By JOHN FORTMEYER, CNNW publisher
TUALATIN — One of the larger crowds in the 17-year history of Mission ConneXion Northwest were reminded last month of the importance of taking the Gospel to a needy world — even if it isn’t easy.
That idea was emphasized with the succinct two-word theme — “Worth It?” — of the Jan. 18 and 19 conference at Rolling Hills Community Church in Tualatin.
“Is it worth it? You better believe it’s worth it!” said Portland-based international evangelist Luis Palau, who spoke at the Friday night opening session despite serious health challenges. (See separate story on this web site)
One of the Northwest’s bigger annual Christian conferences, Mission ConneXion last month drew 5,432 people during the two days — an increase over the 4,998 tallied last year.
In addition to Palau, plenary session speakers at the event were Nik Ripken, an expert on the persecuted church in Muslim contexts; Heather Mercer, one-time prisoner of the Taliban in Afghanistan and founder of Global Hope, focused on reaching the Muslim world with the Gospel; and York Moore, national evangelist for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship U.S.A.
Palau told how when he was a boy in Argentina, his family was led to faith in Christ through a missionary evangelist from England. For that reason, he has a special fondness and admiration for those who answer the call to missions.
“To me, they should be the heroes in your family,” Palau said.
Anyone with a sincere, compassionate heart for the spiritually lost can be used effectively by the Lord, even if they aren’t necessarily impressive by the world’s standards, Palau emphasized: “(Missiona-ries) are not perfect, but they are God’s men and women.”
He told of a friend who was a Wycliffe Bible Translators missionary, but who was in no way dynamic, dressed very humbly and walked with an awkward shuffle. Yet, over many years this person had a massive impact in the South American na-tion of Bolivia, even touching the heart of its dictatorial leader. He later was put in charge of Wycliffe’s efforts in the Spanish-speaking world.
Palau also cited the life of famed missionary to Africa David Livingstone, who felt a clear call to missions at the young age of 6 and who went to Africa at age 22.
Palau said missionaries face a special task that calls them to cross three types of barriers — cultural, linguistic and religious.
“The adventure of being a missionary is glorious .. . it’s eternal work,” he said.
Those who aren’t called specifically to missions work around the world can still follow a call to prayer for missionaries or to assist in their support, Palau said. “The question is, are you available to the Lord Jesus Christ? … It’s never too early, it’s never too late. You’ll never regret it,” he said.
Mercer, who spoke Saturday morning, received national attention after she was freed from captivity in Afghanistan in 2001. She was one of of 24 aid workers arrested in August 2001 by the Taliban in connection with their work with a Christian aid organization She, along with seven other Western missionaries and their 16 Afghan coworkers, were put on trial for violating the Taliban prohibition against proselytism.She was held captive in Kabul until anti-Taliban forces freed her two months later.
“I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything, because Jesus met me there,” she said.
Mercer told how when she was a teenager in the U.S., she thought Christians were ‘weird,” and certainly never expected to become a missionary. “I was not a No. 1 draft pick for this assignment,” she quipped.
But a friend prayed for her for three years and Mercer eventually gave her life to Jesus. She shocked her family at age 19 by saying she was called to missions work in any of three extremely dangerous mission fields — Sudan, Afghanistan or North Korea. Those closest to her asked if she was crazy.
But go to Afghanistan she did, in faith that Jesus would walk with her.
“We must go. It is worth it, because He is worthy,” she said.
The American Church is blessed with great resources in comparison to the rest of the world —”We have the buffet unlimited,” she said — but to whom much is given, much is required, she pointed out. Mercer, who now works among the Kurdish population in Iraq, said those pondering going to the mission field need to be realistic about the risks. “The places that remain are difficult and dangerous.” she noted, and missions work can involve considerable sacrifice.
“If you came looking for the good life, you’re in the wrong place,” she told the crowd.
But the key for those who are willing to “play the long game, not a short game” in serving Christ in missions must keep their focus on Him, Mercer conteded.
“It’s not worth it because it’s an adventure, or because you get to write a book, or the need is great,” she said. “It can’t be about the need; it has to be about Jesus, because we are not big enough, strong enough, to carry the need.”
In a passionate talk Saturday afternoon, Ripken drew upon his own missions work in Malawi and Kenya, as well as his decades of research about persecuted Christians in dozens of nations, to address the challenges of evil worldwide and how believers should respond.
While working among the Somali people, Ripken and his wife vividly witnessed the effects of horrific persecution of believers there. He said when they first arrived, there were 150 followers of Jesus, but when they left there were only four left alive.
“What Ruth and I have found is that evil has no bottom — there is no depth to which it will not go,” he said.
When persecution hits, people naturally call out to God to rescue them, but also almost automatically ask Him to “take out the bad guys.”
That second request runs completely counter to God’s deep love for all mankind, Ripken said.
“Calling on God to punish my enemies, to punish our enemies, is a long way from loving our enemies,” he said.
If people don’t get “stuck” with the first two automatic responses, then there is a strong possibility they will move to third and fourth responses that can dramatically “redefine your world, your life, your church, and dare I pray, your country,” he said.
What are they?
Forgiveness. Asking God to forgive the persecutors, and also then asking God to “forgive me in the same way that I forgive those who sin against me.”
Finally, a fifth response to evil transcends all others, when a follower of Jesus simply and sincerely prays that God be glorified daily in all they do, Ripken said.
“Faith is not tied to political freedom, but is about glorifying God, wherever, whenever,” Ripken said. For that reason, Christians are as free to share Jesus in North Korea, or Saudi Arabia, or Kenya, as they are anywhere in the United States, he insisted. The aim is simply to see people encounter the living Christ.
“God doesn’t see borders, God just sees lostness … Love your enemies, expect to be forgiven as you forgive, and ask God for the strength,” Ripken concluded.
In his Saturday evening talk, Moore, who grew up and lives in Michigan, started off by describing the sense of wonder that something native to that part of the U.S. — fireflies — gives a child.
“There’s something magical about experiencing the extraordinary things of lilfe,” he said.
But because Jesus Himself is extraordinary — as evidenced by the fact that He turned water into wine at a wedding feast, or that He was resurrected from the grave — then all the more should Christ-followers exhibit joy in daily living and serving Him, Moore said.
“That’s what God does with our lives,” he said. “He takes the leftovers, the dregs, and transforms it into something beautiful and extraordinary … Our Christian witness should naturally emerge from a life that has been transformed.”
One unusual fact about fireflies, Moore noted, is that their light is not noticeable until nighttime. He likened their diminished glow in the daytime to Christians’ tendency to hold back their own spiritual light in a needy world.
“It isn’t until the darkness comes that the light of the firefly is seen,” Moore said. “My great fear of the Church in North America is that we are quite comfortable (just) being fireflies in the daytime.”
But, he added, the light of Jesus “is best shown in times of darkness and upheaval. And wouldn’t you say that America is in need of the light of Jesus right now? We live in dark times, in uncertain times.”
Moore said he and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and Cru — formerly Campus Crusade for Christ — are teaming up on an initiative “to conspire with the Holy Spirit, to inspire revival in Ameirca.” It calls for 500,000 people to “prayer walk’ every college campus in the nation.
“Jesus is looking for regular, ordinary women and men,” he said. “The good news is we can participate in a move of God … None of us are spectators in the story of God.”
For more about Mission ConneXion, go to missionconnexion.com