Evangelist overthrown

Going on a mission can save the missionary

Feb 12, 2018 by

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For those who think evangelism is too hard, or don’t like the idea in the first place, the best advice might be: Go and join God’s work in the world.

Wherever we go, God arrived before us. Whomever we talk to, God is already moving in that person’s life.

This doesn’t mean evangelism is easy. Sharing our faith in word, deed and presence takes time, energy and courage. But the thought of continuing what God has begun might ease the fear.

“Evangelism is both human action and Spirit movement” is one way to sum up the idea of joining God’s work in the world. That’s how Heidi Roland Unruh put it in her key­note address as Western District Conference of Mennonite Church USA launched a Year of Evangelism. About 130 people gathered Jan. 19-20 at Alexanderwohl Mennonite Church in Goessel, Kan., to get inspired.

On the human-action side of the ledger, the event set an example of what it takes to get people moving. We know what we’re supposed to do, but we need a push to get started. Western District is saying to its 56 congregations from Nebraska to Texas: This is the year.

On the Spirit-movement side, Unruh advised taking the pressure off ourselves and releasing the outcome to God. The desire to fix or control others is not the way of the kingdom of God. This counsel might be especially helpful for those who’ve soured on the whole idea of evangelism and, as James Krabill of Mennonite Mission Network said, aren’t trying to figure out an alternative other than criticizing the kinds they don’t like. What Unruh described was not proselytizing — trying to win converts by the power of skilled persuasion — but inviting. It was sharing love by word, deed and presence, without pressure or imposition, surrendering to God the responsibility for saving people.

In the process of becoming this kind of evangelists, we might find that we need to be saved ourselves. In a sermon at First Mennonite Church in Newton, Kan., on Jan. 21, Pastor Anita Kehr used the story of Jonah to illustrate the principle of following where God already is and to add another important point: Going on a mission can save the missionary.

First, while Jonah was God’s necessary messenger, Nineveh’s repentance was God’s work. How else can we explain the wicked city’s instant, unanimous conversion? For God, even a reluctant partner was enough. How might God use our hesitant selves?

Second, Jonah’s mission was meant to teach the prophet a lesson. Nineveh was indeed overthrown, but with love and grace, not destruction and violence, as Jonah wanted. Jonah expected God to follow the way of the world, of revenge. His concept of God needed to be overthrown, like being tossed into the sea.

Each of us has areas of our lives that need to be overthrown. Do we see ourselves in Jonah’s self-righteousness and lack of compassion? The story doesn’t tell whether Jonah learned the lesson. It leaves room to envision ourselves as Jonah, a missionary in need of conversion. That might be the kind of evangelist people will listen to.

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