Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great so that you will be a blessing.
— Genesis 12:1-2
This is the passage from Genesis that brought my family and me to the United States. Not to seek fame or a blessing but to answer a call from God to see the land with my own eyes and find a ministry here.
As I try to remember the feeling I had back then, I think it was a combination of excitement and jet lag. I was excited about what God wanted to show me but dragged down by jet lag after traveling 10,000 miles in 24 hours. I was just grateful I had arrived.
It was not a warm welcome at JFK Airport in New York City. Twenty inches of snow on the curb, cold wind and a grey sky greeted me as I walked from the terminal to the car that picked us up. A blizzard had just hit the East Coast. It was seven years ago this month.
Growing up in Indonesia, U.S. culture was not alien to me. I had been exposed to some of it, read about it, watched it on television and in movies. Maybe that is why I’m attracted to ministry here. There’s a combination of the foreign and the familiar that keeps me challenged and, at the same time, makes me feel at home.
If you want to be a blessing, you must know the context of your ministry. We might think we know everything about the gospel, but if we don’t understand the context in which we work, we might do more harm than good.
Recently I watched a video someone posted on social media showing a white man preaching the gospel in -English in Indonesia. He is wearing some kind of sackcloth, accompanied by an Indonesian translator in a similar outfit. They are preaching on the plaza of the national monument in Jakarta, the capital city.
When I saw this post, my heart was troubled. This is not the way to preach the gospel in Indonesia. The preacher did not understand the context.
What troubles me even more is that some people think this approach is good.
Many people who are doing effective ministry in Indonesia don’t even use the word ministry. They are proclaiming the gospel by answering people’s needs, living as disciples of Jesus and becoming blessings.
The relationship between words and actions relates to something I learned as I began to work in a new context. St. Francis of Assisi said: “Preach the gospel always. If necessary, use words.”
A lot of written words are necessary for ministry here in North America. I never thought I would be a writer. But when God calls, you have to say yes. I believe the Holy Spirit will equip us for the tasks God assigns.
In my first years of ministry here, my struggles were related to words. In Indonesia, we don’t use written communication as much as North Americans do. My top three struggles were keeping up with emails, filling out forms and writing articles.
But when I understood the context of my ministry, I realized I needed to make changes — some of them felt like -sacrifices — so that my ministry would be effective.
I think of Abraham’s example: When he finally arrived in Canaan after traveling hundreds of miles, the first thing he did was build an altar to God.
At first, I thought Abraham was simply worshiping and praying, building a monument of rock and wood. But then I realized it was more than that. An altar means sacrifice. Abraham built several altars as he moved to different places.
I believe each of us is called by God to be a missionary in our own context, to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Answering the call might require a journey of change, if not a literal journey. We can take a lesson from Abraham, who made the sacrifices and traveled the miles.