“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
This verse is known as the programmatic passage of Acts, laying out as it does the “programme” for the entire book. When the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples it transformed them into bold witnesses for the risen Christ in Jerusalem (Acts 2). After this the disciples themselves had no plans to take the Gospel anywhere but were forced to by “a severe persecution… in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria” (8:1). Jesus’ “programme” was being carried out, in ways unexpected and unplanned by the disciples: “Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word” (8:4). Throughout Acts the story continues towards “the ends of the earth,” geographically emanating ever further from Jerusalem via Judea and Samaria, but also ethnically as the Gospel—completely unexpectedly— entered into other cultures (11:20-21). Acts 15, the so-called Council of Jerusalem, shows how unexpected this was for the church leaders. The first generation of Jewish Christians hadn’t anticipated the good news about Jesus the Messiah of Israel to have anything to do with Gentiles. Yet the Jewish Christian leaders were quick to respond as they recognised that God was doing something they hadn’t expected: “And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us” (15:8-9). The remainder of the book of Acts is mainly about Paul taking the Gospel “to ends of the earth.”
It has long been recognised that “Acts of the Apostles” is a misnomer, and this amazing New Testament book is really recounting the Acts of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ “programme,” laid out in Acts 1:8, is fulfilled not by human planning but by God’s leading. What is more, this leading often goes completely against what the church was expecting. We continue to be surprised by what God is doing. Scott Sunquist captures this surprise in the title of his book, The Unexpected Christian Century: The Reversal and Transformation of Global Christianity, 1900-2000.2 At the beginning of the twentieth century most Christians lived in the Western world, western empires dominated the globe, and it was assumed that Christian mission would continue to be “from the west to the rest” in a continuing ambiguous relationship with colonial rule. Yet by the middle of the twentieth century, most colonised nations had become independent and indigenous churches were growing rapidly. As early as 1963 mission was being understood as “from everywhere to everywhere,” as “Mission in Six Continents,” where “there is no longer separation between missionary- sending nations and mission fields.”3
A corollary of this new, and surprising, reality was the realisation that mission does not belong to us. Rather, we participate in God’s mission, the missio Dei, a phrase thatfirst began to be used in 1952.4 But this new realisation was not a new reality. The book of Acts makes it clear that God, not humans, is in charge of mission and that mission has taken surprising turns and developments that never would have happened if humans had been in charge. The emergence of world Christianity in the twentieth century is another surprising thing God has done, along with the effect this has on mission. Mission is now from everywhere to everywhere. This was hammered home at the recent Rising Sun missionary conference.5 The speakers included Fabiano Da Siliva, a Brazilian, and Kinyua Kathari, a Kenyan, now both living in New Zealand with their families as pastors in Brethren churches. Kinyua shared how through his ministry in New Zealand he had come to realise that many Kiwis constitute an unreached people group who have never before heard the Gospel. An African missionary to the unreached European population of New Zealand. Times have changed. Mission is now from everywhere to everywhere.
JOHN DE JONG
John is married to Rebecca. They both grew up in West Auckland and met at Lincoln Road Bible Chapel, which is still their home church. In 2005 they moved to Yangon, Myanmar, to work with the church there. They took Adam (two-and-a-half years old) and Grace (10 months) with them. Sarah and Charlotte were born over there. John taught Old Testament and Hebrew at the Myanmar Evangelical Graduate School of Theology (MEGST), along with preaching and teaching in the local church. Rebecca was involved in women’s and children’s ministry, as well as home schooling the children. They returned to Auckland to live in October 2017, and John has found work lecturing in Biblical and Intercultural studies at Laidlaw College, based at the Henderson campus.
1 All Scripture quotations from the NRSV.
2 Grand Rapids: Baker, 2015.
3 This was at the 1963 Division on World Mission and Evangelism of the WCC in Mexico City, cited in Lalsangkima Pachuau, World Christianity: A Historical and Theological Introduction (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2018), 38.
4 Pachuau, 147-148.
5 At Eden Community Church, 27 July 2019.