January 7, 2024

Living Missionally

In the Real World

Greg & Amy Whitsett
Photo by Jacek Dylag on Unsplash

Bzzz, Bzzz, Bzzzzz. My (Greg’s) phone was vibrating again. Although I was busy, I stole a glance and saw another message in our Fresh Beginnings Sabbath School WhatsApp group. It was perhaps the eleventh message I had received in the past hour. As annoying as it is to get interrupted throughout my workday, I didn’t silence the message alerts. Each buzz was a reminder that I was experiencing a miracle.

Our Fresh Beginnings Sabbath School group is a diverse group made up mostly of new believers and serious seekers. Although many do not gather weekly, it is a vibrant group of people experiencing Jesus’ handiwork in their lives. We have an Uber driver, two public school teachers, an artist, a federal worker, a corporate manager, a drywaller, a retiree, a mechanic, and a spouse of a foreign diplomat. Some are waging battles against addictions while others are simply exploring a new faith in Jesus. Yet here we were, messaging away as if we were all a bunch of high school BFFs.

How did this happen? You could call it an intentional accident—something out of our control but something we’ve been praying and working for.

We are missionaries who raised our kids in Asia for more than 16 years. In 2018 we returned to the United States and joined a local church in Maryland, eager to continue participating in outreach at home. As we review the past five years, we celebrate the synergy we have experienced with our local pastoral team. In this article we will trace the lessons we learned overseas and how they also bore fruit at “home” in America. Perhaps our experience will resonate with you.

1. Pray for “God-eyes.”

When we first arrived in Asia, a veteran missionary advised us, “Take lots of pictures. After you’ve lived here a few years, everything will seem normal, and you will lose your eye for what is noteworthy.” He was right. Those early years we filled roll after roll of film with photos of Buddhist temples, paddy farmers, schoolchildren, monks, and silk weavers. As the years passed, we stopped taking so many pictures because it had all become so normal.

Our spiritual walk with Jesus can be like that. When one first experiences salvation or when one first accepts God’s call to make disciples, there is an eagerness to find anyone new with whom to share Jesus. But over time one’s fire can dim.

To keep our eyes fresh for mission opportunity, we need to ask God to gift us with His eyes to see opportunities around us. Jesus saw mission where His disciples saw nuisances—social outcasts, sinners, children, and the lone Samaritan at the well. Arriving in Maryland, we asked God to give us His eyes to see people He wanted us to bless and invite into discipleship.

2. Pray without ceasing.

We enjoyed hosting student missionaries while working in Asia, and they did excellent work winning souls for Christ. Early on we noted that the devil wasn’t happy with them. On several occasions a student missionary would awaken in the night terrified and having a suffocating pressure on their chest. They would cry out to Jesus, and the pressure would immediately disappear. As we discussed the problem with them, we took Paul’s advice to heart: “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17) and pray “always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit” (Eph. 6:18), for we were fighting “spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (verse 12). Furthermore, we decided that the ubiquitous spirit houses in every courtyard and business were a call to prayer, seeking heaven’s reinforcements to aid us in the invisible contest over the souls of our neighbors and friends. It is amazing how this impacted our self-awareness about the urgency of our mission.

While our new neighborhood in Maryland doesn’t have spirit houses, we know that demons are no less active. In place of spirit houses, televisions and computers stream content that glorifies evil and slanders God. We began to pray as we walked the streets of our neighborhood, even making a map of our street, to write down the names of our neighbors—knowing that the first step of our cooperation with Jesus in mission is simply making friends and building trust.* When the pandemic shut people in their homes, we felt impressed by God to hold an outdoor block party in the driveway we share with our neighbor. Praying for our neighbors led us to take action we would never have thought of doing otherwise. But more than that, prayer is not just preparation for mission; it is in itself the work of mission.

3. Make mission a lifestyle.

While living in Asia, we found that in every aspect of living, even shopping in the market, we were a spectacle. People were naturally curious about who we were and what brought us to their country. The curiosity we stirred up was a reminder that there was no down time from being missionaries. Every aspect of our lives was a mission witness.

Returning to America, we sought to maintain this missional lifestyle. Since I (Amy) love fresh flowers, I can’t resist spending a few minutes enjoying my local grocery store’s wonderful selection of fresh florals. But it’s not just the beautiful flowers that makes me linger among them—it’s the florist. As I began thinking and praying about my sphere of influence, I realized that my florist is someone who I see regularly who is not attending church. So I decided to be more intentional about building a relationship with her. For the first couple of weeks as I prayed for her, I simply asked God how I should bless “the florist at the grocery store.” God helped me realize that the first step was simply to learn her name. So I did. As I continued to pray for her, my interest in her grew. Although the spiritual interest hasn’t yet developed, I smile as I write this, knowing that my florist is loved by God, and I am His agent to bless her. And just like that, my grocery shopping becomes so much more than just a weekly chore—it’s a mission adventure.

Using this model, can you see how mission doesn’t always mean adding new activities into our already hectic lives? Simply take the time to prayerfully make a list of people you already interact with who either need to be introduced to Jesus or need a deeper relationship with Him. Then commit to praying for each person, asking God what the next step is in each relationship. You might be surprised at how many opportunities you find you have. Oh, and I should tell you, the alstroemeria is always a great flower choice. Treated right, it can last up to three weeks. And Lisa, my florist friend, would be happy to tell you how!

4. Make room for new friends.

One of the hardest things about heading overseas was the sacrifice of leaving loved ones behind. But that was part of the cost of reaching out to strangers and inviting them to become disciples of Jesus with us.

When the pandemic shut down regular worship services, our church got creative and began holding services in the parking lot. A radio signal broadcast the sermon so we could enjoy the climate control of our cars as we participated in worship by tuning in with our car stereos. One woman came regularly—a coffee in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Taking note of her apparent interest, the pastor asked if I (Amy) would befriend her. Over the next few weeks I began to watch for her. Our friendship started with a simple “Hi! What’s your name?” conversation and over time developed into a deep, sister-type friendship. We met her boyfriend, and the four of us began studying the Bible together. But more than that, we began to share our lives together, which crowded out the time we had for family and older friends.

We soon began to feel a tug-of-war going on between spending time with our new friends and the time we allotted for our family who lived in the area. It felt wrong that we were spending so much time away from our family, but then we realized—whether abroad or at home, we needed to focus on the lost, just as the good shepherd left the 99 sheep safely in the fold to reach the one that was lost. Mission may require you to sacrifice old friend groups to form new ones. Some may misunderstand your refocus on other people, so pray for wisdom for how to handle it. But do not turn back from focusing on new people. After all, mission is about creating a community in which we extend warmth and hospitality to new people, so they feel safe and that they belong.

5. Make Jesus real.

The gospel is so much more than good Bible teaching. The gospel is the transforming relationship we enjoy with our Savior. The gospel is how Jesus turns our lives around, gives us new joy and a hope in the day that all things will be made right.

When people in Asia experienced Jesus giving them victory over demons, they were sold on Jesus. When Jesus healed them, they were compelled to follow Him. When Jesus gave them a new heart, they knew that Christianity wasn’t just a religion but a completely new way of life—a life they wanted.

We are seeing the same here at home. Each person that has joined Fresh Beginnings is experiencing new life in Jesus. Addictions have been broken. Dyslexia has been healed. Hearts are being filled with joy because our modus operandi is to lift Jesus up in all things and at all times. And the more Jesus is lifted up, the more people are being drawn to Him.

But here’s the catch: Jesus is lifted up best when a community is able to be real about their trials and temptations. In our Fresh Beginnings group we as the leaders have committed to being open and vulnerable about the challenges we are facing. Our desire is not to portray our best selves—our desire is to demonstrate where and how we turn for help. This is the central theme of our interaction—we are all sinners and hurt people being drawn by a loving God who patiently receives us and fixes our problems.

Bzzzz. Bzzzz. My (Amy’s) phone is buzzing. Someone from Fresh Beginnings is writing: “Hi, everybody! Did you read the challenge in the Sabbath School lesson today? It says to begin praying for someone who is different from you or even someone you may not personally like. Can we do that today? Can we talk about it a little more on Sabbath?”

Someone answers after a few minutes, “Yes! Wonderful idea. I just began praying for four people.”

An hour later, Bzzz. Bzzz. “I couldn’t think of anyone. As I was trying to think of someone, an image came onto my screen of a very expensive vase just like the one my friend stole from me. This wasn’t the only thing she stole from me. She ruined my son’s life! I will pray for her now. Lord, help me do this.”

My (Greg) heart is bursting with joy as I catch up on these messages. I reply, “Hey all, I am swept away by your generosity to pray for those who give you pain. May Jesus do as you pray and so much more than you can even think to ask. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

You know what we like most about mission? It’s the transformation we experience as He tunes our heart to His—a hearted burdened to rescue His kids. Being a Christian is so much more than believing in God and loving Jesus. He invites us, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19). We’ve found that participating in God’s mission is the place we can expect to experience His best miracles.Bzzz Bzzz Bzzzzzzzzzzz. Gotta go, mission is calling.

* Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1905), p. 143.