Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that took place over Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, and they spoke the word to no one except Jews. But, among them were some men of Cyprus and Cyrene who, on coming to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists also, proclaiming the Lord Jesus. - Acts 11:19-20
In this short passage, Luke describes the scattering that followed Stephen’s martyrdom. It is a short passage, easy to skim past. However, it marks a significant moment in the early church, the moment when the church launched out from Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria to the ends of the earth. And it was precipitated by a death.
A few months ago, sitting in the too-cold air conditioning of a café in Asia, spending time with our team there, the cost of overseas mission struck me anew. This is a conversation I’ve had a few times recently in New Zealand too.
Some costs are obvious:
- Long-term service overseas often at times costs you your career. It certainly isn’t a path to worldly riches.
- Friendships are lost as life experiences are increasingly different – what is there to talk about when you live in different worlds?
- Relationships with family back “home” become just a little more distant.
- Our team live in places where they are daily breathing in polluted air, eating food without any surety that it is safe, sweltering in humid temperatures, and surrounded by tropical diseases.
Often though, it is the big costs that are surprising:
- The vulnerability of the cross-cultural journey (with locals, but all too often with other foreign workers as well).
- The spiritual opposition to God’s work (until you’ve faced the heartbreak of poverty and exploitation, the infuriation of dealing with bureaucracy marked with corruption or lived wondering if you are going to be invited to a ‘cup of tea’ with officials, it’s hard to explain just what it feels like).
- The isolation and sense of loneliness, even within the mission team. Overseas workers simply don’t have the same support networks we do in New Zealand.
Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom. The food is great, the work is fulfilling, we get to see God move, and it sure is fun to drive in these places! As Paul wrote, with great joy, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things” (Phil. 3:8).
Yet, so often, advances in God’s mission are preceded by death, both physical and metaphorical, just like the story in Acts 11. This begs the question; what needs to die within your life, or within your church, for God to launch into His next wave of mission?
Tranzsend Team Leader