PREPARING THE WAY IN THE WILDERNESS

The long, hot day sinks below the horizon and the night blooms full with the sound of frogs and crickets. The air is heavy and heat lightning flashes around the sultry sky. A mosquito buzzes nearby, then falls silent, swatted away with a smear of blood.

In a clearing among the stunted trees and tangled vines, back-packs and sleeping sacks are scattered around. People, unfamiliar with this strange land, sit around in a circle, leaning their weary bodies against whatever they can find. A guitar, softly strummed, picks the tune for a gentle offering of praise. Music from another world penetrates the dusty bush. Songs slip heavenward from this traveling band of friends, and prayers, sometimes whispered and sometimes shouted, are offered to the Lord of lords.

In the remoteness of a somewhat random reality the presence of the Spirit of God is felt in different ways. For some it is found in the relaxation at the end of a long day, for others it’s there in the worship, and for yet others in the meditation upon a word from scripture. In another form this could be the mountains of North Africa, or the desert sands of Sinai. It could be the vastness of the Tibetan plateau, or an island along one of Asia’s great rivers, as much as it is the Sahelian bush of West Africa. But in every mind is the thought that maybe, just maybe, this is the first time that man has lifted up his voice and given glory unto almighty God from this exact place.

Isaiah speaks the word of the Lord to us: Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people (Isaiah 57:14). Down through all our years pioneers of church and mission have often stumbled over these obstacles. We have found them along the ways that we have been called to follow. We have crissed and crossed the Sahara desert, praying our way, sometimes clearly and sometimes incoherently, into an understanding of how to prepare the way and always with a desire to proclaim Christ and his cross.

We have traversed the shores of the Mediterranean, and taken trains to cities along Central Asia’s Great Silk Road. We have sailed down the mighty Mekong River and we have hiked among the nomads of Tibet. We have travelled high and low, out and back, using whatever means were offered, as we have taken praise and prayer to places where the name of Jesus is rarely, if ever, heard. And we are only successors to generations of missionaries before who brought Good News to our own lands.

Here and there, both expected and unexpected, we have found some of the obstacles and spoken the name above all names over them. Languages have been learned, culture has been understood, the spiritual atmosphere has been confronted and the Good News of the Kingdom has been translated into the hearts and minds of the people. And as we have prepared the way in the wilderness we have ploughed up fallow ground; we have sown and watered; we have harvested, and others have harvested as well – because we went. Men and women from other tribes have joined eternity’s unending song of praise. In a mountain city, a desert village, or an ordinary town somewhere out there in this extraordinary world, Kingdom communities have formed. People who never before knew Jesus have come to worship and that which history has called The Church has emerged in a less familiar form.

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