The room was filled with many South Asian leaders, waiting for one of their number to give the morning’s devotional message about the third core value of the Church of the Nazarene: We are a missional people.
Many times have I heard and given rousing messages -- meant to impress those who listen -- that we are an outward-focused church, committed to going into all the world. Yet this soft-spoken church leader picked a seemingly unrelated biblical text: 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. Paul’s touching testimony of weakness, a thorn in his flesh, culminates in the astonishing statement that God’s power is most visible in human frailty and vulnerability. My brain did not compute: this was not a word about going into all the world, crossing boundaries.
Calmly this brother started to unfold how this is a mission text. Mission and frailty go together; “going into the world” and “a thorn in the flesh” cannot be separated. Amazing to hear this from someone who sees many turn to Christ all over his country. It is not due to lack of results that he picked this word from Paul; the Church of the Nazarene is spreading from east to west under his leadership. In this part of South Asia, Nazarenes share Christ in both word and action, caring deeply and practically about the needs of their neighbors.
A Nazarene team started an Nazarene Compassionate Ministries (NCM) project in a village. Immediately they made themselves vulnerable: “We do not come to run a project, but to be part of your community. So we ask that your village give us a piece of land at a low price. We want to stay.” Quite a number of villages refused and so the team ended up in a challenging place, without much appeal. I could sense how being there was a place of weakness, not of success or gratitude.
In his story he shared how after a while the community wanted to get more benefits out of NCM, and started to put pressure on the team, even demanding that the team forsake the needy families they served. He described how, for several hours, a large group of villagers fired questions and challenges at him. Suddenly he raised his voice and told them, “We will not leave. We stay.”
Listening to him, I was deeply moved. What courage, what integrity and conviction! This is mission shaped in the image of Christ. Does not the cross bring weakness and power together? I was listening to a real life description of authentic witnesses of Christ.
The brother went on: “Jesus said on the cross, ‘It is finished’— this was His mission that was completed.” I sensed that my heart said “yes” when he ended with the reminder that we are called by Jesus to this kind of mission.
This month we gather for the General Assembly and conventions. I pray that you will have the opportunity to hear one of the Nazarenes from another part of the world. Most likely he or she will open your eyes to unexpected beauty of God’s Holy Spirit at work in our world. As described in the 2017 General Assembly’s theme: We have one body, one Spirit, one Hope, one Lord, one faith.
-- Arthur Snijders is the director for the Eurasia Region Church of the Nazarene. Previously, he served as superintendent of the Netherlands District, and has also pastored a Nazarene church, along with his wife, Annemarie, in the United Kingdom.