World Assembly Reflections: More Than Just Speaking the Good News
As an InterVarsity staff, I had the opportunity to attend World Assembly, a gathering in South Africa of delegates from IFES (International Fellowship of Evangelical Students) movements all over the world. Bishop David Zac shared from Luke 4:18-19, where Jesus outlines the real basis of missions. With the Spirit of Lord upon Him, Jesus was on earth to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah. He was anointed to bring good news to the poor and proclaim captives will be released, the blind will see, and the oppressed will be set free.
In this moment, I found myself reconsidering everything I ever knew about missions. For years, the Great Commission was the highlight of every training I received or gave. Our task as believers was simple—to continue the work of Jesus’ disciples by going to every nation, making them disciples, baptizing them, and teaching them everything we learned from Jesus in Scripture.
So living on mission for God means first sharing the gospel with everyone I meet, right? Because only when I make evangelism my first goal am I being a true, living witness and a messenger of hope. Or am I?
I was challenged in my view of missions like never before.
Mission Includes Both Actions and Words
I’ve been blessed to be a part of hundreds of people making decisions for Christ—some on the campus mission field at schools like Texas Southern University, Prairie View A&M University, Southern University and A&M College, and Xavier University of Louisiana, others on the overseas mission field in Kenya and Peru, and a few in my personal mission field of close family, friends, classmates, and coworkers.
However, when I think of the marginalized—people who are poor, held captive, blind spiritually, and daily oppressed by systemic injustices and hatred—the number I’ve shared the good news with is miniscule.
During a breakout session, Bishop Zac asked us a question that I’m still wrestling with now: “If you arrived in a poor Muslim area as a missionary, would you first preach Jesus, or would you first try to meet their need?” I believe the answer of most evangelicals would be to preach Jesus, which would have been my answer prior to his talk. But going forward, I want to first consider how to deal with their most pressing need.
It’s important for us to recognize that for many in marginalized corners and areas, the need is not only spiritual. While a person working day and night for pennies to pay their rent and feed their family could find an unexplainable peace if they had a personal relationship with Jesus, imagine how much more powerful the good news would be to them if they saw my example of it instead of only hearing it. As an InterVarsity staff, I know that a campus with no Christian community could benefit from a ministry like InterVarsity. But if all I do is plug and play what worked at other campuses without first taking time to understand the culture of the school to contextualize ministry for students and faculty, who is benefiting?
Messengers of hope, who desire to live as global disciples, must live the universal story of the Lordship of Christ, Bishop Zac exhorted. We have to reach the margins of the campus, our communities, cities, countries, and continents. We have to bring freedom, sight, and love so all can see Christ before they even hear about who he is. We need to present hope to others through both our actions and our words. When we do, I believe then we will have increasing numbers of people turning to Christ.
The Challenge and the Cost
For a week, I had meals with people from countries I never knew existed. I watched in utter disbelief as people who looked like me spoke every language imaginable except English. I heard countless stories of staff who moved to another country to start an IFES chapter, partnered with Islamic groups on campus, or staffed entire countries by themselves. As an English-speaker, for the first time, I had to use headphones in a few sessions so I could hear a translation of the non-English speaker, teacher, or preacher on stage. I can’t have these seemingly once in a lifetime experiences and come back the same.
With this received experience and wisdom, what’s next?
If I’m going to be a messenger of hope, if we, the Church, are going to be messengers of hope, we must be willing to serve knowing the cost and the true eternal gains. This will look different based on who you are and on the avenues the Lord gives you to serve him as we build his kingdom on earth together.
For InterVarsity staff workers like me, we must adjust our thinking about what it will take to reach all corners of our context as we serve within our ministries. For alumni or ministry partners, it might look like taking more risks in serving to connect with marginalized communities in your church, workplace, neighborhood, etc. For churches, it could be assessing your care for your marginalized members or surrounding communities where you’re located, looking for ways to serve the poor, captive, blind, and/or oppressed not just by inviting them to church, but by finding ways to assist where they are.
May we all reconsider what it means to be on mission for the Lord. May we challenge ourselves to consider the marginalized in our networks and invite the Spirit of God to assist us in bringing sight, release, or freedom to them. May we stop just speaking the Good News of Jesus and be examples of how Jesus lived his life in the gospels. May we participate in the sufferings of people all over the world to empathize with their pain instead of judging their situation. May we be messengers of hope, willing to serve this greater cause of Jesus in Luke 4, knowing the cost, so that Matthew 28 can be fulfilled in the way Jesus intended.