With vibrant communities, seeing is believing

Our new vision statement has galvanized OM worldwide. 'We want to see vibrant communities of Jesus followers among the least reached' is a refreshing statement from standard clichés such as ‘to the glory of God’ or ‘planting churches’ or ‘reach the lost’. I would like to present a few reflections on seeing this vision take place.

To imagine!

‘To see’ should mean to imagine. When we want ‘to see’ communities of Jesus followers, we imagine by faith what we do not as yet see in the physical realm. We dream beyond the present reality and believe God to do more than we can ask or think (imagine) as Paul prays in Eph. 3:20. Einstein said that “imagination encircles the world.” We want to see vibrant communities of Jesus followers encircle the world, too, so let us dream towards that end.

At the same time, imagination can lead to fanciful dreams that go nowhere. We can become so captivated by vision statements that they get the better of us and we become victims of our visions. We eventually burn out and another vision statement joins the ranks of other unfulfilled dreams.

To be visible, countable

‘To see’ must be concrete. When we see something, it actually exits. Vibrant communities of Jesus followers must be accessible, tangible, touchable. In the NGO world of development projects, we are required to monitor and evaluate projects. In areas of unrest, often ‘security concerns’ means that a supervisor or outside evaluation team cannot have direct access to the area. This makes it more difficult ‘to see’ and often projects will stage an impact. We must not fall prey to staged stories. A vibrant community will be visible and hence, countable. What do we count and what do we not count? Someone recently mentioned that they had started a community of Jesus followers in an unreached area, proclaiming “We are two expats who meet together for prayer on a regular basis.” Is this counting honestly?

Seeing is more than observing

‘To see’ thus can sound passive. Is it merely to observe? How much does one have ‘to see’ to be part of the ministry? We can be removed from the actual project and merely hear what is going on. When we want to see communities of Jesus followers, we want to ensure that they take place. We therefore work towards this vision. So ‘seeing’ should be an activity where we implement actual steps which will hopefully birth such communities. Each step may be small, but these steps move us towards the goal.

Presence

In order to really see vibrant communities, we need to be present among the people where we envision Jesus followers to gather together. One of our team members working among Persian refugees wrote recently,

“A refugee couple started coming to our church. The wife was not a follower of Jesus, but the husband was. The husband hurt his hand. It was very painful. He was afraid he would lose his job because he could not use it. He asked for special prayer, and by God’s grace he was healed. His wife began to weep. She confessed Jesus as her Lord!”

How else would we have seen (known) this story, if we were not present with the people? It is easy to rely on second-hand reports or hearsay, but through actual presence we are able to see people following Jesus.

To see means to notice change

Paul writes about being “…transferred to the kingdom of His Son,” – Colossians 1:13 (ESV). Such transfer means transformation. We must be able to witness this. It will often mean time lapse as change is not always sudden. It is more than one evening of excitement or a great baptismal service. It could mean ongoing discipleship and training, long-term care, counseling, wholesome and well-rounded development and much more.

Indeed, there are so many variables as we ‘see’ vibrant communities develop among the least-reached peoples. As we work towards this vision, I nevertheless fall back on the age-old cliché that my father stressed repeatedly: “We are not called to be successful, but called to be faithful.”

Arley specialises in Persian culture, with an MA in Persian (Pakistan) and a PhD in Middle Eastern Civilizations (Canada). He directs Pamir Productions, media and discipleship for Afghans and teaches on Muslim-Christian themes. Exploring cultural themes in honour-shame societies, Arley occasionally runs seminars for professionals and college students in Central Asia. Arley and his wife Janice have been with OM since the early 1980s.

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