SERVE, SUFFER, REJOICE, AND LOVE
In Romans 1:16, the Apostle Paul emphatically exhorts the Christians in Rome that he is “not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” The power of God for the salvation of all who believe is the gospel of Jesus Christ. This power radically altered human history and changed lives for all eternity.
The encouragement that Paul shared with Roman believers is the same verse that I witnessed on the wall of a local church just outside of Dilla, Ethiopia. We worshiped there alongside hundreds who gathered in a church building that was a converted prison. Historically, this prison held numerous church leaders who were arrested for their faith in Jesus Christ under the Communist regime in Ethiopia. For many of us at Mars Hill Church (let alone in the American church), this verse is an encouraging reminder of the power of the gospel. However, for the Christians in Dilla, this verse is not only a reminder, it is a reality, a reality on which they stake their hope and survival.
BLESSED AND BLESSING
I had the privilege of traveling with Executive Elder Sutton Turner, various lead pastors and deacons from Mars Hill Church, and members of New Covenant Foundation, who led our trip for us logistically. Our mission was to simply go, support, encourage, and, mainly, be transformed by what God has been doing in and through the believers in Ethiopia. Having been on numerous mission trips in my 15 years of pastoral ministry, I was fully aware of how I usually come away with being more blessed than being a blessing. However, I was not prepared for what I actually witnessed and heard.
It was like I was witnessing the expansion of the church in the book of Acts.
Each of the Mars Hill representatives was given opportunities to preach at a regional conference for the Kale Heywet (Ethiopia’s largest evangelical denomination). For those familiar with pastoral conferences, there were many things strikingly missing. Missing were the scores of ministry paraphernalia that usually litter conference halls, rows of ministry organizations trying to garner support for their work, bookstores with tills ringing from steady streams of sales on the latest book, curriculum, growth strategy, etc. All these things were missing—and it was glorious. What was not missing, however, were people who sacrificed time, travel, and treasure to attend and be encouraged by the Holy Spirit and in community with other saints, to be challenged in the Great Commission (the conference’s theme) and sent to continue in the ever-expanding work of the gospel in Ethiopia.
I preached on John 9:1–25 and the power of testimony, but with nearly 2,000 elders, church planters and evangelists, church leaders, and families in attendance for the weekend, it was the power of their testimonies that affected me deeply. Numerous church planters and evangelists shared stories of the gospel (remember the power in Romans 1:16) making its way into some of the darkest reaches of the country. Their stories spoke of encountering evil spirits, demonic witch doctors, Muslim and Coptic persecution and resistance, but mostly they spoke of how often the gospel was preached, how many heard the gospel, and how many were saved by its power and were later baptized. It was like I was witnessing the expansion of the church in the book of Acts.
OPPRESSION AND PERSECUTION
In processing what I experienced, there are a few things I walked away with that will be, by God’s grace, transformative in my life as a follower of Jesus Christ, a husband and father, and a pastor. First, it was glaringly obvious that those in attendance place their very hope and survival on the risen Lord Jesus; he is the Bread of Life for them. I believe it was Pastor Sutton who put words to it best when he said, “They seem to love Jesus more than anything in this world.” While it is easy for me to see how they love and try to idolize how they love, I believe the Holy Spirit was showing me what happens to believers who love Jesus with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength—the gospel goes forth, souls are saved, the church grows, and the saints are strengthened.
The Holy Spirit was showing me what happens to believers who love Jesus with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Secondly, I learned about the power and presence of the demonic. Theologically, I understand the demonic and what we Christians tend to label any trial: spiritual warfare. However, the continual presence of and encounters with demonic oppression faced by these believers is shocking, to say the least. I heard stories of tribal witch doctors threatening to kill Christians or anyone who converts to Christianity, who in the end are converted themselves. In fact, there are sons of converted witch doctors who are now receiving biblical and theological training in order to become church planters and evangelists, all to the glory of King Jesus.
Back home, Christians in America, and churches for that matter, are being lulled to spiritual apathy by the enemy through the lures of comfort, leisure, tolerance, and consumerist church services. I believe that if the American church experienced the presence of demonic oppression in any way similar to the experience of the Ethiopian church, chaff would be separated from the wheat and explosive, globally influenced growth would occur. Perhaps that is the reason we do not see this kind of oppression and persecution.
A LONG LEGACY
Finally, I observed the impact of long-lasting unity and legacy among church leaders, and their far-reaching implications on the life and ministry of the church. The elders who make up the leadership of the local expressions of the Kale Heywet church have been serving alongside one another for decades, all the while training and discipling younger generations into leadership roles. Many of them were imprisoned and persecuted together under Communist rule for their faith in Jesus Christ. By God’s grace their years of faithfulness to Jesus, to the power of the gospel, to one another, and to the church have set the Ethiopian church up for a bountiful harvest. This seared into me the reality of the blessing of leadership that in unity together has served long, suffered long, rejoiced and loved long—a reality I hope to be blessed with over the next many years at Mars Hill Church.
In order to truly catch and understand the vision God has given us, we simply need to (in faith) be obedient and jump in on mission.
Oftentimes we cast vision in the hope that people will catch the vision and be on mission for what God has called the church to do, but sometimes our people cannot see the forest for the trees. Yet, as I have experienced, in order to truly catch and understand the vision God has given us, we simply need to (in faith) be obedient and jump in on mission. For the last six months of my time serving at Mars Hill Church, I too have heard the vision, seen the compelling and convicting videos, prayed for the churches in Ethiopia and India, but it wasn’t until I set foot among the people of the Kale Heywet church that I caught the vision: making disciples and planting churches around the world.
I encourage you to also take that step of faith and join the Lord in what he is doing in and through Mars Hill Church, where more resources are being translated, more pastors and church planters are being trained and sent out, and where more people are being saved by Jesus Christ. You will never be the same.
This post is republished material from Mars Hill Church for teaching and archive purposes only.