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Thinking Outside the Box


In this series, thoseinvolved with CLC foreign missions profile one aspect of our overseas endeavors.

Mann denkt, aber Gott lenkt, loosely translated from the German,  means that we think and plan, but God carries out. On this subject Scripture holds both a warning and an encouragement. “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will be established.” (Proverbs 19:21 RSV) “A man’s mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9 RSV) This may serve us as an admonition to take God more into the equation, and an encouragement to remember that He is in charge.

At times we find that our own thinking and planning is not in accord with God’s plan, whether that be His immediate or His ultimate plan. This just shows how fallible we are. Early in my missionary career I had a plan—to have someone come to Nigeria and work there first and then go farther afield. I thought it was a good idea. God thought otherwise. While I waited to have God carry out my plan, time passed. Finally, I saw that my “ideal” plan was not to be a carried out. I then accepted the CLC Board of Missions’ call to move to India. Likewise, in our domestic mission efforts here in the U.S., we have at times gone the route (no matter how carefully considered) that may not have been the route God would have had us go. So we have to think outside our “box”—that constructed thought pattern to which we may have devoted a lot of time and effort. That’s why it’s so important, along with our intensive planning, to pray to God for direction and redirection.

There is also the hindrance (though we do not recognize it for that) of our “comfort zone.” It is warm and cozy within the zone, but cold and numbing without. It is safe and secure inside the zonal boundary, but outside it is hazardous and even downright dangerous—for body and mind, but not for spirit. The harvest in India is great, white, and ripe; that is why our missionaries, mission helpers and Board of Missions members are going there. Opportunities overflow among Hindus, Muslims, detached Christians and new workers/pastors.

The differences in culture, and the difficulties of living in the foreign field, may also push us to stay “within.” These also necessitate versatility in approach and methodology in facing them. Necessity is the mother of invention.

We are inherently centripetal in our “church” approach; for after all it is we whom we are talking about, our own church, all that is familiar to us. This does seem to differ from the thrust of the church at its inception and through the centuries. The church is to be centrifugal, swirling out of the box and out of that delightful zone that is so well known.

Society is eager to tell us what our ambitions should be. In sharp contrast, Jesus states in unmistakable terms what the Christian’s ambition should be, and to the ears of the worldling this statement sounds like the scratching of fingernails upon a blackboard. Which of the two has our ear?  Paul says, “Thus making it my ambition to preach the Gospel, not where Christ has already been named” (Romans 15:20 RSV), and “. . . but our hope is that as your faith increases, our field among you may be greatly enlarged, so that we may preach the Gospel in lands beyond you.”  (2 Corinthians 10:15-16 RSV) So off he went, and off goes the church— centrifugally.

• In East Africa above all we aim for the Masai
(a tribe only 10% evangelized) and the Muslim.

• In West Africa we aim for the Muslim and
the animist.

• In Central Africa we basically follow our brothers and who they are reaching out to.
We are not always in charge.

• In Nepal we aim for the Hindus.

• In Myanmar we aim for the Buddhists.

• In India we aim for the Hindu and the Muslim and adherents of those other false religions.

There is plenty to aim at. 

Even in Chennai, which has a ten percent Christian population, it is not hard to see who we are after. Meticulous Luke records, in our Lord’s sending out of the twelve, “And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the Gospel and healing everywhere.” (Luke 9:6 RSV)  In Luke’s inspired proof passage for the universal priesthood, the sending out of the seventy, he quotes our Lord, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” (Luke 10:2 RSV)

The extent of the overseas mission opportunities given us by the Lord has increased greatly since 2006, as statistics show. Then there were 19,787 brothers and sisters in the faith served by 329 pastors with whom we were working. Now, ten years later, we can say that (conservatively speaking) we work with over 900 pastors and over 60,000 souls. This does not even count assistants, like evangelists and students who are studying to be pastors. Well, after all, He did say the fields were white for harvest! The harvest is not gathered in the village, but in the fields, which means we have to get out there!

An analogy for us is the early settlers of our eastern seaboard. As the farmlands played out, there was a continual move to the West. Over the Alleghenies, beyond the Cumberland, out to the prairies—always in search of that virgin soil that would produce the bountiful harvest. Repeatedly, they found it. There were hazards galore, blistering heat, drought and blizzard. Graves marked the route, and yet they went, far outside their comfort zone, with dreams beyond the box. We thank the Lord that His finger is not writing on the wall that we have been weighed in the balance and been found wanting. Instead His finger is pointing, pointing the direction to us clearly. Let us take courage, and keep up the good work of sending out.

David Koenig has served as a foreign missionary in Africa, India, and elsewhere. Though officially retired, he continues to be active in the synod’s mission endeavors.