There is a fresh awakening about the importance of missions In Singapore. Not quite sure who said that Singapore was the Antioch of Asia, but churches located in a country that is so blessed surely have the responsibility to be good stewards of their resources as they seek to be good stewards of the gospel. Being Antioch of Asia is a responsibility, not a badge of honour. I am therefore concerned that when we bring the gospel to the many places that so desperately need it we go with a spirit of humility. That means we do not go defined by an understanding of giver and recipient — that we have something to give but nothing to receive from the people to whom we bring the gospel. True human interaction is one that seeks to be mutual.
I am reminded of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman in John 4:4–30. He wanted to give her “living water” but His first act was to ask her to give him water on a very hot day. Dana L Robert points out the significance of this request.
. . . Jesus sat down in the Samaritan woman’s town and asked her for help. He entered into a relationship of mutual exchange by assuming that she had something to offer him. In cross-cultural outreach especially to the poor, Americans usually brining stuff to help others. But the surprising encounter with the Samaritan woman did not occur when a well-equipped squad of disciples descended on a needy Samaritan village. Here was Jesus himself, in a cross-cultural situation, and the first thing he did was to ask a local woman for help. His request for water, necessary for survival, opened the door to a mutual exchange between people who were not usually seen as equals. Jesus’s request for water opened the door through which he entered the woman’s reality. It led to a deeper exchange about the stuff of life — the “living water.” (Faithful Friendships, [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2019],19.)
Robert speaks about her own church, the American church, but there are lessons here for the Singapore church and indeed for all churches who seek to do cross-cultural missions. We bring the gospel not just as people who have something to give, which we do, but also as people who have something to receive. In giving and receiving we acknowledge the humanity of both gospel bringer and gospel receiver.
The danger is that we seek mutuality as a missionary technique, and you can’t fake humility. We must go with a genuine curiosity as to what lessons God the creator has taught the people we are trying to reach and what we can learn from them. In Acts 17 I see Paul reaching out to the Athenians by affirming their spirituality and the fact of their common humanity. He returns to the fundamentals of the gospel, the resurrection of Christ, and the need for repentance. We cannot and must not compromise the promise and demand of the gospel. But surely bringers of the gospel should exhibit the humility of those who themselves were undeserving of the gospel and who now seek to be genuine friends with those they are trying to reach. And one fundamental aspect of friendship is mutuality.
In asking the Samaritan woman for a drink, Jesus was opening himself to her reality. He became a listener and dialogue partner, not an outsider who came to impose his own agenda on the Samaritan populace. The result of the unexpected relationship was that the Samaritan woman ran to share it with others in her village. The good news spread along a chain of relationships of knowing and being known. As Jesus showed in His conversation with the woman at the well, his mission required mutual vulnerability. (Faithful Friendships, 20)
As we seek to recover the primacy of missions, let us remember to do it in the spirit of Christ.