Runners don’t improve by sitting around and talking about the sport. They get better by running. If you doubt that you can finish a five-kilometer race, the only way to find out is to try it.
In September 2015, my family participated in a run for relief that raises thousands of dollars each year to help share our love with neighbors from all over the world. We, in the Anabaptist tradition, have a good track record in this type work, motivated by a desire to follow the Great Commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12).
But when it comes to that other great thing, the Great Commission in Matthew 28, where Jesus calls us to make disciples of all nations and baptize them, it is tempting to be less enthusiastic. Many of us are downright shy about sharing our faith verbally. Perhaps we are afraid of being perceived as insensitive or intolerant; in other words, negative role models. This leaves me wondering, “Where are the positive role models?”
Soon after the run for relief, my family had the chance to host a group of current and former Mennonite Mission Network workers who relate to the Toba Qom people in the Argentine Chaco. In this region, where native cultures are rapidly disappearing due to government policies of assimilation and the forces of globalization, the indigenous Christian church is one of the few institutions where Toba Qom people are comfortable speaking their own language and singing their own songs. It is because of the Mennonites’ accompaniment work in the Chaco that FEINE (Association of Indigenous Evangelical Peoples and Organizations) invited Mission Network almost two decades ago to come to another nation, Ecuador, to support and train leaders of the struggling indigenous churches. Our family is part of the response to that invitation.
Jesus’ astonishing response to doubt
Shortly before Christ delivers the Great Commission, we read that his disciples worshiped him, but some still doubted. How amazing that Jesus responded to this doubt by sending them out to make disciples of all nations! A more cautious approach would have been to offer a class, hold a weeklong seminar, or at least have a question-and-answer session until everyone was on the same page. But Jesus responded to his disciples’ doubt by sending them out to share the gospel with others!
There is another account of the Great Commission in Acts 1:8 where Jesus’ last words before ascending into the clouds are about being witnesses. From my perspective, while it is up to us as Christians to witness to what God has done in our lives, it is not our job to convince people to give their lives over to Christ. That is the work of the Holy Spirit.
As a longtime economics professor, I know that the emerging economies in places like Brazil, China and India kept the world economy afloat during the Great Recession of 2008. While the U.S. economy was shrinking, the economies on the other side of the world were still growing. Similarly, I wonder if it will be the emerging churches in the Global South that help foster the growth of Mennonites worldwide in the decades to come.
In the year 2000, there were more than 120,000 members of Mennonite Church USA. Last year, I checked MennoniteUSA.org, and saw the number is down to about 95,000. Over the last 15 years, while the U.S. population has increased by 14 percent, this denomination has shrunk by 21 percent. It is starting to dawn on me that we need the church in the Global South to help bring new life and vitality to North American churches, as much as our brothers and sisters in the South can benefit from our emphasis on servant leadership and Anabaptist theology.
“I don’t want to be part of a dying church.”
I believe it’s time to follow the lead of our Christian brothers and sisters in places like Ecuador who use words as well as actions to share the good news. When we think of all God has done for us, how far each of us has come, how we have been forgiven for past mistakes, and given so many opportunities for new life – how can we not tell others?
It doesn’t have to be difficult if we simply remember Jesus’ call from Acts 1 to witness to God’s work in our lives. Let this be a challenge to each of us the coming days – to seize the opportunity to tell others about what really matters, something deeper than weather, food or news. And the Spirit will take it from there.