by Jim Reapsome
In my dream I saw them marching gloriously down Pikes Peak Avenue in Colorado Springs on Ascension Day, 2000.
In my dream I saw them marching gloriously down Pikes Peak Avenue in Colorado Springs on Ascension Day, 2000. More than 2,000 strong, they paraded to the cheers of another 10,000 people gathered to celebrate what God has done through his church to extend his universal kingdom during the past two millennia. My heart raced as speakers recalled the advancement of the church through the sacrifices of God’s people.
Then a grizzled veteran from the front lines scrambled to the platform and grabbed the microphone. Distinguished speakers and guests stood back. A hush swept over the crowd. Was this man an Isaiah or John the Baptist sent from the Lord?
"Tell me," he demanded, "what are we going to do after this memorable celebration of 2,000 years of victories is over?" Turning to the executives on the platform, he said, "What plans do you have for the next millennium? Business as usual, or something new?"
The astonished men did not know what to say. Someone whispered, "Perhaps we should call a consultation on reaching the unreached by A.D. 3000." Nobody laughed. They all knew that despite their best efforts, millions of people still lived in places where it was very difficult, if not impossible, to hear and study the good news about Jesus.
The old man knew all about that. He had poured his life into a community where you could count Christian believers on two hands. He was not about to quit. But he was a dreamer, the kind of fellow who doesn’t appear very often.
This 2000 victory celebration was an auspicious occasion, a great audience to hear his dream. He asked for a few minutes to explain.
"Gentlemen," he said, "I dream of the day when all of you will be willing to make a fresh start. To go back to square one, as they say. I would like to propose that over the next five years you reassess everything you are doing, and begin to think seriously about redeploying your people and money. I would even be so rash as to propose that you start strategic withdrawals that are long overdue in some places."
Shouts of "No! No!" interrupted the old man. He raised his leathery right arm and appealed for calm. The people listened. "Unless we do something radical, nothing much will change in the 21st century," he said.
"Unless we remove our people and money, our sisters and brothers will never develop new things for the next century. Look at China. We all bewailed the expulsion of our missionaries and the loss of our institutions. But look what God did in China without us." Some heads nodded Yes on the platform, and murmurs of appreciation rippled through the crowd.
The old man went on. "I know of churches in some cities that would not be there today, if foreign funds had not been cut off. I know of national movements of evangelism that would never have sprouted, if we had continued to pour our money into moribund organizations."
Someone started to chant, "We won’t come home. We won’t come home." It swept across the crowd. Once again the old man asked for quiet, and the chanting and shouting died down. "The point is," he said, "that now is the propitious time to act and to do something risky and daring. Are we afraid to trust God? Have we become so heavily invested in what we do that we cannot conceive of anyone else doing it differently, or perhaps even better than we can?"
The old man’s passion mounted. People realized he was raising some provocative thoughts that did not diminish the day’s celebration, but gave it a practical focus.
He continued: "This is the hour to reflect on the monumental shift in church growth from Europe and North America to Latin America, Asia, and Africa. God has richly blessed his people there. He has given our sisters and brothers all the gifts of the Holy Spirit. He has blessed them with intelligence, zeal, vision, and sacrifice. Their leaders are educated, dedicated, and filled with new ideas. But in many places they still labor under our orders when it comes to evangelizing their own people."
He noticed more than a few heads nodding in approval. People began to understand where he was coming from, especially when he mentioned the need to disengage ourselves from the maintenance of costly programs and institutions that should be given the chance to either grow on their own or die.
"This is the hour for planned, strategic withdrawals. We must put everything under the microscope. We can’t afford to keep doing things as we’ve always done. America is rich in resources for world evangelization. People are crying for some bold breakthroughs. Perhaps if we were bold enough to close up shop in some places, we could recapture some of the old spirit of faith and pioneering," the old man pleaded.
A momentary silence settled on the scene. Then the crowd cheered. A few muted Amens came from the platform. The old man disappeared into the crowd. No one knew who he was.
The best dreams are open ended. I woke up relieved that at least the old man had been heard. But I wondered if anyone would do what he said.
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