Sitting in a living room with thirteen young people. Reminds me of Bilbo Baggins and the thirteen dwarves dining in his house. Do you remember the movie, The Hobbit? The dwarves were there because they were on a quest to reclaim their home. Oh well, I am not writing about J. R. R. Tolkien's novel. I am here reflecting about my time with these thirteen young men and women in their mid-twenties. Michael Chen, a student at the seminary, invited me to join this Friday fellowship of group leaders. Michael is leading a church planting work among students and young adults. These thirteen are his small group leaders. They meet every other Friday for prayer, fellowship, and consultation. He and his wife, Cindy, encourage these youth leaders to make a difference for Jesus.
"How do you know if God is calling you to be a pastor?" Jay asked me. "What should I do if my parents are going to disown me because I am a Christian?" Catherine shared with me her family situation. "How does one adjust to a new environment, especially one that is different from our own culture?" These were some of the questions that I tried to answer that Friday evening. I differed all the answers to Michael and Cindy. As far as I am concerned, Michael is the "Gandalf of the group," the leader of this group.
Many of the questions reminded me of my time in the Philippines in the early 1980s. That time I was involved in a church planting movement in Manila and some other areas in the island of Luzon. This movement grew miraculously. We started in 1979 with three congregations. In ten years, we multiplied to about 20 local churches and a couple thousand members. God was leading the way. That time, I was one of the youth leaders. Later, I received my ordination credentials under the new Annual Conference organized by the Philippine Free Methodist Church. It was an amazing decade.
Now, I am seeing the church planting situation as a seminary professor. Michael's group has that same passion we had back in the Philippines. They need a lot of encouragement, especially because Taiwan church culture is so clergy-centered. This particular cultural background is not helpful to any church planting movement. Lay people need to see the urgency to share the gospel among their friends and families. They cannot wait on their local pastors to lead the way. These thirteen group leaders should be encouraged to continue the work. I am so glad that Michael is leading the way. He is one Taiwanese church planter who is not hampered by the clergy-centered culture of Taiwan.
What does the Bible say about everyday deeds of ordinary folks? In John chapter four, Jesus talked to a Samaritan woman. After she believed in Jesus, she became an instrument leading others to God's salvation. Many believed because of her testimony (John 4:39). She was not seminary-trained. She was never ordained. She was a "new" convert of Jesus. But still, God used her. A movement leading to the multiplication of many congregations will only happen when we empower "new believers" to start testifying and witnessing for Jesus. We should not wait for them to be "properly trained" before they can share the love of God to their friends and families. God loves to show the world His glory and salvation through the everyday deeds of simple people such as this Samaritan woman.
When I shared to Michael and Cindy's group of young leaders, I told them many stories of God's empowering simple people, using even the most difficult situations. One story I narrated to them was the story of Olga, a 92-year old grandmother from Michigan. Despite her age and lack of experience in traditional theological training, God used her to be a blessing to many young people in her locality in Michigan. God showed her the wonders of cross cultural ministry. God gave her the wonderful experience of worshipping with people of different background in a church among Haitians living in a city in Pennsylvania. "Now I know what cross cultural missions means," Olga concluded. The experiences of ordinary grandmothers became a source of empowerment.
Back to the movie, The Hobbit. There is one scene that always stays with me. This is the conversation between Lady Galadriel and Gandalf. Lady Galadriel asks Gandalf why he chose a Hobbit for this quest. Gandalf replies: "I do not know. Saruman believes that it is only great power that can hold evil in check. But that is not what I have found. I found it is the small things of everyday deeds of ordinary folk, that keeps the darkness at bay. Simple acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps it is because I am afraid, and he gives me courage." (From the movie THE HOBBIT)
May we find courage from God's work among the ordinary people among us, the grandmothers and young students in our midst, and the many "Bilbo Baggins" of our generation.