Opinion: If you doubt, be a witness

Global South sets example: use words as well as actions to share good news

Nov 21, 2016 by and

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Runners don’t improve by sitting around and talking about the sport. They get better by running. If you doubt that you can finish a five-kilometer race, the only way to find out is to try it.

In September 2015, my family participated in a run for relief that raises thousands of dollars each year to help share our love with neighbors from all over the world. We, in the Anabaptist tradition, have a good track record in this type of work, motivated by a desire to follow the Great Commandment to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.”

But when it comes to the Great Commission, where Jesus calls us to make disciples of all nations and baptize them, it is tempting to be less enthusiastic. Many of us are shy about sharing our faith verbally.

Cahuiya Omaka, right, a Waorani church leader, leads Jerrell and Jordan Ross Richer on a fishing expedition in Yasuní National Park. — Sierra Ross Richer/MMN

Cahuiya Omaka, right, a Waorani church leader, leads Jerrell and Jordan Ross Richer on a fishing expedition in Yasuní National Park. — Sierra Ross Richer/MMN

Soon after the run for relief, my family hosted a group of current and former Mennonite Mission Network workers who relate to the Toba Qom people in the Argentine Chaco. In this region, where native cultures are disappearing due to government policies of assimilation and the forces of globalization, the indigenous church is one of the few institutions where Toba Qom people are comfortable speaking their own language and singing their own songs.

It is because of the Mennonites’ accompaniment work in the Chaco that the Association of Indigenous Evangelical Peoples and Organizations invited Mennonites almost two decades ago to come to Ecuador to support and train leaders of the struggling indigenous churches. Our family is part of the response to that invitation.

Jesus’ reaction to doubt

Shortly before Christ delivers the Great Commission, we read that his disciples worshiped him, but some still doubted. How amazing that Jesus responded to this doubt by sending them out to make disciples of all nations! A more cautious approach would have been to offer a class, hold a weeklong seminar or at least have a question-and-answer session. But Jesus responded to his disciples’ doubt by sending them out to share the gospel.

From my perspective, while it is up to us to witness to what God has done in our lives, it is not our job to convince people to give their lives to Christ. That is the work of the Holy Spirit.

As an economics professor, I know that the emerging economies in places like Brazil, China and India kept the world economy afloat during the Great Recession of 2008. I wonder if it will be the emerging churches in the Global South that help foster the growth of Mennonites worldwide in the decades to come.

In 2000, there were more than 120,000 members of the nascent Mennonite Church USA. Last year, the number was down to about 95,000. Over the last 15 years, while the U.S. population has increased by 14 percent, this denomination has shrunk by 21 percent.

We need the church in the Global South to help bring new life to North American churches, as much as our brothers and sisters in the South can benefit from our emphasis on servant leadership and Anabaptist theology.

It’s time to follow the lead of Christians in places like Ecuador who use words as well as actions to share the good news. When we think of all God has done for us, how we have been forgiven for past mistakes and given opportunities for new life — how can we not tell others?

It doesn’t have to be difficult if we remember Jesus’ call from Acts 1 to witness to God’s work in our lives. Let this be a challenge to seize the opportunity to tell others about what really matters. The Spirit will take it from there.

Jane and Jerrell Ross Richer and their four children are engaged in a two-way mission that offers ministry opportunities in Ecuador for six months each year and in the United States for the other half of the year.


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