Ask and You Shall Receive: First Steps Toward Engaging in Global Missions
This blog piece is part of an ongoing, monthly series, as we journey with Red Bluff Vineyard in their process of discerning the specifics of their global missions engagement. Click here to read Part 1 from October 2018.
In the Vineyard, our process of discerning God’s will is grounded in the prayer, “Come Holy Spirit.” We regularly invite the Spirit of God to lead us and empower us to live in a way that witnesses to and reflects the values of God’s kingdom. Our lives orient (and reorient) around the desire for God’s kingdom to break into every square inch of the world and for Jesus’s dynamic reign to transform every person into the love of God. We long for the in-breaking of the Holy Spirit and welcome the Spirit’s direction. But what’s is the Spirit directing us toward and for? Or, to put it another way, what is the Holy Spirit up to? In Gary Tyra’s excellent book The Holy Spirit in Mission, he writes:
“God's Spirit has a penchant for using God's people to accomplish God's purposes. Furthermore, a primary way the Holy Spirit does this is by prompting Christ's followers to speak and act toward others on behalf of him, in ways designed to evangelize, edify and equip.”
In other words, the Spirit regularly leads and empowers people toward word and works, proclamation and demonstration, that points people to Jesus! Last month I shared that our church, the Red Bluff Vineyard, has begun the process of discerning where and to whom we believe that God is calling us to begin engaging in relation to global missions. Our church must focus on both local, trans-local, and global missions. We have been very effective at localized mission, growing by over 1,500% in just a couple years, but we’ve been less engaged in missions outside of the United States.
Inviting the Spirit’s Leading
Since I last wrote, I began praying and encouraged our mission team to pray and think about (1) where we had a sense of direction and (2) to come up with questions to ask various partnership leaders. As I was praying, I began to sense that one of the countries I wanted to hear more about was Japan. A couple years ago I had felt like Japan might be a good fit for us and there seemed to be some interest, but for various reasons nothing ever got off the ground. Could it be that we missed the first boat, but we are still being invited to engage with the Japanese people?
I decided to contact Ross Naylor-Tatterson, the Asia Regional Coordinator, to ask some questions. Ross was more than willing to discuss Japan, and while we spoke, I sensed a growing interest in my heart. My grandmother was Japanese and my childhood/adolescence was spent around various aspects of Japanese culture, which led me to have a heart for and interest in the Japanese people (not to mention I absolutely love sushi and I think a strong case could be made for missional work being based on food tastes — just kidding… maybe). I grew up with Japanese exchange students and, well, the more that I thought about it and heard about what God was doing in Japan, the more my interest grew. Plus Ross kind of gave me one of those prophetic Holy Spirit encouragements that there might be some sort of connection between my heritage and future missional movement. Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. But as I looked back over the past few years, I could see how the Spirit seems to have been planting small seeds about Japan. I know many of us can look back over the course of our lives and see areas where God was at work, though we may have felt alone or without any “God activity.” Might our relationship with Japan be in the same boat? Were we supposed to head east?
I was in…I think.
The more I prayed and had conversations with people around me, the more that I sensed we needed to explore Japan. So when our small “missions team” got together a couple weeks ago so we could lay out our plan, I shared that I was pretty convinced that we were supposed to see about taking a trip to Japan. When we invited the Spirit to lead, we received guidance! So I have contacted the leaders of the Japanese partnership and await to see where this goes.
Further Missional Developments
While I believe God’s inviting us to check out Japan and do an exploratory trip, we were also convinced that we needed to keep our hearts open for a second country or people group. We have a sense that we need to have more than just Japan on our radar and that in the future we will be engaged in mission work in several locations across the globe.
One of my central concerns is that we are involved in mission work that is helpful. I’ve been on several trips where it was fairly obvious that most of the local needs had been met and we were, in some ways, not making a good use of our time. Or at least, that’s how it felt. If we can choose between a country that has lots of teams coming and a country that has no teams coming, we’d like to know about that unreached or unsupported country so we can strategically work toward “the knowledge of God covering the earth as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9; Habakkuk 2:14).
So where else are we supposed to be? And who are we supposed to be working with?
These questions have been in the back of our minds for about three weeks. When I met with Michelle Ackley and Cheyenne Houghtby, our current “missions team,” Michelle expressed interest in eastern Europe so we set up another meeting with Vineyard Missions (hopefully you are seeing a pattern here — when you contact folks with Vineyard Missions, the majority of them get back to you right away, so reach out!). Vineyard Missions put us in contact with Bob Harper, the Regional Coordinator for Eastern Europe and after exchanging a couple of emails, we’ve set up another Zoom meeting to ask questions and get a sense for Ukraine (and other countries in the region).
So I’d say that as soon as we began asking the Lord if we should be involved in world missions, the answer was a resounding, “YES!” After all, as I wrote previously, the Mission of God can be engaged by Vineyard churches via the local, trans-local, and global model found in Acts 1:8. Our churches engage in sharing the good news within the communities in which they exist, participate in regional initiatives, and send individuals and teams to the world around us. Engaging in world missions is a biblical invitation. And when we started asking where we should go, it appears the Lord is at work to help us discern where and to whom we are called to work with and among!
Finally, here’s what I think is really cool — as I have shared this process we’re in with other Vineyard pastors and the people they serve in the northern California/southern Oregon area, there’s been a lot of interest to work together and get each of our local churches involved in missions! I feel like that is a huge win for God’s kingdom!
So if you aren’t yet pressing into missional engagement, what’s stopping you? Might it be time to start asking questions about where and to whom God would love for you to serve? Could it be that the same Spirit that called you into his kingdom wants to send you to the nations of the world to share the transformative love of Jesus? I believe it might be time for you to start praying and asking these questions.
Luke Geraty is a pastor-theologian living in Northern California, and he and his wife, Dawn, lead the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing children, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family or doing church stuff, he enjoys reading and writing theology, fly fishing, and listening to underground hip hop. He blogs at SpiritChurchMission.com and can be followed on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.