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Our Collective Witness

There are still almost two billion people living on the planet today that are considered unreached by the Gospel. Those people are found in more than 5000 distinct ethnic groups that are without a reproducing church among them. The majority of these groups are in places like North India, Central Asia and North Africa. Each has its own cultural identity and history, which can be both a challenge and an opportunity in mission.

The prophet Isaiah had a vision of the last days in which he saw people from among the nations saying, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord… He will teach us his ways so that we may walk in his paths” (2:3). Isaiah saw people groups responding to the Gospel in community and learning God’s peacemaking ways. In that passage, Isaiah concludes with the challenge, “Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord” (2:5). In other words, the people of God have a responsibility to live in the light of God’s truth so that others will be drawn to God’s kingdom—our collective witness is crucial.

When Jesus called his disciples to “Go, and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18), he was speaking to a community about reaching other communities. Earlier, Jesus had sent them out on short-term mission trips in teams, not as individuals. When he said, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14), he was using the plural for “you” meaning “you all.” Jesus was preparing a community of disciples to live on mission together. 

There is both a “come” and a “go” expression of mission that involves community. We invite others to come with us to encounter God and to worship him, and we also go forth into the community to bring the Good News of Jesus to others.

Last week, one of our neighbors knocked on our back door. She is an elderly widow with a house full of adopted children and grandchildren. After a career in social work, she is now a caregiver for an expanding family that looks to her for stability. We talk often with her and we try to provide her a space to process the challenges that she faces. We talk and eat together while the children play. We have enjoyed watching her grow in her faith and dependence on the Lord. She often asks for prayer, but this time she asked Marjorie and me whether we would host Sunday school for her grandchildren. For us, it was an example of being on mission together with our neighbors, within our neighborhood.

During COVID, in the face of prescribed isolation, even getting out to walk the dog has become an interactive adventure. Housebound people are starved for real conversations! As we step outside and interact with our neighbors, we’re suddenly having more great conversations than ever on sidewalks and driveways. We weren’t made to be alone—we were made for community!

The same goes for our mission experience with Jesus. As we have been asked to refrain from larger in-person gatherings, has this influenced our commitment to the community of faith? We hear about creative ways that churches are still working at community, with online worship and preaching being augmented by online small groups. We are also finding that people from around the world are now online, and friends from Africa and Asia are joining online prayer and discipleship groups through the Internet. A friend of mine just recently told me about an online small group he is a part of with a church leader from Panama and another from Turkey. These are exciting new expressions of community.

How is our collective witness to the Gospel being affected by this pandemic? Some might say that our church experience is either validating or limiting our witness to the Gospel.

In the Early Church, this experience of a collective witness to the Gospel marked their remarkable growth both in Jerusalem (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-37) and then wherever the Gospel was lived and shared among the nations (Romans 15:2, Ephesians 2:22; 3:10). Paul’s understanding of the Church as a body and the bride of Christ describe various dimensions of our collective experience and witness as the Church.

It is one thing when all is well, and the community of faith is generous and loving, but what happens when we experience collective trauma? For many of us, the global pandemic has been traumatic, in particular for those who have experienced forced isolation and the sickness and death of loved ones. There are divisions among us, with some congregations and families advocating that we continue to gather, while others embrace the restrictions; some insist on masks, and some don’t. Globally, there are additional traumas. In some places, the Church is experiencing increased persecution for the Gospel. In other places, there is growing political violence. As an MB family, we are not immune to change and trauma. How we process these experiences together affects not only our relationships, but also our collective witness to the Gospel. 

It takes courage to process our pain, extend forgiveness where appropriate, and even walk together with a limp. The price of community is high, but when we consider the consequences to our collective witness, it’s a price worth paying.   

Many churches around the world already live with a clear sense of mission, both locally and globally. However, we are being tested in this season like never before in our lifetime. My sense is that churches that have worked at being missional communities in the midst of the pandemic will re-gather with greater health than those who have only concentrated on their virtual services. Let’s remember to focus on sharing the Gospel with others, reaching out to those in need, caring for the vulnerable, and working together to strengthen our collective witness.

In this edition of Witness, we are exploring our understanding of community in the midst of the challenges of a global pandemic.

As you may know by now, I have transitioned out of my leadership role with Multiply as of April 15, 2021, and so this is my last editorial. I am grateful for the privilege of serving this global community in mission together and now I invite your prayers for a new General Director. We have experienced God’s grace and unity over the past 120 years of mission work and there is much more the Lord has in store for us in the days ahead!

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