The Challenges of Crossing Boundaries
1 John 2.7-29 (New Revised Standard Version)
Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word that you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new commandment that is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says, ‘I am in the light’, while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates another believer is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness.
I am writing to you, little children,
because your sins are forgiven on account of his name.
I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young people,
because you have conquered the evil one.
I write to you, children,
because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young people,
because you are strong
and the word of God abides in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live for ever.
Children, it is the last hour! As you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. From this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But by going out they made it plain that none of them belongs to us. But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and all of you have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and you know that no lie comes from the truth. Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; everyone who confesses the Son has the Father also. Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he has promised us, eternal life.
I write these things to you concerning those who would deceive you. As for you, the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and so you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, abide in him.
And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he is revealed we may have confidence and not be put to shame before him at his coming.
If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who does right has been born of him.
My father was the last of the old-school missionaries. He arrived in Nigeria on a ship. He communicated by airmail (a slow and ponderous form of snail-mail). His base was so remote and communication was so poor that when his father died, his family couldn’t make contact with him for 3 weeks.
And at a time when missionaries were becoming increasingly Westernised and distant, safe behind high compound walls, shiny cars and American dollars, he took contextualisation to the limit. He dressed like a Hausa (the large Muslim tribe in the north of Nigeria in which he was embedded), he spoke the language fluently, he and his slowly growing family lived deep amongst the people (including in a mud hut), he gave half his paltry missionary allowance away, so our (relative) poverty could stand alongside their (severe) deprivation.
He knew the Quran better than the Muslim teachers he debated with, he became known across West Africa as he taught and preached, argued and cajoled, in dusty villages and sprawling cities, the white man with an African soul. When he died, an archbishop spoke at his funeral, and there was a full-page obituary in The Times. My dad was a great man.
But if you were to ask me about my father, I wouldn’t tell you about the big things, I would tell you about two small events.
The first was a routine that he did every day for about 2 years. Not half a mile from where we lived was a makeshift shelter of a woman, one of many deeply distressed and confused people, suffering from severe mental health difficulties, that would camp beside the roads in that city.
Every day he would drive down the road with a pot of food, attempt some conversation, and pray with her. As his children, we were embarrassed at this (to our shame) and others were perplexed (“she can’t even understand what you’re staying!”), but my father ignored all of this.
He did this kind of thing regularly. His heart was deeply moved by her plight, he loved this marginalised and overlooked person, and his love moved him to action.
The second event occurred in this country, after we had returned from Nigeria. One day he got on a train from Southport to Liverpool, and as he did so, he noticed a young girl sitting there, looking sad and distressed.
He wanted to say something to her, but he knew that she would probably feel threatened if he approached her. So he sat near her on that train and he sang… “what a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear, what a privilege to carry, everything to God in prayer…” He sang the whole song….
He was oblivious to the strange looks, oblivious to the embarrassment, he was solely intent on getting a message across to a person who needed to hear it. His heart was moved by her plight, and his love moved him to action.
The challenges of crossing boundaries in mission are significant. Cross-cultural mission is a long, taxing exercise, those who study these things say it takes anything up to 7 years to become sufficiently embedded in a culture, in order to bring a message to it. To those who are called to cross-cultural mission, this long embedding cannot be short-circuited or circumvented.
However, the Apostle John offers us a language that transcends cultural boundaries, his “new commandment” that he speaks about so frequently and eloquently in his letters, which is of course the command to love. Love is the conduit for the gospel message, it cuts through the boundaries of culture, class, language, and race that divide us. My father taught me that mission requires a deep dive into your context, but above all it requires love.
Truly and deeply, selflessly and persistently, in regular acts of tender mercy. May this be true of us, in the days and weeks to come.
Planting and Pioneer Coordinator