is about abiding as a child of God and offering an authentic expression of Jesus to the world.
As Chris said: “It’s possible to love people well and serve them genuinely even if they never become Christians.” Serving in missions means choosing devotion to the Lord over devotion to self.
I asked Chris what this looks like in Ayutthaya, Thailand. For him personally, it entails relationships. He helps new Faithful Witness team members acclimate. He stewards connections with local pastors. The population of Ayutthaya and the surrounding province totals almost one million, yet there are just eleven churches. Chris noted: “If you go in on a Sunday morning, you’re likely to see thirty people, on average … it takes a team to see an impact for God’s kingdom here.”
That team is comprised of Faithful Witness partners from countries around the world, including the United States, Australia and soon, Peru. Mission workers connect with locals through ministry avenues such as English classes and community health work.
Caring for people is their chief job description, and the nuances of doing this in a honor-fueled society that speaks a different language often yields frustration first, fruit second.
The team’s families face challenges, too. Ayutthaya doesn’t have an international school, and it’s proven difficult to recruit a homeschool teacher for the Faithful Witness children.
But the team persists. And in their persisting, I don’t see unattainable heroism; I see Christ and I see all of us. I see an invitation to inhabit foreign circumstances and call upon Jesus to transform fear into faith. I see the chance to rise up each day and submit ourselves to a God who is far better at saving than we could ever be.
God’s saving grace may take the pressure off, but it doesn’t strip away our anointing. Chris told me there are “super gifted people just sitting in pews” for a whole host of reasons. Maybe some, like me, prefer to feel familiarity over vulnerability. But comfortable Christianity seems like a waste of the myriad talents and treasures God gave to each of us.
So, next Sunday, when my pastor prays his closing prayer and the lights come up, when the background music plays and people reach in their pockets for their keys, I will linger. I will stay. Instead of rushing out to my plans, I will make room for God’s plan. I will ask, what next, Father? Who in this cavernous, converted warehouse feels like they’ve stumbled into a whole new world? How can I be hospitable?
And when I invest in my community, I will look beyond the nucleus. I will choose to gather. What are you doing, Jesus? Where to now?
It is time to go from sitting in pews to speaking good news.