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Gailyn Van Rheenen

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Gailyn Van Rheenen

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"In a rapidly changing world, … the central missionary vision of the church must be constantly renewed, lest its foundations become lost in the confusion of change or its practices trapped in missionary models of the past."

In this second edition of Missions, long-time missionary Gailyn Van Rheenen revises and updates his classic text on Christian missions, laying sound theological and strategic foundations for the missionary of today and tomorrow.

Van Rheenen helps renew the missionary vision by discussing areas such as:

  • The history of Christian mission, and how it affects where we are today
  • Spiritual formation for God's mission
  • The missionary cycle
  • Cross-cultural communication
  • The character and calling of missionaries
  • Types of missionaries
  • Church maturation
  • Selecting mission fields
  • The role of money in missions
  • Four levels of involvement in missions

But Missions is more than blackboard theory. Written by a long-time missionary, it carries the conviction and insights of one who has lived his subject. Accessible to students, practitioners, and laypeople alike, Missions provides a primary go-to resource for understanding and becoming involved in the dynamic activity of world missions.

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The Biblical Narrative of Mission
Entering God’s Story
JIM AND JULIE ANTICIPATED MARRIAGE and a life together serving God. As undergraduates at a Christian university, they looked forward to ministry in an existing North American church. Jim would serve as a youth minister; Julie would work vocationally as a government social worker but also assist in the youth ministry. Both had been profoundly influenced during their teenage years by youth ministers and wanted to emulate the ministry of these empathetic mentors.
During their senior year at university, a different vision began stirring their hearts: “Does God want us to become missionaries in another culture?” This question emerged when a missions professor encouraged them to go with him for a weeklong spring break mission trip to Haiti. Their lives would never be the same!
They were first impressed by Haiti’s overwhelming poverty. “How could anyone live with so little?” they wondered. They were also surprised that authentic Christians were joyful despite their poverty. Life was given meaning through a loving relationship with God rather than through wealth, security, and entertainment.
They heard many sounds in Haiti: children crying, people arguing, horns honking, chickens squawking. But no sound touched them like the beating of voodoo drums — a throbbing of desperation reverberating in the night. They learned that thousands of Haitians live in fear of evil spirits and appease, manipulate, and coerce these spirits so that all aspects of life are harmonious, without illness or misfortune. The drumbeats haunted Jim and Julie, symbolizing the brokenness of a world without Jesus Christ.
Learning the story of God’s mission is a first step in becoming a missionary. The missionary learns from this story how to follow a missionary God, who sent his Son as a missionary.
During their final year at university, Jim and Julie made two commitments. They first made a commitment under God to be husband and wife. Second, and of even greater significance, they committed themselves to looking at the world through God’s eyes.
A wonderful opportunity developed. A church asked Jim and Julie to serve as youth ministers. Because this church was within driving distance of an exceptional Christian seminary, they could minister full-time as they explored their developing interest in missions.
The Missionary Story of God
Their first class was an integrative course on theology of mission. In this class, they learned to read an ancient story in a new way.
The Bible, they learned, is not merely a book of dos and don’ts or a patterned guide to life. It is the story of a loving, holy, faithful God working through his people to accomplish his mission. Jim and Julie learned that this mission did not begin with Jesus or with the journeys of Paul; it began with God, who created the universe. Throughout history, people have been called to enter God’s mission, to become participants in God’s ongoing story. God was (and is) a missionary God!
Jim and Julie recognized that the first words of the Bible, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1), provide the roots of kingdom theology: God rules because he is our creator. God as creator is the starting point of all theology:

The earth is the LORDS, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
for he founded it on the seas
and established it on the waters.
(PSALM 24:1 – 2)
In creation, God gave form to formlessness, filled what was empty, and called light to dissipate darkness (Gen. 1:2 – 3). God continues this creation process: “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). Creation in many ways is similar to conversion, or re-creation. God, by his nature, brings light into darkness.
God created humans in his image, in his likeness (Gen. 1:26 – 27), expecting them to be reflections of him. They were created to replicate God’s attributes — his holiness, love, and faithfulness. Although humans are earthly (i.e., created from dust), they were also inbreathed of God to become living beings (Gen. 2:7), created with eternal consciences (Rom. 2:15). Human attributes and morality should therefore be defined by the divine nature: humans must love, because God is love (1 John 4:16); they must be holy, because God is holy (1 Peter 1:15); they must be faithful, because God is faithful (2 Tim. 2:13); they are to be mirrors reflecting God.
Humans frequently, however, did not reflect God. They were created not as robots, manufactured to function according to the Master’s will, but as individuals who were given the freedom to choose their direction in life. They were “free,” for instance, to eat from both the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God, however, gave them this instruction about the latter: “You must not eat from [it], for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Gen. 2:17).
Humans, free to choose their way in life, often fell away from God and did not reflect God, their creator. Satan’s lie convinced Eve that she would not die if she ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3:4). She saw that the fruit was delightful to the eye and good for food and believed that it would make her like God. She therefore ate it and invited Adam to also eat.
This sin ruptured the harmony of God’s world and resulted in alienation from God. Adam and Eve recognized their nakedness and hid from God. Human relationships were fragmented: they blamed others for their wrongdoing while trying to justify themselves (Gen. 3:11 – 13). People could no longer live in harmony with the land: it now produced thorns and thistles, forcing humanity to work it by the sweat of their brow (Gen. 3:18 – 19). From the beginning, sin has torn all relationships of the God-created social and environmental fabric.
After Adam and Eve acquiesced to Satan’s temptations, God came searching for them, calling, “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9). God, however, was not asking for their location. He knew where they were. He was calling them to renew their relationship with him. His question identifies his nature: he has been and is a missionary God. He continues to ask, “Where are you?” to people who are alienated from him. Throughout history, God has sought to reconcile people to himself so that they might live in a personal relationship with him.
A pattern was established with Adam and Eve: death comes to all people because they all sin (Rom. 5:12; 6:23); God, however, continues his mission of reconciliation in the midst of a sinful world.
When the people of Babel sought to make a name for themselves and avoid dispersion by building a city with a tower reaching to heaven, God confused their language and scattered them over the face of the earth (Gen. 11:1 – 9). He then elected one man, Abram, to become a great nation (Gen. 12:1 – 7) that would serve as his priest to all the nations (Ex. 19:6). This priestly nation was elected to be God’s “light for the Gentiles,” bringing “salvation . . . to the ends of the earth” (Isa. 49:6). God sent Joseph to Egypt ahead of this developing nation to save them from famine (Gen. 50:20). He later sent Moses to Pharaoh to deliver his people “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (Deut. 26:5 – 9). God’s mission is seen in his response to his people: he “heard their groaning and . . . remembered his covenant . . . , looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them” (Ex. 2:23 – 25). In the desert, God went ahead of them, guiding them with a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night (Ex. 13:21). God in his mission instituted a priesthood to stand before him on behalf of the people, laws so that they might be holy (Lev. 19), and atoning sacrifices for their forgiveness (Lev. 16:1 – 21). God sent prophets to speak to kings and to the people. In the Old Testament, God displayed his mission in the people’s midst. They were in turn to be a missionary people reflecting God’s light in the world.
God selected Israel as his chosen people not because they “were more numerous than other peoples” but merely because he loved them (Deut. 7:7). They were to be his holy people and thus draw all nations to him. They were to “give praise to the LORD, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done” (Ps. 105:1). Thus the nations would say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths” (Isa. 2:3).
I am extremely nearsighted. Without my glasses, I have difficulty seeing anything distinctly if it is beyond arm’s reach. Likewise, perceiving the realities of the world without the lens of Scripture is spiritual nearsightedness. Scripture helps me perceive God’s world through God’s lens in relation to God’s purposes.
But God’s chosen people were frequently rebellious. They sought to build up their own armies rather than trust in God. They became rich by trampling on the poor rather than remembering that they were once poor, wandering aliens. They insidiously worshiped the gods of the nations around them while still declaring their allegiance to God. In the midst of such great disobedience, God wept over his people as a husband mourning for his unfaithful wife or a father feeling the loss of an estranged child. He cried, “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? . . . My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused” (Hos. 11:8). Because of their great disobedience, God delivered the northern part of the nation, Israel, into Assyrian captivity (2 Kings 17:16 – 20), and the southern part of the nation, Judah, into Babylonian captivity (Jer. 5:19), to be refined as God’s people.
Even in Babylonian captivity, the people of God learned that “the righteous will live by faith” (Rom. 1:17). Although many Jews accommodated to their new land, forgot God their savior, and adopted the gods of the land, God worked through Daniel to declare to Babylonian and Persian kings that he was sovereign over all the kingdoms of the world. God’s gracious hand was on Ezra as he organized synagogues so that the people of God would not forget the law and helped organize the people for renewal both in captivity and in Jerusalem. God worked through Ezekiel, Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Haggai, and many others to fulfill his mission of returning to Jerusalem a remnant, through whom a Promised One would come.
This missional reading of the Old Testament led Jim and Julie to memorize significant passages about God. These passages define his distinctiveness from other gods and reflect his nature.

Who among the gods
is like you, LORD?
Who is like you —
majestic in holiness,
awesome in glory,
working wonders?
(EXODUS 15:11)
He is the Rock, his works are perfect,
and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong,
upright and just is he.
The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.1 (EXODUS 34:6 – 7)

Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.
(ISAIAH 6:3)
Jim and Julie learned to stand in awe of the Lord of glory, creator of the heavens and the earth, who seeks his people like a compassionate father searching for his lost child.
Their understanding of the Old Testament helped Jim and Julie comprehend the New Testament. The Bible, they realized, is like a long sentence with the first part related to the second. Both parts describe the history of God’s work. The Old Testament narrates how Creator God formed a people to represent his nature in an idolatrous, alienated world where gods made by human hands were worshiped rather than the God who created the heavens and earth. The New Testament tells the story of God’s Son who came to the earth to model kingdom living and commission his people to make disciples of all nations. They realized that Jesus Christ stands at the fulcrum of history, bringing light and life to all generations.
In the New Testament, Jim and Julie saw God’s mission personified in Jesus Christ. The “one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), became God in human flesh by divine will. Born to a virgin, he was both wholly divine and fully h...