“What I am suffering for you, which is your glory.” Eph 3:13b
“For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you…” Col 2:1
“Why a Hungarian missionary had to come to America teaching us things we’ve never heard in our church?” – was a revealing question we’ve received a few months ago from a student who took part in our summer mission in Kansas City.
After a 5-year-long struggle with the Lord’s louder and louder calling, finally we were willing to leave everything we were part of in ministry for 30+ years; were willing to leave all of our friends, our lovely city, elderly parents, our house and our church we’ve helped to plant. We had other dreams after working so hard for decades to build the influence, the relationships and the impact we had in our home country, than making this not-understood, questioned, life-changing and unfathomably demanding move. Leaving behind the place where we saw miracles – like the collapse of communism that we have so fervently prayed for -, where we’ve experienced God moving in so many ways and where we’ve witnessed thousands of people’s lives being changed, was unimaginable for us. But at age 50, the Lord with strong hands moved us to become missionaries to a foreign nation; to a place where we’ve never intended to live: The United States of America. After turning over our leadership responsibilities of the ministry in our home country, we’ve arrived to the U.S. as missionaries in June 2017.
You just don’t have the option not to go where He sends.
Arriving to an empty home with two adult children and with our youngest who was just about to start high school was a dreadful experience. Our two adult children were with us for just a short period of time before they headed back to continue their studies and life in different parts of Europe. Not exactly how we have imagined to start our 50s. Our life became a reflection of our home: empty. Empty from old friendships, empty from being known, empty of the familiar, empty of security, empty of influence and empty of position. Empty – a word sounded familiar from Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “emptied himself” [referring to Jesus, 2:7].
The calling was loud and the need is burdensome. The mass exodus from the U.S. churches [2.5 million leave the church each year]; the decline of the American church [80 percent of the churches are declining and the rest are mainly growing by adding people from other churches]; the rapid secularization of the whole culture, especially the young Americans, massively changes not only the U.S. culture, but impacts the future of global mission as well.
In the past 2-3 decades, while having great Bible-studies in homes and churches, while sending people on mission-trips, while doing all the wonderful things , the U.S. became the 4th largest unchurched nation in the World and the 3rd nation with the largest number of unreached people groups living inside its borders. How did this happen? And more importantly, what needs to be done to change this? These will be discussed in later posts.
The American church was instrumental in accelerating the global mission and taking the gospel to the ends of the Earth. American missionaries came to our country under communism bringing the gospel to us and to disciple us. But now, something is changing. As masses of American Christians are becoming more and more liberal and indifferent toward mission, believers from other nations are standing up for the truth correcting parts of the American church. [For example: traditional vs. gay marriage vote at United Methodist General Conference.]
We grew up in Eastern Europe, under communism and moved to the U.S. to help change the paradigm of how we do church, to equip believers to live missionally, to make a wake-up call, to mobilize believers to be equipped to live as ambassadors for Christ and to help multiply vital, transformative faith communities that reach every segment of the society. Millions of believers need to wake up to their reality that they are the recipients of the immeasurable grace and power of the Almighty God, that they are the citizens of the Heavenly Kingdom and that these realities demand changes in the way they live now. If millions of believers are not envisioned, empowered and equipped to start living like Ambassadors for Christ, then very soon America will be the bastion of hedonistic secularism.
Moving here we didn’t know if America was ready to receive missionaries or not. Will those leaders, pastors, churches who always viewed and positioned themselves as the ones who give, who send, who train, who teach, who lead, who tell, be ready to receive, to listen, to hear, to follow and to change? Is the church in America ready to listen, have a teachable heart, and is willing to change? To be on the receiving end requires a different kind of mindset and attitude. We know this from the 32 years of experience being on the receiving end of mission.
It quickly became obvious to us that the U.S. does not have the experience of receiving missionaries. America was and is great in sending missionaries, creating infrastructure and support-systems around it. But there is almost nothing about receiving missionaries: no support system, or infrastructure, or experience.
Our journey to America as missionaries, pioneering and leading in this super complex, “hard-soil” mission-field is “burdensome beyond our strength” [2Cor 1:8]. Paul writes to the Ephesians that his suffering is for their glory – it’s for their well-being, for their advancement, for their honor, for their growth (3:13b). Paul wanted the churches know that the advancement of God’s Kingdom comes with a price, a price that is paid by others. Paul paid the price and the Ephesians (3:13b), the Colossians (2:1) and the Corinthians benefited from it (2Cor 1:8).
In the next couple of months we’ll share moments of this pioneering journey. Moments of beginning, moments of success, moments of progress, moments of personal pain, moments of loneliness and moments of joy. Eventually these moments will come together into a story.
Is America ready to receive missionaries? We are on the journey figuring this out.