Training. Sending. Serving. Joining Globe

I don’t normally comment on current affairs, but decided to share a few words that I hope are helpful to everyone who is concerned about the state of our nation.

First of all, I believe our nation – our culture, our economy, and our political and judicial framework – will continue to descend into more and more chaos in coming years. It is possible that the disturbing pattern of violence we see and hear about so regularly will escalate into a form of social upheaval our nation has never before experienced. At least not since the Civil War.

I could speculate about the reasons and complain about the perpetrators but that is outside of my focus here. That our nation is divided on many issues is reality enough. We are all appropriately concerned. As a Christian leader who longs to be objective – to see things from God’s point of view – I write here from an experience I had while our family lived in Asia that has helped give me perspective.

The nation was Sri Lanka where my team and I worked for more than ten years, beginning in 1984. Sri Lanka has a long history of racial tensions between the majority Singhalese and minority Tamils. In July 1983, only six months before we arrived, Tamil separatists ambushed and killed thirteen Singhalese soldiers in the northern Tamil areas of the island. The nation exploded with reprisals. When the dust settled thousands of Tamils had been killed by their Singhalese neighbors. Since then, the nation has been fighting one of the longest civil wars in history.

Our team was in the middle of the trouble. We had close encounters with random separatist bombings in public places, including hotels and bus stops in the capital, we saw assassinations of government officials and rival faction leaders, raids on terrorist bases and in-kind reprisals, innumerable military road blocks, wide spread curfews, and armed military or police shut downs of our licensed public meetings “for security reasons.”

God’s opportunities often come to us disguised in difficulty.

So, what is my point? I had the unique opportunity to observe over many years how one Sri Lankan Christian leader conducted himself during that time. It was personal for Pastor Yoganathan. He is a Tamil; the civil war was fought over the rights of the minority Tamil people – 3 million Tamils vs. 15 million Singhalese. The Tamil Tigers – terrorists to some, freedom fighters to others – led the war against discriminatory policies of the Singhalese government. Both sides had blood on their hands. Pastor Yoganathan walked a very careful path. He had friends on both sides, and as the ministry grew, he became a respected leader by influential people on both sides. But being a Tamil, with a Tamil wife and Tamil children, he also had a disadvantage. At one point, he became so concerned for his children – specifically that his teenaged son might be kidnapped and forced to serve the anti-government insurgency – that he sent his daughter and son to live in Australia.

So what did Pastor Yoganathan and his wife do living in a nation at war?

They preached the Gospel and planted churches. Pastor “Yoga” planted his first church in 1979, when things were bad but before the war started. By the time we met in 1988 – five years into the war – he had planted three churches. Then, he and our evangelistic team joined forces and we began holding open air events and planting churches in Tamil areas. We always reached out to the Singhalese too. We discovered hungry people! The Tamils especially, traumatized by war and discrimination, were hugely receptive. They were, in Jesus’ words, a “ripe field.”

God gave us an opportunity to reach a nation – clothed in the disguise of war.

Think about it. The Gospel is good news to hurting people. To the disenfranchised, the beaten down, the marginalized sectors of society a message about the love and power of God is compelling. In Sri Lanka, with ethnic tensions at murderous levels, and many people devastated by its consequences, the message, “For God so loved the world,” embodied in Jesus’ life and miracles, was good news! We discovered, in the middle of tremendous upheaval, God was at work!

God gave us an opportunity to reach a nation – clothed in the disguise of war.

In less than six years we planted 36 churches and preached to tens of thousands. The conflict in Sri Lanka cost over 100,000 lives and wasn’t officially over until 2009. The church planting movement we started grew steadily through those difficult years and today represents over 100 local congregations and 35,000 people – mostly Tamils but in fact thousands of Singhalese also found Jesus. We could have reached many more had we the time, laborers, and resources.

God’s opportunities often come to us disguised in difficulty. Jesus came at a time of great social upheaval, to a nation occupied by a foreign power. Difficulty and turmoil were everywhere in Israel when Jesus was born. The trouble lasted for decades and was still very real when He preached His first sermon in a Jewish synagogue in Nazareth at the age of thirty. The nation’s religious and political leaders were divided over almost every social issue. Some of Jesus’ followers hoped He would unify the Jews, deliver Israel from the clutches of Roman power and usher in a bright new future for Israel. It was not and would never be His plan.

It is important when reading the New Testament to understand the backdrop of trouble that affected everything Jesus and the early church said and did. In that context, Jesus was on a mission! He never lost focus. “I have come,” He said, “to seek and to save the lost.” He went all the way to Calvary to fulfill that purpose. After His resurrection, He handed the future of the world to an uncertain group of timid disciples. We call it the Great Commission.

Today, in this time of turmoil, we have a unique opportunity. The trouble into which our nation and the world is descending will produce a bumper crop of hurting people ravaged by false gods, failed promises and the wolves who make them and then prey on the victims. Our challenge is to stay focused. To not look to the right or left. We must navigate through the issues and stay focused on the mandate: the transforming message of Jesus Christ.

The coming days will be difficult, but they may produce one of the greatest harvests in history. Our challenge is to be ready, stay focused, and work.