BY REV DR CHAN NAM CHEN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF ASIA-CMS
Hebrews 11:1–2 “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.”
Many things start with small acts of faith and love. It was about 20 years ago that I was invited to preach in a remote coastal town on the northern tip of the island of Borneo. The Sunday morning was routine but after the service, Pastor Simon (not his real name), a young man in his late 20s, casually asked me if I would like to share a short message in a small “housemeeting” that he had recently started with a group of Sea Gypsies.
As far as I knew then, there were no Christians among these stateless, seafaring nomads who lived off the coast of Sabah, Malaysia, and the neighbouring islands of the Southern Philippines. That evening, the two of us made our way to a small, stilted hut that hovered over the tides, connected to the shore by a path of recycled planks. There were no more than 10 of us – including Pastor Simon and myself – seated on the rough wooden flooring, under the light of a kerosene lamp.
Living on the edge
They could understand simple Malay, although they have their own language. Most of them could not read. I shared a simple message with these new followers of Christ, encouraging them and praying for them as best as I could.
Fast forward to late 2017, I visited Pastor Simon again. Many of the Sea Gypsies are still stateless. With tightening border controls and depleting fish in the seas, their traditional way of life is progressively disappearing.
However, the involvement of the church with the Sea Gypsies has increased substantially. The church now runs a small school for their children, offering elementary education and teaching skills for alternative livelihoods. In recent years, churches in nearby towns have also initiated similar schools for them.
I found out that the original group of believers I had met 20 years ago has now grown to over 200, scattered in different sea villages along the coast. Some of them have migrated to islands hundreds of miles away – I met them in another church and what a joy it was to me!
I have wondered, what if Pastor Simon had not taken the first step to befriend them? What if he did not share with them the gospel of Jesus Christ? What if he did not persevere through the years, especially when their numbers were never too large and their lives too transient, constantly on the move?
But the point is, he did. He persevered at it.
In many ways, the hundreds of individuals in a previously unreached people group who now believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are the result of one person, followed by many other decisions and acts of faith, and love by Pastor Simon and the people of his church.
They chose to go beyond praying to do something; they crossed the ethnic, cultural and socio-economic barriers. But what made it unique is that they did not start with any specialised cross-cultural missions training or seminars. They simply acted on the needs and opportunities that arose. Then, they persevered and poured in the required resources in a step-by-step process because they believed that God was in what they were doing.
The first step
As we often ponder on how we may contribute to the many aspects of God’s mission around us, there is only so much pondering that we can do. At some point, all that pondering and praying will have to translate into acts of faith, love and obedience to God’s voice.
The Holy Spirit is always speaking. He could speak through a need that tugs at our hearts. It could be through a challenge that no one else is willing to take on. It could be through a deep sense of discontent in the depths of our being.
Then, we take that first step. We cross a personal boundary and we do something to touch another life. But as we do it, it will also dawn on us that it is not enough. The needs that we try to meet are more complex than we thought. If we wish to be of greater help, it will require more. But that more will often take us out of our comfort levels. There will also be some increased sacrifices and a much closer involvement with people we once only knew from a distance. Yet this is where our life journey with God in his mission can accelerate and take off. It starts with simple acts of faith, love and obedience. It arises from the conviction that God will have us express his love and that there is a life-transforming power to the seeds of the gospel that we sow.
Ripples from God’s heart
Some of the things that we do in response to simple faith will have ripple effects far wider than we could ever imagine or dream. It is because the dreams and ripple effects did not have their beginnings in us – they originated from the heart of God. Our privilege is to participate in his dreams and purposes.
In the process, we embark on a life journey that brings blessings to others and transforms us in so many ways. It leads to adventures of faith where we participate in more of God’s miraculous workings. Our lives will also be enriched by deep and life-changing relationships with friends from all walks of life – many of whom we would otherwise not have crossed paths with at all.
I encourage you; let’s get started with these acts of faith!
This reflection first appeared on the Asia-CMS website, and is reproduced with kind permission of Asia-CMS.