What are the challenges inherent in Jesus calling his disciples friends? Our Mission Partner in the Solomon Islands, Jonathan, shares his story.Election is a difficult subject for most people. And I’m not referring to what went down at the polls in the United States. I’m speaking about the scriptural teaching that God elects or chooses certain people to fulfil specific purposes. This teaching raises several tough issues. While talking to God, Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof points out two of them when he says – “I know, I know. We are your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t you choose someone else?” 1) The choosing of some means that others are not chosen. 2) The chosen do not always like it. Though we can’t hope to address both of these issues adequately here, we can look for a moment at the second.We overhear Jesus in John’s Gospel declaring that he has elected his disciples. “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (15:16). Jesus speaks of his election in the past tense. And as it turns out, he is referring to something he mentioned just a verse earlier when he said “I no longer call you servants…Instead, I have called you friends.” If any evidence is needed of Jesus’ right to call his disciples friends, he has already supplied it when he says that he will lay down his life for them in John 15:13. So Jesus elects the disciples as friends by loving them to the end. The Challenge of ElectionListening in attentively, we hear Jesus telling the disciples what this friendship entails. “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing” (15:15). And a little later in verse sixteen – “I…appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.” The two thoughts, knowing what the master is doing and going to bear fruit, are connected. The friend, knowing the master’s plan for the vineyard, can no longer use the servant’s excuse for passivity. The servant will spoil the master’s plan if he acts in ignorance of his will. So the prudent servant waits and does not act until the master commands him. But not so the friend. He knows. And because he knows he is summoned continually to “Go! Bear fruit!” As long as the master is working, his beloved friends work with him. Far from lessening the workload of the newly-befriended, Jesus has increased it three-fold! Warming to the challenge that this election will present to his disciples, Jesus continues. The world will hate them because, now that he has chosen them, they are no longer of the world (John 15:18-19). If they needed any proof of Jesus’ words, they had only to wait a few short hours before the mob arrived in Gethsemane. “So let’s get this straight,” they might have been thinking. “Now that we’re your friends, we’re going to work harder than ever before, and we’re going to be hated by the world the same way you are?” To borrow a line from Shakespeare – “Ay, there’s the rub.” And we’re not even done yet! 1 John makes it clear that God’s friendship with the apostles is paradigmatic for his friendship with other disciples. That’s right, with us. When John calls his readers “beloved” he is referring primarily to God’s disposition toward them (4:7, 11). We have this name because of God’s choice. 1 John 4:10 says: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us.” We also have the same responsibility that the disciples had, born of the knowledge of God: “[L]et us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (4:11). And finally, we’re caught in the same intense hostility between the love of God and the world (2:15-17) in which they were entangled. The challenge of being elected God’s friends is no bed of roses! And so we run into the perennial temptation to re-write the script. We internalise the idea of God’s friendship in the following – distorted – ways. Jesus – “Hey guys, I love you all just the way you are. I wouldn’t change a thing about any one of you!” The disciples – “Yeah, we know. We’re all pretty decent…” Jesus – “I don’t want to force this on you, but I want to let you in on my master plan. It’ll be pretty tough, so I don’t want you to agree until you know what you’re getting yourselves into.” The disciples – looking at each other with uncertainty – “All right…” Jesus – “I want you all to love other people the way I love you. It’ll be pretty hard at first, but the world will come around sooner or later to the fact that all it needs is love.” The disciples – “Can we try it on for size first and see whether or not we like it?” The biggest problem with re-writing the script in this way is that we begin to participate in a world that is not real. And “the rub” – as Shakespeare put it – is eventually much stiffer in this imaginary world. Why? Because God is not at work there, in this imaginary world of ours. Instead, Jesus is our consultant friend and we are its kings.Resisting the CallAllow me to illustrate. Recently, obedience to a clear leading from God and ecclesial authority led my family to take up a missionary post in the Solomon Islands. Our first year was difficult and when the second year arrived things didn’t improve. Our children got sick on a regular basis. My wife and I, for what seemed like months at a time, were taking care of their sores from dinner to bedtime. My work wasn’t very satisfying. I spent hours preparing for lectures that, as far as I could tell, had very little impact on my students. The climate was stifling. We had some serious relational problems with our fellow-villagers. So I stopped investing. I began to work on various projects that had very little relation to my missionary vocation, but that satisfied my longing to do something fulfilling. This period lasted for over a year. Through out I had numerous warnings that I was responding to these difficulties in a way that was unfaithful to my calling. I tried to ignore them, and had a sense that I was turning my back on God and the people he had sent me to. I wanted to sleep constantly, but this had more in common with the guilty sleep of Jonah than the tranquil sleep of Jesus on the Sea of Galilee! After my wife and I realised how depressed I’d become, we began to pray, asking the Lord to give us joy in our vocation again. Several months later, after recommitting ourselves fully to the work before us, joy began to return.The Three Facets of Friendship I had been forgetting three spiritual matters so important to the life of friendship with God. First, God remains Lord when he elects us to friendship. “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” Within this divine choice we’re free to act as God’s friends, working with him in the way that we know he is working. In my case that means teaching his Word faithfully, loving and being present with his people, and praying for them daily. But we’re no longer free to withhold what God has claimed as his own when he calls us friends. I became depressed because I was acting against my own being as a friend of God. I was acting against freedom.The second spiritual aspect I had forgotten was – “I appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.” The kind of fruit we bear depends wholly on whether we’re working in the Lord’s vineyard, or in vineyards of our own planting. We know now what our friend and master is doing. He is planting a harvest that will grow up to everlasting life. To refuse this calling is to bear fruit that will perish or to bear no fruit at all. And finally –“I appointed you so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” For the present, our own evaluation of whether our work seems fulfilling or not is unreliable. We’re told though that our future desire will correspond with his. We will come to love that which he loves. This will happen as we claim that for which God has elected us. We will pray for and receive things beyond our comprehension now, because he is inviting us “further up and deeper in” to that friendship whose depths are eternal. “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (15:7). Let us come to know God not in the imaginary friendship we would elect for ourselves. Rather, let us receive God’s friendship as it is, given to challenge and change us, and given before we could even ask for it.
How God used Peter and Christine Akester to reach Muslims in northern Tanzania. In a small city in Northern Tanzania, God is at work powerfully answering prayers and creating opportunities for Christians to share the Good News of the Gospel with the majority Muslim population. Former NZCMS Mission Partners from 1979 to 1998, Peter and Christine Akester responded to God’s call to mission again in 2015, when they returned to Tanzania to serve in the Bible School in Kondoa. “We both knew it was what God wanted,” says Christine. “But it still was difficult to leave family because we have two daughters and two grandchildren and none without difficulty. It was quite a sacrifice in some ways, but we just had to leave them in God’s hands.”When they arrived in Kondoa Peter was appointed Principal of the Kondoa Bible School, and Christine worked as Dean of Studies and the Registrar. Together they taught students the Bible and prepared them for ministry in the region. But their ministry extended well beyond the walls of the school. As the only Europeans in Kondoa, it wasn’t hard for Peter and Christine to get noticed by the locals, and as they walked around the town and the market, people would approach them and ask where they were from, why they were in Kondoa, what they were doing with the Anglican Church and why. “They were almost dragging out a testimony from us,” says Peter. “It was often a good way of asking the question – why would these people bother to come here and do that? “We did have some really good conversations with particular people – one of the leaders in the mosque bailed me up while I was walking by and we had a really long conversation about who Jesus was to him.” But much of their ministry outside of the school was related to prayer. When someone from their church was ill and in hospital, they (and nearly everyone else from their church) would go visit and pray for them. “Sometimes when we’d go to see one of those people, there’d be a whole lot of people around that person’s bed and they’d all pray together. One time we went in and prayed for this person and then the person in the next bed said, ‘well, aren’t you going to pray for me?!’”Even though the neighbour was a Muslim they were happy to have Peter and Christine pray for them in Jesus’ name. Once they were finished, the next patient asked for prayer too. “We ended up going down the whole ward!” says Christine. “That sort of thing was quite a ministry without us actually realising it. We and others would pray for somebody and they’d get better,” says Peter. Christine recalls another elderly lady who was “old and decrepit and needed someone to prop her up. She asked for prayer, so we prayed for her, and little by little she just started to free up. By the end of it she was just sort of dancing. I think she was praising God and moving freely. It’s sort of exciting to see these things that don’t happen much in New Zealand; the faith is certainly there.”For Christine, one of the great joys of her time in Kondoa was the slow evolution of her relationships with Muslim women. “I was really struck by all the women walking along the road with their burqas on. At the beginning I would look at them and smile but there was no response at all. Gradually, over those two or three years, they’d start looking at me, and I could see their eyes just sort of noticing that someone’s continuing to have contact with me. She would occasionally get to speak to these Muslim women, but not very often. “I’d ask them the names of their children and they’d tell me. That was the ministry I thought I could do at the beginning, just relating to the women. And I thought that was quite special really. Later on, they would stop me and ask how my children are,” says Christine. One special friendship developed with a local Muslim woman who knew all about Christianity but didn’t know Jesus personally. “She could tell you all about the Easter week and what was happening. She was always having accidents, and we were always praying for healing, and every time she was healed. We told her Jesus was the one healing her, not us, and she said ‘yes, yes I understand that. I know about Jesus’.“I asked her if she believed in him,” says Christine. “And she said that she believes he is there. But after three years she never came to the point of accepting Jesus for herself. She had a very large Muslim family in another village and I think she realised they would reject her, totally. And that would have been a very difficult decision to make.”Sharing the Gospel in Muslim-dominated areas of the world like Kondoa, where 95 per cent of people are Muslim, is slow and difficult. But Peter and Christine can attest to the fact that God does the work of providing opportunities to explain the reason for their hope in Christ. Having now returned to New Zealand, Peter and Christine believe that Christians in New Zealand can learn a lot from Tanzanian believers. “We need to be thankful for anything and to trust God within that thankfulness” says Peter. Tanzania recently experienced two years of famine and Christine says, “there are stories of families who would sit around a table in the time of famine and pray and thank God. But there was nothing on the table; they didn’t have any food but were just saying thank you Lord that you’re looking after us. And then there’d be a knock at the door and someone would bring some food.” Tanzanian Christians have a deep awareness that everything they have comes from the hand of God. God chose Peter and Christine to take the Gospel to Tanzania, and having twice made the choice to give up their life in New Zealand and serve God overseas, they have some advice for anyone considering a similar decision: “Listen to God’s voice,” says Christine. “We usually think of the problems that are holding us here, and why we like living where we are and how much we’re needed for our family. Yet God is a big God and he can care for all that. I was full of worry this time, but he showed me to just leave the worries in his hands.”Peter says, “Once you’ve got that surety that God has said this, almost expect that there will be difficulties that will come to try and discourage you, but just keep claiming the promises of God that he will lead us and smooth the path. “God has proved faithful and will prove faithful and it’s our job to run with that task that he’s given us.”
Our Gap Year program is called Better World. The vision is to equip a whole generation of young people to bring the light of the Gospel into the suffering of the world around us. Our team for 2019 consist of six participants and two leaders who will be living in community together for the next ten months. Meet them below and join us in prayer as they undertake this life changing journey. If you want to know more about Better World, click here.
Hi everyone! I’m Sally and I will be doing a mission internship with NZCMS from April 2019. I’ll be living in the Solomon Islands with the Hicks family, experiencing their daily life for three months. I’ve been wondering about how to better the world since I was a child. I was desperate to go on a mission trip once I finished school, but my parents convinced me that a degree may help me better reach my goals. I completed a law degree with the dream of helping children internationally receive their basic human rights. When I was 19, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. It was really hard at the time but I’ve come out the other side with an unshakable faith. God has since shown me that he is bigger than anything the world can throw at me. I’m so grateful that my health is no longer a barrier to what God has placed on my heart. I hope that I can come home from this missions trip with a better understanding of how Christianity operates in other cultures and that God will use this time to show me the best path I can take to follow him. I would really appreciate prayer that my eyes will see the doors God may open for me. I want to be conscious of any opportunities where I could be used by him, before I leave and while I am overseas. Please also join me in praying for my family, as they support me over this big period of change in my life.