A few months ago, I accidentally jammed my right thumb in a car door and cracked the nail bed. As expected, the damaged nail turned black and then fell off. To my relief, a new nail had already started forming but it was five months before the nail grew back fully! I had not given much thought to the usefulness of a nail until I lost it. During those five months, simple tasks like peeling an orange or taking staples out of paper became awkward without the hard tip of a nail.
The incident reminded me of 1 Corinthians 12:12–31 on unity in diversity within the church. Verse 12 says that “just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ”. Similarly, verse 27 reiterates that “now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it”. This analogy of the church as a body is just as relevant in the area of missions. Jesus’s Great Commission to make disciples of all nations in Matthew 28:18–20 was not just for an elite group. It was given to all of us who believe and who make up the church. We are called to be in this together.
The word “missions” brings up different images for different people — Bible translation, church planting, medical aid, community development, etc. Some assume that one must have an aptitude for learning languages and know Greek and Hebrew, while others assume that one must have high cultural sensitivity to be involved in cross-cultural ministry. Still others feel that they are not called for missions because they think that their skill sets are not useful in the mission field.
During my first term as a full-time worker in Southeast Asia, I worked with local and expatriate colleagues from many different backgrounds. Some had joined the work straight out of high school. Others had left high-flying jobs because they wanted to serve in the ministry. Still others joined after retirement and raising families because they still had strength and vigour to serve God in the mission field.
I made the same observation later when I went to England for training in translation principles and discourse analysis. My classmates were diverse in age and experience. One was a doctor who had served with a local faith-based NGO in Asia. Another was a mathematician who is now a linguist involved in Bible translation in Africa. One lady used her gifts of teaching and service in ministry in South America. Another man found that his nationality enabled him to enter parts of Central Asia to serve when other nationalities would not have been as readily welcomed.
On a personal level, I have been able to participate in cross-cultural missions only because God used his people to enable me to do so. I was equipped and affirmed by my local sending church. I am encouraged and supported by people who faithfully pray for me and my ministry. I get practical help and advice from more knowledgeable and experienced friends on issues ranging from ministry strategies to personal financial planning. I receive technical training from people willing to share their know-how and skills.
This support also extends to the ministry level. Someone has to balance the books. Far-sighted managers are needed for the planning of operations. The upward trend of mobile usage worldwide has opened up new ministry opportunities through mobile apps, so web and app developers, software programmers and designers need to be involved too. Other ministry resources such as the Jesus Film and the Bible Project (to name a couple) cry out for voice talents, writers, animators, filmmakers, theologians, and so on.
We are each called to be engaged in missions, either as a goer, a sender or as a contributor of some talent or skill. Each one of us has something unique to contribute in service which others do not have. Think of a bicycle gear. It is arguably the most important part of a bicycle, since it directs force into motion. Yet, a gear brings a bicycle nowhere if it is not attached to the other parts. That is the beauty of diversity in the church. So let us bring together all these different roles to serve God as one body.
Joy is currently completing her thesis on verb morphology (fieldwork analysis) for her MA in Field Linguistics. She has also begun her assignment in translation and Scripture use project in Southeast Asia.