by Bruce N. G. Cromwell, Central FMC, Lansing, MI
Over the past several years, God has been challenging my local church to broaden our definition of neighbor and to see, as Wesley famously claimed, that the world truly is our parish. We have multiple languages represented in both Sunday morning English services, and we conduct Sunday services in Nepali, Hmong Daw and Haitian Creole. Through the Holy Spirit’s inspiration and the personal impact and influence of many of these immigrants and refugees, we’ve also been blessed to start another Haitian church and three Nepali congregations in the United States, as well as six churches and ministries in the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal. Just recently a large influx of people from Central Africa began attending, doubling those in our Lansing church who worship God primarily in Swahili.
How does all of this happen?
In simplest terms, it is standing with a posture of openness to whatever God wills. Consider Acts 16:6-7 where we read that Paul and his companions “went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.” Sometimes God opens doors. Sometimes God closes them. The key is to trust God, whatever and whomever He may bring.
Paul was already well practiced in following the prompting of the Spirit of God, no matter what the prompting was. So when the man of Macedonia beseeched Paul in his vision, it is not surprising that Scripture records that Paul and his companions went, “being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them (16:10).”
God opened a door, and Paul obeyed. He trusted that God was directing his steps. And, as Acts 16:14-15 tells us, fruit was born from this faithfulness. Lydia and her entire household came to faith in the Lord Jesus and were baptized. Saint John Chrysostom, among others in the Early Church, linked this conversion directly to the faithfulness of Paul to respond to God’s call, with the fruit of conversion a sure sign that God had been guiding and directing the process all along. And yet Paul had to be faithful to go, to say, “yes” to God’s call.
Our Lord never violates our freedom. God asks us to trust Him. He invites us to follow. He presents us with opportunities, and yes, God often puts us in places where His will may be clear, but we have to choose whether to align our will with His or not.
To make sure we at Lansing Central do this, especially with regards to our mission to others, we focus on three things:
1. Pray. A lot. And be prepared to respond in faith to whatever God may call you to do.
2. Talk. A lot. People want to know they are heard, so listen every bit as much as you speak.
3. Visit. A lot. Most cultures around the world are far more community based than the individualistic society that is often encouraged in the West. Spend time with people. Listen to them. Build relationships. And watch how God blesses your willingness to obey.
Let us be like Paul. Let us be open to where God is calling us.