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Unpacking the Vision

By Chris Binder
  • Long Read |
  • Vision |
  • 867 People are praying for this

    Lives and communities transformed through encounter with Jesus Christ

    This is the vision that Interservers long to see. This is the vision that gives hope as we live and work in desperate, apparently hopeless situations. From the hills above the town in Central Asia that became our home for six years, there is a ribbon of green that cuts across the arid valley, following the course of a majestic river. It reminded me of the river flowing from the temple in Ezekiel 47:

    Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. Ezekiel 47:9

    How we prayed that the Spirit of God would flow through the valley below, bringing life where there was death, bringing hope where there was despondency, bringing light where there was darkness, bringing freedom where there was oppression. And across the arid landscapes that make up so much of the historical Interserve world, we still pray for this: transformation in remote mountain communities like the one we had the privilege to live in, megacity slums or multicultural communities in western cities. Diverse contexts and yet all full of social deprivation, physical suffering, emotional pain.

    God is at Work

    “Women were seen not as souls to be saved or numbers to build up a church but with a belief that God cared about all of their needs, educational, social, economic, medical, as well as their relationship with him as Lord and Saviour.”
    Elizabeth Tebbe

    Yet God is at work! In our Central Asian town Jesus had revealed himself to many in dreams and visions in the 1990s and a church had been born among this people. People had been, and continued to be, transformed through encounter with Jesus Christ. So, we prayed, and we lived, and we worked, thanking God for what He had done but longing for so much more.

    From its earliest days, the desire of the women who made up what is now Interserve was to see transformation
    that touched all aspects of life – what we now call wholistic ministry. Bible teaching was always at the heart of efforts in the early days but so too was the provision of educational and medical services. Elizabeth Tebbe writes, “Women were seen not as souls to be saved or numbers to build up a church but with a belief that God cared about all of their needs, educational, social, economic, medical, as well as their relationship with him as Lord and Saviour.” This heritage helps us to embrace all kinds of ministry opportunities today, using various professional skills, not as a platform for the “real” work of spiritual transformation only but as a natural and seamless outworking of the vision to see wholistic transformation. After all, Jesus’ rightful place is as Lord of all, not just the church bits! This vision is as relevant today as it was when first conceived back in the 19th century. Today, Interserve Partners are striving to see this vision come to reality in myriad ways from working in hospitals, schools and universities, among the homeless, supporting organic farming and other enterprises, through to “chance” conversations at the bus stop.

    Longing for Transformation

    “Sometimes we think there are two choices: being witnesses or not being witnesses. This is not true. We are always witnesses to something. The only question is to what or to whom?”
    Bryant Myers

    “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision,” said Helen Keller. There is a danger, though, as we focus on a vision of wholistic transformation in the communities where God has put us. Is our vision simply to see transformation (which is challenging enough!), or is it to see transformation through encounter with Jesus Christ? There is a profound difference. We go into apparently hopeless situations and long for transformation. However, transformation can come through various means. For those who use skills and experience in fields such as medicine, education or business, this poses a particular challenge. Development practitioner Bryant Myers says, “Sometimes we think there are two choices: being witnesses or not being witnesses. This is not true. We are always witnesses to something. The only question is to what or to whom?” A measure of transformation can come through the education of a dedicated teacher, the skill of a healthcare professional or the implementation of an economic development programme. However, if that is the full extent of our witness, the message we inadvertently give will be that it was education, or science, or money that was the source of the transformation. Pointing people to Jesus must be done with great wisdom and sensitivity in many of the contexts in which we work. We need to use language that is understood by our listeners and that does not needlessly offend. Interserve workers need wisdom The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision. Sometimes we and a sensitivity to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to know when and how to speak out about Jesus as they form friendships with those around them. Yet we never want to forget the truth that it is only through encounter with Jesus Christ that heart-changing transformation comes.

    As we tentatively take steps out of lockdown here in Great Britain and Ireland, our minds turn to think about what life might look like in the coming years. Jane Howitt, Chair of Trustees, writes in our latest edition of Go Magazine about the process we are currently going through in Interserve to sharpen the way we see our vision as we seek to discern the strategic priorities that God is leading us to for the coming season. I have the privilege of being part of an international working group grappling with how Interserve will need to change around the world to be ready for the future. The conversations are very stimulating, sometimes frustrating and always intense. Change is hard! Yet, new ways of doing things also bring much interest and excitement. Coming out of the pandemic, many of us are still unsure of what church, travel, work and life in general will look like. Gone are the days when we can make 10 or 20-year plans with any degree of confidence. Bijoy Koshy, our international director, talks about future direction not so much as a road map with the way charted out far into the distance, but more akin to the experience of walking down a dark hotel corridor (do you remember those days when we stayed in hotels?), where the lights only immediately in front of us come on automatically as we step forward.

    Vision for the Future

    “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision,”
    Helen Keller

    I would much prefer to have a roadmap-type vision of the future with key milestones stretching off far into the distance. The hotel corridor version where you only see a few steps ahead at a time brings much more ambiguity. This past year many of us have found ourselves echoing the prayer of Jehoshaphat as the people of Judah faced a great army:

    “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” 2 Chronicles 20:12.

    Jehoshaphat’s prayer is as timely now as when he first uttered it. Imagine the king acknowledging before the people that he does not know what to do! What use is a leader like that? However, it was precisely because Jehoshaphat was willing to confess his absolute dependence on God at the moment of battle that we remember him as a good leader. He did not have a battle plan or a finely honed strategy, but he still had a vision. His vision was of God Himself. Jehoshaphat’s vision brings us full circle back to our own vision: Lives and communities transformed through encounter with Jesus Christ. If we are to stay relevant to the world in which we now find ourselves, I believe that much in Interserve will need to change in the coming years. Yet, while the ways in which we seek to put the vision into practice may flex and change, the hope of seeing transformation through encounter with Jesus Christ will not. It remains at the heart of the Gospel itself.

     

    Thank you for commiting to praying

    Your prayers make a difference! Thank you for praying to see transformation in the lives and communities of Asia & the Arab World.

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    About the Author - Chris Binder

    Chris is the National Director for Interserve Great Britain & Ireland


    Chris Binder