Serving Our Cities, Even in Exile
Reflection on the Opening Session of Day 2 at the 2015 International Conference on Missions
October 20, 2015
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Day 2 of the 2015 International Conference on Missions (ICOM) kicked off with a bang (and a lot of Canada jokes a la ICOM 2015 President, Jim Thune of Impact Ministries Canada). After a short video and a few announcements, Thune relinquished the podium to Richmond-local, Area 10 Church Senior Pastor, and long-time HMO supporter Chris Barras (@realChrisBarras), who graciously unpacked the meaning behind the weekend’s theme: The Away Team.
We gave had fun giving him some love as he stepped up to the microphone:
According to Barras, the theme speaks to the paradigm shift from the centuries-old model of a Western-led Gospel movement to today’s decentralized, global Gospel movement, where countries like China, Nigeria and the Philippines are not only cultivating rapidly growing Christian populations, but actively sending missionaries overseas—in some cases to Western countries.
While he was kind enough to clarify the weekend’s ambiguous theme (few people at the conference seemed to have any clue what the “away team” analogy meant), Barras quickly moved into the focus of his presentation: service, local service.
Dropping his Biblical anchor in Jeremiah 29, Barras zeroed in on the Lord’s response to the His people’s woes as exiles in Babylon. The scriptures read:
4 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
In the face of His people’s utter dismay, The Lord commanded the Israelites to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city (Babylon)” into which He had exiled them. Barras turned the command onto those gathered, challenging attendees to seek the peace and prosperity of the cities they reside in, regardless of whether they feel they have been called or exiled to them.
At Hillside, we have had the immense honor of partnering with a national movement to sow into the welfare of our city, Richmond, VA, as a proud member of the Love Your City project. You can learn more about the work we have done and continue to do to serve Richmond and its residents here.
But, Barras’ challenge still stung. All of us as staff at Hillside enjoy a calling to the city of Richmond, and as missionaries to the countries and cities where we are deployed. How can we train ourselves as individuals and structure our organization as a body of believers to be prepared to seek the peace and prosperity of our cities as exiles?
While we’ll need more time than a brief lunch break between sessions to sort through that question, we are incredibly humbled by the Lord’s command to do so. We serve an amazing God that even as exiles in a foreign land he would have us to serve those who perhaps don’t understand us, who don’t see us as equals, who will never serve us in return.
Only by God’s grace can anyone submit themselves in humility to the welfare of their oppressors. And that is why we want to encourage you to join us in praying the below throughout the remainder of this weekend as we continue to reflect on exactly how we, as Christians, as coworkers, as residents, as neighbors and so on, can—as the scriptures mandate—”seek the peace and prosperity of the city.”
Lord, humble us as your servants. Pour our your mercy on us, as exiles in a foreign land, so that we may—in turn—pour out the overflow of that mercy onto this city. You alone are the God of transformation. Let us, your church, carry your son’s name to the people of this city so that you can do a might work and transform this place, these people, for your glory.
We are in awe of you, and sing your praises for incorporating us into your story for this city. Lead us, Lord. Guide our steps as we go about doing the work you have demanded of us for those you have placed us amongst.
We thank you Lord for exiling us into this city for your glory. Let the result of our being here be the praising of your great and mighty deeds and the eternal worship of your goodness.
Stay tuned for my daily ICOM 2015 updates from our team! And be sure to follow @reachthenations on the twitter for pictures, quotes and more live from Richmond, VA!