Monday, May 2, 2016

Relationships Build Churches

by Joy Casey
Mission 1:27 supports indigenous, same-culture missionaries in thirteen villages throughout Ethiopia. The men serving come from M*slim backgrounds and are tireless in sharing the good news. The villages are patriarchal tribal communities and family and community relationships are highly valued. The villages have no books or libraries, no internet, few cell phones, no electricity and no place to go, so social outlets involve each other.
Jesus framed the first mission very simply… “The one who receives you receives Me.” It was more critical that His messengers were received than believed. The gospel has always been more than a message; it is an introduction to life under Christ’s lordship. When His messengers have connected with others in significant relationships, Christ can be introduced in powerful ways. (Perspectives)

Because we are working in tribal societies, the key to sharing the gospel is forging personal relationships. Same-culture missionaries purposefully move to a village where Christianity has never been presented in truth and love and where less than 1% of the population are Christ-followers. Several villages boasted zero Christ-followers until the missionary moved there. They begin integrating their families into village life by inviting neighbors over for traditional coffee ceremony and helping neighbors with projects. The women visit and lend a hand with chores such as hauling water. They build friendships by sharing in the day-to-day life of procuring and preparing food and caring for children.

The evangelist will find a person of peace and, after building a friendship relationship, will begin talking to him about what the Q*ran says about Isa. A dialogue using the familiar Q*ranic “voice” breaks down barriers and biblical truth can then be sensitively introduced. If the person of peace is an influential man in the community, it is doubly good if he accepts Christ. Because of the group mentality of the people, a leader can impact his family and neighbors and can more easily win over groups of people.

When someone shows interest in learning more about Jesus, there are several booklets available to confirm initial conversations and to give more in-depth information. One is a discipleship book called Following Jesus and the others explain the origins and contradictions of the M*slim religion and M*hammad along with a testimony of a M*slim man who came to Christ. There is also the Jesus film available in their language, and battery-run projectors can be made available to show the film, which is very effective. Because illiteracy runs high, solar-powered audio bibles are available in every church plant and can be listened to individually with ear buds or groups can hear God’s word spoken through the amazingly good speakers.

When a person or a family group comes to know the Lord, personal discipleship is essential. The evangelist initiates prayer times and holds Bible studies for all the new Christians and has the great privilege of baptizing them in a nearby lake. In the smaller villages, converts meet in each other’s homes until they outgrow the available room. In M*slim-dominated areas the recent climate has become much more intolerant of allowing Christian churches to be built anywhere. To solve this problem, converts in the outlying areas are donating their own land as a place to build a center for worship when they outgrow the house church. Leaders from the converts are selected for special teaching and taught strategies to reach their people. The results are spectacular in some settings and agonizingly slow in others. When it is impossible to create a central worship center, house churches begat house churches and the church is multiplied in this way. It is not ideal, though, because corporate worship and Bible teaching is effective in this culture to build community and also to offer group encouragement when converts are initially ostracized or experience overt persecution. However, the new Christ-followers remain in their village and eventually find acceptance as before.

In a few days I leave for Ethiopia and will be visiting many of the church plants. I am especially eager to visit one town where 250 villagers have decided to follow Jesus and two generous donors have provided for a church to be built. In another area, family groups are coming to the Lord and they are receiving in-depth instruction for one week followed by baptism. They are then sent back to their homes with Jesus’ instructions, “Make disciples.” We are hoping to experience spontaneous multiplication of churches as these individuals reach out to their extended family and neighbors. We are working in areas where we are wonderfully over our head and anything that is accomplished for the kingdom is because of the Holy Spirit in partnership with obedient people. It is an exciting time!

If you would like to help us in reaching many more people with the Truth of the Jesus Christ, you can donate to support his work here.

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