Several years ago, my little brother was an intern at Grace. At the time, I had a little office between the main auditorium and the high school room. When I got to the church one Sunday morning, I found (to my dismay!) the contents of my office neatly set up in the hallway!
I was livid. Then, when I found out that my brother was the author of the prank, my frustration reached that special level reserved only for siblings. Needless to say, I gave him a pretty stern lecture on the importance of… offices.
Later, I was wondering why such a silly joke had made me so angry. I think it had something to do with the idea that my office was “my turf.” It was my responsibility, and I did not want anyone else to be messing with it.
What about you? What is your “turf”? Your home? Your neighborhood? Your national borders? Though it may be surprising to some, a primary theme throughout the Bible is that God sees the entire earth as his turf. As the well-known verse in John 3:16 reminds us, “God so loved the world…” From the beginning, his heart has been for people from every nation. Ever since God sought out Adam and Eve after their betrayal in the Garden of Eden, he has been the one moving his mission forward—he has been the great Goer. Jesus embodied this aspect of God perfectly when he left the glorious climes of heaven to take on flesh and dwell among us so that we might know and be restored to God.
Sometimes, however, we can overlook this aspect of God’s nature. In fact, the Jews, God’s people in the Old Testament, began to fracture when they lost sight of their calling as a “light to the nations” (Is. 49:3) and began to view their privileged position of knowing God as entitlement rather than empowerment. They became so consumed with maintaining safety and security and order in their own little slices of space that they missed God’s call to all the corners of the earth.
At Grace, we take that call very seriously. Jesus’ “Great Commission” to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19) inspires both our commitment to discipleship and to the great mission of God.
So, what does making disciples among the nations mean to us?
Nations are peoples. In the original language of Matthew 28:19 is the same Greek word—ethne—from which we derive our English word “ethnicity.” Sometimes, when people talk about “the nations,” we are inclined to think of national anthems, flags, and geopolitical borders. But Jesus’ call to the nations—the ethne—speaks more specifically of people groups or “ethnicities” of peoples who share a common language and culture. With that in mind, most of the world’s geopolitical countries actually contain many, many “nations.” The country of India, for example, contains more than 2,000 different “nations” of people speaking unique languages and sharing unique culture. When Jesus says, “This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed through the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come,” he is speaking about the gospel going to all people groups of the world.
At Grace, we have a uniquely passionate heart for the Muslim world. September 11, 2001, changed the world. It especially changed our world at Grace. Up until that time, we had worked with multiple partners around the globe on various projects and trips. Usually, these partnerships grew organically from the relationships among people in the congregation. But after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, we sent a team to New York and, there, Buddy Hoffman and the leaders felt a profoundly clear sense of focus and calling from God to seek peace and reconciliation in Jesus with the Muslim community. Since that time, this has been our primary occupation. Sometimes people ask, “Isn’t that focus a little too narrow?” Interestingly, nearly 25% of the world’s population considers himself/herself to be a Muslim. As Buddy likes to say, “That’s too many people not to talk to.”
The Good News is Jesus and his Kingdom. After nearly 6 years of frustration and failure trying to befriend Muslims locally and abroad, we continually read and re-read the Gospels, seeking insight from Scripture. Finally, we realized Jesus’ core message was the coming of the Kingdom of God. In fact, the Gospels never record the word “Christian” coming from his mouth! This has shaped our approach to the nations in two powerful ways. First, we believe God’s Kingdom not only addresses a person’s eternal destiny but also every area of life now. When Jesus talked about the Kingdom, it was (and is!) a present reality, breaking into peoples’ physical, emotional, economic, social, and spiritual situations. While our heart is ever to help people know and follow Jesus as disciples, we understand that the coming of the Kingdom must also bring restoration and redemption to all areas of life. This is why we consider vocational training programs like The Lantern Project as much a part of God’s mission as a Backyard Bible Club. Second, we believe that the conversation about Jesus and the Kingdom is the key to sharing the Good News in a pluralistic society. Instead of focusing on differences between ourselves and others, we find it most fruitful to discuss how and where we might find life together in the Kingdom of God through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
We hope to equip everyone in the church to share their faith effectively and biblically with people from all different backgrounds. “Training” is another way to define “discipleship.” If we are serious about following Jesus, we will be serious about following him into the whole world. While that may not mean moving to a village in Indonesia, it certainly does mean getting to know our neighbors, even if they were born and grew up in a village in Indonesia. We are deeply committed to equipping you with the tools to reach the nations either locally or abroad.