This post is an excerpt from my article that originally appeared under the title: “Joyful Perseverance in A Hard Cultural Soil” at Gospel-centered Discipleship.com
One story is told of a medical missionary who went to reach a tribal people in a remote area of the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1912. After seventeen years of laboring in the mission field, he went home utterly discouraged thinking he had failed. Several decades after he died, much to their amazement, a team of missionaries discovered a network of reproducing churches where he was stationed.
At the moment, some of our brothers and sisters among the least reached people groups are hit by the harsh realities of following Christ, being stripped of their dignities, and flogged for the sake of the gospel. But they are embracing suffering in the cause of making disciples (Col. 1: 24). Remembering those who are persecuted for the sake of the gospel ignites my faith to persevere in our context (Heb. 13: 3, Phils. 1: 14). How about you? What are the daily challenges you face in making disciples in your context?
EVERY CULTURAL SOIL IS HARD WITHOUT THE SPIRIT
Our context in Japan presents itself with a unique set of challenges. The Japanese are the second largest unreached people group. And discipleship is costly! Jesus left the comfort of his vast heavenly home and entered our small world to live a perfect life we could not live and died the death we should have died. Because of him, we can enter into cultures—and bring lost people into his vast Kingdom with the gospel.
If you’re called to go and make disciples in a poverty stricken area in Africa, you give up the comforts of a developed country to live according to the standards of the people. Likewise, to live as a missionary in Japan and make disciples is costly, spiritually and culturally. The cost of living also goes higher up. Some missiologists have even called it the missionary graveyard because many missionaries go home discouraged after years of sacrifice (sometimes with little to no fruit).
But when Jesus calls us to leave everything behind and follow him, he’s calling us to better things than the things he has called us to leave behind. He has called us to himself first, and then to a people group—wherever that may be.
MANY UNREACHED PLACES IN OUR HEARTS
Many places are still unreached by the gospel in our hearts. Personally, my greatest struggle as a disciple maker is that I want people to believe in the gospel and grow quickly so that they can make other disciples and multiply (2 Tim. 2: 2). In this process, I often forget how slow my sanctification is. When I first came to Christ, my life changed dramatically. In a matter of few months, everything in my life turned around. Because of the unique nature of my conversion experience, I tend to expect (by default) that same kind of progress in others. But I often forget, momentarily, that I am what I am today only by God’s grace (1 Cor. 15: 10). I forget that trying to make disciples without the power of the Spirit is like trying to drive a speedboat without the engine. I cannot disciple a person, much less disciple myself, apart from prayerful reliance on the power of the Spirit (Jn 15: 5). I’ve come to realize that making disciples is more like getting into a sail boat and letting the sails up, so that when the wind (the Spirit) blows we are blown further into the sea—by the power of the wind (Jn 3: 8, Rom. 8: 14).
In our disciple-making journey, the most crucial thing to remember is that we are being discipled ourselves. We are disciple-learners before we are disciple-makers. We are constantly in need of someone to teach us. And the Spirit of Christ who lives in us teaches us about all things (Jn 14: 26). In this disciple-making journey, we must stay teachable, as the Holy Spirit has come to conform us to the image of Christ (I Cor. 3,Rom. 8: 29). Who we are becoming is as important (if not more important) as what we do. And we can rest in our hearts knowing that only Jesus can truly be Jesus to people. He must live his life in and through us (Gal. 2: 20).
As Bonhoeffer puts it:
“[Jesus] stands between us and God, and for that very reason he stands between us and all other men and things. He is the Mediator, not only between God and man, but between man and man, between man and reality. Since the whole world was created through him and unto him (John 1:3; 1st Cor. 8:6; Heb. 1:2), he is the sole Mediator in the world.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
In this sense, only Jesus can be Jesus to others—working in and through us.