*Editorial Note: The following is a sponsored partner article from InterVarsity Press (IVP), one of Missio Alliance’s partners in mission. Missio Alliance partners participate in creating spaces and resources aimed at helping diverse church and ministry leaders engage in formational conversations around the crucial issues of our day in God’s mission. If you’d like to learn more about Missio Alliance partnerships, click here. Pick up a copy of Chris Rice’s profound new work, From Pandemic to Renewal: Practices for a World Shaken by Crisis here. ~CK
Pentecost: A Multi-Lingual, Transnational Interruption
When I think of Pentecost, I think of the wisdom of my friend Rev. Katsuki Hirano, a renowned preacher and Christian author in Japan, who jokes that – in a country where less than two percent of people are Christian – he is pastor of a 200-member Tokyo “megachurch.” As Christians in America from left and right struggle for political dominance, Katsuki has a word for us: “Don’t be afraid to be a minority.” Pentecost also connects me to my colleague Mulanda Jimmy Juma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who says the desire for electric cars in the U.S. is helping fuel a battle for precious minerals in his country, resulting in churches in eastern Congo facing more and more local violence. Pentecost also reminds me of my front-row seat in Christian ministry at the United Nations in New York City, where fellow believers across the world regularly show me how American power can be a force for good in their countries yet can also cause enormous harm. And when I think of Pentecost, I think of a 2019 virus in Wuhan, China that eventually crossed every border until the whole world was in the death grip of a pandemic, a crisis of a generation which continues to haunt churches in America with its consequences.
But what does all this have to do with Pentecost? Disciples of Christ today are deprived, and the gospel’s power is diminished, when we are blind to problems and to fellow believers across national borders. Before Pentecost, this was also true for Jesus’ first disciples.
In Acts 1 his Jewish disciples ask the resurrected Jesus, “Are you now restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). The vision of the disciples did not extend beyond Israel to engaging Gentiles, including Romans seen solely as oppressive occupiers. But Jesus promises that his followers will be changed, saying, “You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
That’s exactly what was ignited when the power of the Holy Spirit interrupted the upper room where the disciples sat waiting (Acts 2:1-12). Pentecost was turbulent, not gentle. A violent wind shook the room, tongues of fire touched their heads, and they began to speak strange languages – languages of strangers and perhaps even enemies. A disturbing interruption was required for the Holy Spirit to begin binding them to people they did not consider to be “our people.”
Pentecost was a spiritual renewal, filling the believers with the power of the risen Jesus. As the faith was extended to Gentiles after Pentecost, it also gave birth to a multi-ethnic renewal. But easily overlooked is that Pentecost was also a multi-lingual and transnational interruption.
Acts begins with Jews in Jerusalem, but after Pentecost the disciples are moved by the Holy Spirit across political and language borders from modern-day Israel and Palestine to Syria, Turkey, Greece, and Italy, ending in Rome as a multi-national community of believers. This isn’t a geographic detail. The political loyalties of both Jewish and Roman patriots who joined the Christ movement were transformed in this new community by the power of a gospel where Christ alone was Lord. For many, this was a difficult journey – not least of all Jesus’s close disciple and church leader Peter, who at first retreated from a relationship of equality with Gentiles at the church at Antioch in ancient Syria (Galatians 2:11-14).
Becoming a new, border-crossing people is demanding. But for the disciples, it ultimately released great joy. It’s in the DNA of Pentecost and is part of the essence of Christianity. Pentecost was a spiritual renewal, filling the believers with the power of the risen Jesus. It gave birth to a multi-ethnic renewal. But easily overlooked is that Pentecost was also a multi-lingual and transnational interruption. Click To Tweet
Among many American believers today, however, a virus has severely weakened this Pentecost DNA. The renowned historian of Christian mission, Andrew Walls, described it well, saying the American church had perfected a model of engaging the world which directed “the resources of Christians in one country to the preaching of the gospel and the establishing of churches in another country. That is, the task in hand was principally giving; the design was for one-way traffic.”1 But we are now in a world where the growth and vitality of Christianity has shifted from west to east, north to south, a world where there are more Presbyterians in Kenya, for example, than in the U.S. “With the new shape of the Christian world,” writes Walls, “instruments are now needed for two-way traffic: for sharing and receiving.”2 We are now in a world where the growth and vitality of Christianity has shifted from west to east, north to south, a world where there are more Presbyterians in Kenya, for example, than in the U.S. Click To Tweet
One pathway for American believers to live into our border-crossing Pentecost DNA is to move from one-way practices of sending and giving to two-way practices of sharing and receiving. The following are four two-way practices for our lives, communities, and churches.
- Readers across borders. When did you last read a blog or book by a Christian from the majority world, the non-Western countries that make up most of the world’s population, and most of its Christians? To become transnational disciples, our one-way reading needs to become two-way. My Congolese friend Dr. Bungishabaku Katho‘s book Reading Jeremiah in Africa changed the way I understand the biblical prophets. The Bible takes on fresh meaning when we read it through foreign eyes.
- Pilgrimages of pain and hope. Every year upwards of two million American Christians go on short-term missions trips overseas. Most church groups go to do a program – paint a house for a family, teach the bible to children, give business advice to local entrepreneurs. That “benefactor-beneficiary” mindset falsely assumes that we arrive in strange lands as “solutions.” Unlike the power of Pentecost, it asks too little of us. We need more pilgrimages of pain and hope. Pilgrims go to a strange place not assuming they are solutions, but that God is already at work where they’re going. They go to listen, to learn, to be with, and to share in common mission, led by local people. They go, I dare say, willing to be interrupted. Every year upwards of two million American Christians go on short-term missions trips overseas. That 'benefactor-beneficiary' mindset falsely assumes that we arrive in strange lands as 'solutions.' It asks too little of us.1/2) Click To Tweet We need more pilgrimages of pain and hope. Pilgrims go to a strange place not assuming they are solutions, but that God is already at work where they’re going. They go to listen. They go, I dare say, willing to be interrupted. (2/2) Click To Tweet
- Deep common journeys. My former Presbyterian church in Durham, North Carolina used to do mission and outreach programs as what we called “benevolence,” dividing up money to support various ministries and missionaries. While we were generous givers, we came to see that the benevolence model distanced us from fellow believers in the world and didn’t require us to change and grow. A source of renewal for our church was a new “deep common journeys” model, choosing four organizations to walk closely with. One is the Congolese-led Christian Bilingual University of the Congo (UCBC) founded by Dr. David Kasali, who initially said to us, “I don’t want your money. I want your hearts.” While our church sends groups to them, UCBC also sends their Congolese leaders to Durham, to join daily congregational life, teach and preach, and build relationship. Benevolence alone is stingy. Deep common journey interrupts that with a partnership of mutual generosity across borders, toward learning to be disciples of Jesus Christ. The benevolence model distanced us from fellow believers in the world and didn’t require us to change. Deep common journey interrupts that with a partnership of mutual generosity across borders, toward growing as disciples of Jesus. Click To Tweet
- Learning their languages. Research shows that more than half of the world’s population speaks more than one language. But only 20% of Americans do. There are few deeper ways to honor and learn from a people than to learn their language. When my parents served as Presbyterian missionaries in South Korea, they spent their first two years in full-time language study. It gave them immense credibility, and that formation stuck with them. At age 84, my mother was going to Costa Rica every spring to live with a host family, teach ukulele, and be changed by the local people. Several years ago after she passed away, I got in her car and turned on the CD player, and lessons in Spanish began playing. Still a social worker, Mom wanted to connect with her increasing number of Latino clients. “Two-way” habits were deeply ingrained in her, a life-long learner across borders.
From pandemics, to climate change, to global trends of young people more connected to their phones but less to the church, more and more problems cross borders in our world. Only a border-crossing gospel and border-crossing people can meet such challenges.
Andrew Walls contended that a new historical time of “sharing and receiving” required new two-way instruments “that may prove [to be] disturbing.”3 Yet that’s what Pentecost was: a disturbing interruption after which the disciples were never the same. The journey propelled by the Holy Spirit gave the first Christians border-crossing hearts, eyes, lifestyles, and loyalties. It transformed them from “giving and sending” people into “sharing and receiving” people. This Pentecost, how might we welcome such an interruption? That’s what Pentecost was: a disturbing interruption after which the disciples were never the same. The journey propelled by the Holy Spirit gave the first Christians border-crossing hearts, eyes, lifestyles, and loyalties. (1/2) Click To Tweet It transformed them from 'giving and sending' people into 'sharing and receiving' people. This Pentecost, how might we welcome such an interruption? (2/2) Click To Tweet
Chris Rice (DMin, Duke University) is co-author of the award-winning books More Than Equals (co-written with Spencer Perkins) and Reconciling All Things (co-written with Emmanuel Katongole). His newest book, published with IVP, is From Pandemic to Renewal: Practices for a World Shaken by Crisis. Chris lives in New York City and serves as director of the United Nations Office of the Mennonite Central Committee, an international faith-based relief, development, and peace agency. Chris blogs at chrisriceauthor.com.
1 Andrew F. Walls, “The American Dimension in the History of the Missionary Movement,” in Earthen Vessels: American Evangelicals and Foreign Missions, eds. Joel A. Carpenter and Wilbert R. Shenk, (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2012), 24.
2 Ibid, 24.
3 Ibid, 24-25.