Isaiah 56:7 “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.”
Most of them are a bit smaller in size. Of various colors, wear and age, they sit there–lifeless, tied, but empty. Children’s models occasionally join the heap that litters the spacious foyer floor. Without invitation, advertisement or regulation, they’re deposited each Saturday evening.
Shoes! Well over 1,000 different ones across time, just inside the front door.
They belong to Chinese visiting scholars, graduate students and Chinese post-doc researchers from such diverse disciplines as linguistics, medicine, digital music, law, finance, English literature, nuclear physics and more. Their occupants have all been nurtured from childhood on Darwin, Marx, Engels and Mao’s Little Red Book, while underneath lies an insatiable desire for knowledge, meaning, peace, relationships and a deep, unsatisfied spiritual hunger. The shoes belong to over 600 people who have participated in a Chinese house church held each Saturday evening in our home across the past six years.
Not a few of these friends come out of curiosity about an American home and the weekly sampling of its kitchen offerings. Some, eager to polish their English, attend weekly to improve their abilities in the university classroom. Still other newbies to the US come with their new Chinese friends studying in similar departments.
Early interest in this latter-career ministry was aided by the memory of Dr. Tom Carruth, professor of prayer and spiritual life, who planted seeds of “all nations” in my heart. While a student, I entered his office one day and commented about an impressive picture on his wall, of a towering Christ knocking on the famous UN building in New York. Over my strong objections, he immediately gave it to me saying, “This is yours. Now you will have to give something equally meaningful to someone else.” The theological statement of that picture has come to America more than ever.
While the era of traditional missionaries has not vanished, a new era of domestic missions has arrived. Over one million people legally immigrated to the U.S. last year as permanent residents. According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), an additional 1.13 million international students arrived on our shores, with China leading the list.
The Need for Eyes
Ever since Adam and Eve’s exodus from Eden, people have migrated, and now they’re coming to our doorstep by the millions every year. Talk about a mission field? It’s right in our neighborhoods. Once introduced to cross-cultural ministry, it’s like buying a new car. Suddenly you’re impressed with how many there are on the streets just like yours. Not long after my wife and I began gospel work among Chinese restaurant workers in Indianapolis, we were amazed at how many Chinese people suddenly appeared. From the beginning of his earthly ministry until his last statements before leaving, Jesus had eyes for all nations. He still has them. “When he (Jesus) saw the multitudes, he had compassion on them.” It begins with truly seeing.
The Need for Passion
International ministry may, at first blush, appear attractive, scintillating, cosmopolitan and hip. But as with all ministry, the sustaining source of spiritual power must derive from the ongoing work of God’s Spirit. Holy Spirit-infused passion fuels perseverance. As A. W. Tozer put it, “timid experimenters are tagged for failure.” Let me illustrate. Several years ago a visiting Chinese pediatrician studying at a local children’s hospital came to our Chinese house church. She also came to the end of her rope, and in humble desperation, turned to this “new” Jesus, was soundly converted, discipled and baptized. On a recent return visit to the US, Dr. Hu stayed in our home several days. We spent each morning studying a biblical/Wesleyan understanding of the Spirit-filled life. Several months after her return to Beijing, she exclaimed during a recent video chat with my wife and me, “This week I finally got it. The secret of helping other people know Jesus is the Holy Spirit.” Passionate care for all nations is not learned through graduate course “Passion 503.” The necessary ingredient comes from Holy Spirit power.
The Need for Open Homes
House church is not a novel idea. It’s as old as the New Testament. Missions likewise have long roots, harking back to God’s partnership with Abraham, pleading for the salvation of Sodom and Gomorrah. Jesus updated this reaching love of the Father in the Great Commission, (Matthew 28:16-20) and we now have less excuse for disobeying his words. His “all nations” (panta ta ethne) have come here.
For Chinese students and visiting scholars, a house church provides a great setting for open dialog, close community (Chinese culture is communal), and a model for finding a safe house church on their return to China. Such an opportunity offers a place to share God’s love–the transforming grace of Christ to bring salvation to them and to their family back home.
Blending a house church with missions can joyfully result in “Your home becoming a place of care for all nations.”
Image attribution: Jean-philippe WALLET / Thinkstock