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Scanning the Edges, Rustling the Hedges

Scanning the Edges, Rustling the Hedges

Where field meets woods or fence meets field, that’s where the wild things are.

By Shane Bennett

Over Christmas and New Year, I’ve been tooling around Indiana and Ohio. Good days in real places… driving roads so hilly a Rambler could catch air… looking out over ponds and fields and woods, trying to channel my inner Wendell Berry.

Being here reminded me of one of the coolest classes I took in college, Wildlife Biology. I should have killed it. It was dead center in my sweet spot as 19-year-old. Instead, I got a C; in part because I couldn’t remember the number of square feet in an acre! (Still can’t.)

One thing in that class that did stick: the idea of “the edge,” the frontier where field meets woods or fence meets field, and the ditches that border country roads or drain acreage. That’s where biology really happens. That’s where the wild things are.

Over the years I’ve developed a habit of scanning the edge while I drive. Of course, this must be balanced with watching the road and firing off important texts. (Not really! Don’t text while driving!) I look at the road but also beyond, gazing along fence rows, scanning where weeds and trees abut. Sometimes, and with increasing frequency as the habit solidifies, my scanning is rewarded by the scamper of a squirrel, the flash of a white-tail deer, or a new bird for the life list. Simple, good pleasures for which I say thank you to the Father.

Fascinating Creatures

This is a risky metaphor, but I regularly have more passion than sense, so let’s try it: There are edges in our lives, geographic ones and social ones. These edges are inhabited by fascinating creatures. People aren’t possums and I know my unguided curiosity can reduce humans to concepts and make the amazing creatures we all are into caricatures like those drawn on the streets of Disneyland. But the point stands:

Fascinating people lie on the edges of the main pathways of our lives. As followers of Jesus our invitation is to see them. Really see them. As well as connect with them, learn from them, and when appropriate, serve them.

Jesus was the master of this. I’m sure I don’t understand the full measure of social capital he happily spent to hang out with the woman at the well in John 4. You can almost see her, shy as a bird looking for a place to hide, when Jesus strode up to her at the well, uninvited.

Scan the landscape of your life for a moment. Who’s hanging out on the edges? Who’s the woman at your well? Your Zacchaeus? Who’s sick, in body or mind?

Because you’re smart, you’re probably already dissecting the metaphor and part of your brain is saying, “Hold on, Buddy.” Here are some cautions, caveats, and cop outs:

1. Wild things are wild.

Deer are beautiful, but you don’t bring them into your living room. You don’t let raccoons ride in the car with your kids. Caution is required.

But Jesus did this kind of thing! It stresses the heck out of me. I hear about folks who are loving marginalized people, opening their homes and I think, “Those are the heroes.” Jesus gives a wonderful parable in Luke 14 to show God’s commitment to those on the edges. A man scheduled a feast and the cool people wouldn’t come. So, he went after the rest, relentlessly. We are the rest. There are still more in the hedges and the streets, the ESL classes, and the little tent towns by the river. Does God want us to take them to lunch? Invite them home for dinner and a swim? Would Jesus do it?

2. You gotta keep your eye on the road.

You have a life. People who count on you, stuff that requires your attention, commitments long since made that must be honored. There’s no time to scan the edge, is there?

Now it would be absurd for me to judge your life. But let me say something outright that this time of year invites us to consider: There may be some things we could drop, stop, ease up or let go. Bob Goff famously says you can quit anything on a Thursday. If you’re reading this article the day it goes out, that’s tomorrow.

Anything come to mind? I’m taking an almost imperceptible step in the right direction by backing off on Words with Friends. If that doesn’t kill me, I’ll look for the next way to get my phone out of in front of my face to free a little time and attention for the edge.

3. There may be other people in the car.

Your posse might not approve you caring about people in the edges. For some of us this is a bigger deal than it should be. “If the tribe thinks it’s silly, maybe I shouldn’t do it.” Personally, I’m realizing with fresh disgust how deeply I crave the approval of my people. It’s not pretty, but it’s real. Let’s face it.

Last week, driving home with a pastor friend, I pulled up by a panhandler at a stop light. I grabbed snacks someone had given me out of my bag, asked him if he was hungry, and handed them over, perhaps in part to impress my friend. That went south when he commented that the guy had been there awhile and was being used by his family who capitalize on his diminished mental state.

God gives us friends and family for our benefit. But he also gives each of us nudges, passions, and weird ideas for the benefit of that community and beyond. Grace to you as you walk out the balance. I know I need that grace.

There’s also this perennial mobilizer warning: Just because something is your thing, don’t communicate that it’s everyone’s thing. (Unless of course it’s connecting with Muslims, which clearly God wants to be everyone’s thing!)

4. Finally, you can’t live in the edge.

I’m a 53-year-old white guy. I’ll never roll with the gangs like Father Greg. As someone who can drive a manual transmission, I can only marginally relate to Millenials. And as much as I love Muslims and am honestly devoted to them and the hope of life for them, I don’t understand a fantastically huge amount more than I do understand.

We can’t be them, the people who are in the edges for us. But we can be quiet. We can listen, look, and cherish. We can risk the embarrassment of reaching out and being rebutted, being told we don’t belong. We can try to connect, risking unintentionally assuming the role of patron, walking arrogantly in our privilege. We can live maybe a little more dangerously, a little more generously. If we’re careful, we just might learn something deeper about the dignity of humanity, the shrewd power of the underprivileged and the tender heart of a great God toward those in the edge.

I want to give it a go. Care to join me?

???? If no one knows, how can anyone care? ????

In this Issue: News from the Middle East, North Korea, and More

  1. USA: The Go Documentary
  2. TURKEY: In This City
  3. NORTH KOREA: One of Five Countries Where Christmas Is a Crime
  4. WORLD: Data on Population, Poverty, and Faith
  5. WORLD: The Biggest News Stories of 2018

USA: The Go Documentary

Source: Grace Church, 2018

“When it comes to missions, the world in severely unbalanced: only 2.4% of all missionaries go to the unreached; there is only one missionary for every 278,431 unreached peoples; and out of every dollar Christians give to missions, a little more than a penny goes to the unreached. These statistics broke our hearts. We wondered what we could do about it. After a long journey of discovery, we realized what the true issue was: No one knew about the problem. And if no one knows, how can anyone care?”

Two guys, one a filmmaker who serves as his church’s communication director, the other the church’s director of outreach and mobilization, led efforts to change this at their Kansas church and beyond. They and a team of creatives ended up making the Go Documentary. It explains the reality of unreached peoples and their need for Bible translation and other ministries and takes viewers on a journey to Nepal for a first-hand look.

The documentary premiered at their church in September. “We were so encouraged to see people take to heart the message of the film. Sixty families signed up to translate Bible verses into a rare Nepalese dialect.”

They’ve now entered it in multiple film festivals and are eager to see how God will use it. Well done!

» Watch the Go Documentary (37 minutes) and see the related website.

» Another story from the USA reports on the launch of a movement to prayerwalk every college and university campus in the nation by January 2020 (Intervarsity, via Mission Network News).

TURKEY: In This City

Source: Arab World Media, January 1, 2019

Istanbul, Turkey. A city where East meets West. The Bosphorus Strait, a narrow waterway, connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara. It also divides the city in two: half on the continent of Europe and half on the continent of Asia. Thousands from the Middle East, displaced by wars, call this city “home.” We pray that they will meet Jesus on their journey.

Most Arabs in the city are trying to get settled, secure a decent job and find some semblance of decency, community, and hope for their or their family’s future. Most hold menial, manual labor jobs and their salaries are very low. Their children are slowly being integrated into Turkish schools and Turkish society. While some still desire to return to Syria, most Arabs who have made it to Istanbul are trying to settle there as immigrants.

As a secular state, the Turkish government does not have laws against conversion or proselytism. However, social pressures and persecution are very prevalent. Friends and family members can make life difficult. There are distinct pockets of different sects and groups that are associated with ISIS and other extremist groups.

Fear inhibits new believers from sharing their faith and stunts the growth of the church among their people. Fear also prevents disillusioned Muslims from actively pursuing a life of faith in Christ. Imagine how much seeking, sharing and evangelism could happen if the barriers of fear were removed!

» See full story for facts about the city, a vision for ministry, and ways we can pray.

» Also read Now Our Faith Is Real, an account of how the gospel has spread from one family of Syrian refugees to more than 300 people meeting to read scripture (Frontiers).

NORTH KOREA: One of Five Countries Where Christmas Is a Crime

Source: Open Doors, December 6, 2018

Slowly, the five friends make their way to the women’s outhouse they use each day. They look back. No one has followed them. In the stench of the room, they gather in a corner. Saying little, always in muttered whispers, they stand quietly. One woman softly sings. Another leads a short prayer.

Year after year, this is what Christmas looks like for these believers in a North Korean labor camp. Counting the cost, they risk their lives to come together to pray and sing, reflecting on the coming of their Savior—both 2,000 years ago and one future day they all hope comes very soon.

For millions of believers like these, the celebration of our Savior entering the world must be a risk-laden secret Christmas. They know that there is a war on Christmas—and what that war really looks like.

While we see Christmas trees on every corner, persecuted believers might not ever see a single Christmas decoration. If they do, it’s only in a secret celebration because in several countries, Christmas is illegal and banned outright. Any Christmas celebration carries with it the potential for fines, arrest, and imprisonment.

» Read full story or watch the video (less than three minutes long).

» Sure, Christmas observances can obscure or distract from the message of the incarnation instead of highlighting it, but we’re rejoicing in fruit from holiday outreaches reported by churches and in missionary newsletters. And see Iraq Declares Christmas a National Holiday (Gulf News).

WORLD: Data on Population, Poverty, and Faith

Sources: Various

Some fascinating pieces we came across in our sleuthing:

1. Explore a remarkable visualization of the human population of the world’s cities as Population Mountains (The Pudding, via Flowing Data).

2. Download a 34-page booklet from the UN, The World’s Cities in 2018 (United Nations, via Justin Long).

3.  Check out some interesting and data-informed articles on the topic, Is the End of Extreme Poverty in Sight? (Mission Frontiers).

4. See the latest annual Status of Global Christianity from Todd Johnson and his colleagues at the Center for the Study of Global Christianity. A related article was published in the January issue of the International Bulletin of Missionary Research, but you’ll need a subscription to ready it.

WORLD: The Biggest News Stories of 2018

Source: Brigada Today, December 30, 2019

What, to you, were the biggest news stories of 2018? We’re talking about stories that impacted your life, your work, and the lives/work of the people around you. So please, don’t suggest that it was all about leading political figures. Yes—they can exert influence. But what top stories DIDN’T relate to polarizing government leaders [and] still impacted your work and witness—even if they only did so in your region?

Here are some possible suggestions to prime the pump. Was it…

  • Kim Jong Un announced that North Korea will denuclearize
  • The net neutrality debate
  • Cuba, and the transition out for the Castro family as rulers
  • Iraq holds its first elections since driving out the Islamic State
  • Bitcoin crashes (or at least falls)
  • Prince Harry and Meghan said “I do”
  • Terrible wildfires in California or a new tsunami in Indonesia

» What do YOU think??? Vote for one of these or supply the answer yourself.

» Pat’s note: I’m very curious! Please take a moment to comment at Brigada. I left my comment and want to see yours. For reminders, see top story lists from Christianity Today and IRIN News. We also noted a recent study demonstrating that almost seven-in-ten Americans feel worn out by the amount of news these days! (Pew Research Center).

Refresh your passion for God, the Bible, and the nations | Resources for Mission Mobilizers

In this edition:

  1. VIDEO: 2018 Year in Review
  2. BOOKS: The Year’s Best Mission Books
  3. VIDEOS: Animated Shorts from the Bible Project
  4. WEBSITE: Go.Serve.Love
  5. EVENTS: January Training and Conferences

VIDEO: Year in Review

Source: Prayercast

Think back over the world’s headlines from the last year. How much do you remember? As you watch The Year in Review video from Prayercast, ask God to break through global events to touch and transform people’s hearts and lives.

» Want to change the world in 2019? Consider choosing one or more of the Prayercast prayer plans. Make it part of your personal devotions or use with your family or group.

» See also Praying for the World, now available as a free, weekly church bulletin insert from Operation World and the Lausanne Movement.

BOOKS: The Year’s Best Mission Books

Source: Catalyst Services

Readers of Postings, a publication of Catalyst Services for church and mission leaders, recommend books published (or read) in 2018. Many of them I loved, found quite helpful, and also mentioned here, but others were new to me. Maybe new to you, too.

» Read Best Mission Books of 2018.

VIDEOS: Animated Shorts from The Bible Project

Source: The Bible Project

Meg, in Phoenix, brought to our attention a visual storytelling ministry I don’t think we’ve featured here. The Bible Project is a non-profit animation studio that produces short-form, fully animated videos to make the biblical story accessible to everyone, everywhere, through videos, podcasts, and study guides that explore the Bible’s unified story.

Use these free, high-quality materials to bring your own reading of scripture to life or to help others engage with the Bible. Materials are currently available in English, Spanish, German, Indonesian, Mandarin, Cantonese, Arabic, Vietnamese, and Russian.

» Explore the Bible through videos from The Bible Project.

» Moving Works is another ministry that makes and gives away short films to tell the world about Jesus. They recently released the first three of six films to use in share Jesus with the Japanese (English subtitles).

WEBSITE: Go.Serve.Love

Source: Go.Serve.Love

Have you seen this site? It’s the latest web-based service from the ministry that brought us ShortTermMissions.com and AskaMissionary.com. It launched about a year ago and has a fresh, new feel.

One of the things they are highlighting right now is a series of preparedness surveys helping individuals identify gaps and areas of growth as they pursue heading out to serve overseas.

These are great tools for those who feel lead to go but aren’t quite sure what all is involved or what steps they can take now, where they live, to begin preparing themselves emotionally, spiritually, relationally, and culturally.

» See Self Assessments for Global Work and other resources from Go.Serve.Love.

EVENTS: January Training and Conferences

Source: Missions Catalyst Events Calendar

Friends, I’ve updated our Missions Catalyst Events Calendar as far as I can see into 2019. More events will be added as the year goes on. As always, your input is welcome!

January 2-5, Cross Conference (Louisville, KY, USA). Student missions conference.

January 3-25, Perspectives Intensive (Kailua-Kona, HI, USA). Provided by Perspectives on the World Christian Movement.

January 6-12, Perspectives Intensive (New Freedom, PA, USA). Provided by Perspectives on the World Christian Movement.

January 7 to February 2, COMPASS (Palmer Lake, CO, USA). Language and culture acquisition course offered regularly by Missionary Training International.

January 7 to May 12, Perspectives on the World Christian Movement (online). Another class begins January 21.

January 9 to June 28, School of Global Harvest (Chiang Mai, Thailand). Provided by SVM2.

January 13 to February 8, Equipping for Cross-Cultural Life and Ministry (Union Mills, NC, USA). Offered regularly by the Center for Intercultural Training.

January 14-15, Support Raising Bootcamp (Brea, CA, USA). Offered regularly by Support Raising Solutions.

January 14-15, Equipping Missions for the Cultural Challenges of Singleness, Marriage & Sexuality (Orlando, FL). From Missio Nexus.

January 14-16, Field Security Seminar (Managua, Nicaragua). Prepare to live, work, and travel in high-risk environments. Followed by a Crisis Management Seminar, both from Crisis Consulting International.

January 14-18, Encountering the World of Islam (online). New classes start several times a year.

January 17, Partnering Well (online). Webinar from Missio Nexus.

January 18-19, Mission ConneXion (Tualatin, OR, USA). Free, annual mission conference for all ages.

January 18-20, Missions Fest Vancouver (Vancouver, BC, Canada). Free, annual, mission festival for all ages.

January 31, Webinar: Moving Missions Beyond Simple Charity and Short-Term Fixes (online). Webinar from Missio Nexus.

» View the complete calendar. Want to know more about a specific event? Contact the event organizers.

????The first advent wreath | A caroling calamity ????

Carols by Candlelight is an annual tradition for the Madras Musical Association in Chennai, India. In some parts of India, though, caroling can be dangerous. See story below. (Image: MMA)

  1. GERMANY: Why a Missionary Created the First Advent Wreath
  2. INDIA: A Caroling Calamity
  3. THAILAND: Christian Refugees Get A New School for Christmas
  4. UZBEKISTAN: Police Arrest Converts and Set up TV Show Trial
  5. CHINA: Pastor’s Powerful Letter Released after His Arrest
  6. WORLD: Understanding the Remaining Missions Task


This edition includes several Christmas-related stories, but here are two more resources for you, our loyal readers, as a Christmas gift:

  1. Anyone remember the global issues talk show, Doha Debates? It’s back! Sign up to be notified when the new season begins.
  2. Expect family holiday gatherings to slide into debate? Check out Bethinking’s tools to help answer the question Is Christmas for Real?

Come, Let Us Adore HIM!

GERMANY: Why a Missionary Created the First Advent Wreath

Source: International Mission Board, December 10, 2018

Johann Hinrich Wichern (1808-1881) was eager to find a way to spread God’s message among the people in Hamburg. He worked as a missionary among the poor. In 1833, he founded a school called Rauhes Haus (“Rough House”) to redeem and serve neglected children and orphans by feeding, housing, and educating them.

To help contain the children’s excitement leading up to December 25, he created the first Advent wreath. The first wreath had 24 candles. The four largest candles indicated the Sundays of Advent. During daily prayer, a child lit a candle each day up until Christmas Eve when all the candles were finally illuminated.

Many Germans today simply enjoy Advent wreaths as centerpieces on their table. Although the tradition was born in their country, they may be unaware of the symbolic meaning the wreath holds.

» Read full story. It includes more on historic and contemporary Christianity and Christmas practices in Germany.

» Then read A Look at Christianity in Post-evangelized Germany (Missions Network News).

INDIA: A Caroling Calamity

Source: Beyond, December 13, 2018

When “Sanjay” and some fellow followers of Christ decided to celebrate the Christmas season with caroling, they knew to be discreet. After all, they lived in northern India, where persecution of Christians is an everyday threat. Casually going into the streets singing to random strangers was not an option. No, they purposed to only go to the homes of friends like Raja. Raja was not yet a follower of Jesus but he was regularly participating in one of the local Bible studies. Surely it would be okay to sing outside his house? They assembled at Raja’s home and had begun singing when the front door flew open and a man shot into their midst. It was Raja’s older brother, Charan.

With a machete-like knife in his hand, the irate man lunged into the crowd of carolers. Charan first destroyed the drum they were playing and then began slashing wildly toward the people. He got close enough to cut one man’s shirt, but thankfully no blood was drawn. The carolers quickly left and reported this incident to the police. Some officers accompanied them back to Raja’s home, but by the time they arrived, Charan had fled. After the officers left, Sanjay and the others prayed for Raja and his whole family.

About one week had passed when Sanjay’s phone rang. It was Charan. He explained that he had turned himself into the police and asked if Sanjay could come down to the station. As soon as Sanjay arrived, Charan bent down, touched Sanjay’s feet three times (a gesture of respect) and said, “I am very sorry. You are a good person.” God had been at work in the lives of Raja’s family, and, because of this incident, all of Raja’s family except Charan decided to become Christians.

» Read full story and watch the video Ordinary People… Extraordinary Gospel about how movements are growing in India.

THAILAND: Christian Refugees Get a New School for Christmas

Source: Christian Freedom, December 14, 2018

It’s been a tough year for Pakistani Christians. A crackdown in Thailand forced [Pakistani] Christian refugees who fled there to scatter in fear. It was too risky for the refugee kids to go to school, so the teachers went to them, finding students in their hiding places to keep up on their lessons.

Since the school meeting place was no longer secure, the director found a new location. It needed work. Lots of it. Toilets and faucets were broken. Water stains on walls. Rats and cockroaches. Water pump burned out. Few lights. So teachers, students, parents, and friends all pitched in.

The director told us: “I gathered the students, bought the materials: paint, lights, toilet cleaners and detergents, trash bins and bags. [I] invited some adult men [and] gave them all a pep talk that it is a privilege for us that we get the honor to build this school piece by piece. …We cannot leave the future of our children and nation in the hands of others. …None of the Pakistani people who would come to work asked for any money, but only for food and tea. Both the children and adults happily worked for long hours.”

» Read full story.

» Speaking of refugees, read the continuing story of a North Korean teenager whose family escaped to China. After studying in a Christian university in the US, she now hopes to return to Asia to serve in ministry through business (Lausanne Movement).

UZBEKISTAN: Police Arrest Christian Converts and Set up TV Show Trial

Source: Barnabas Fund, November 6, 2018

Police in Uzbekistan arrested 43 converts to Christianity from Islam, including a number of teenagers, and later tried to get them to appear in court in front of TV cameras in an apparent show trial.

Police put considerable pressure on a number of the arrested converts, even attempting to recruit some to work for the police as informers. Several were forced into giving incriminating written statements against the organizers and leaders of the gathering. The converts face[d] charges of “illegal assembly” and potential fines of up to the equivalent of US$2,500 if found guilty.

[At the October 23] hearing many of the Christians facing charges refused to enter the courtroom because there were cameramen and TV journalists present, and they did not wish to be part of a show trial. The judge again postponed the hearing, which was eventually held on October 30.

The presiding judge ordered the TV journalists not to film the trial proceedings, but they were permitted to film the verdicts. All the Christians charged were found guilty, but only received minimum fines, equivalent to between US$75 [and] US$500. Police subsequently promised to reduce the fine for any of the converts who agreed to be interviewed for TV.

» Read full story.

» Read about the Silk Road Transmitter, a project to help support the persecuted church and make Bible programs available to some 60 million people in Central Asia (Trans World Radio, via Mission Network News).

CHINA: Pastor’s Powerful Letter Released after His Arrest

Source: Open Doors, December 17, 2018

Last week, Open Doors reported that one of China’s largest house churches had been raided by police resulting in arrests of more than 100 Christians, including church leader Wang Yi, one of China’s most well-known pastors.

Pastor Wang Yi has been charged with “inciting subversion of state power,” a crime that could result in a sentence of up to five years, but up to 15 years in extreme cases.

Two days after he was arrested and taken away, church members released an open letter he wrote in September [with] instructions that it be publicized if he went missing for more than 48 hours.

» Read the full letter, The Disobedience of Faith.

» See also China Closes Megachurches Before Christmas (Christianity Today).

WORLD: Understanding the Remaining Missions Task

Source: Great Commission Challenge, December 15, 2018

Where are we at in the Great Commission? How much farther do we have to go? What are frontier people groups and why are they important? This succinct summary will answer many questions and help to guide missions prayer, partners, and strategy.

» Learn more or download related resources.

» Finishing the Task recently reported that the last unreached, unengaged people group has been “adopted” by a missions organization committed to seeing that group engaged in two years (Mission Network News).