All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken…..Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” Acts 2:4-13
When God poured His Holy Spirit upon all peoples, some mocked the disciples and said that they were drunk. This was not the only occasion that people failed to recognize His audible voice. Prior to the Passion, God spoke to Jesus in an audible manner. Some just heard thunder. Some thought an angel spoke. Only a few heard God’s voice (John 12:29). These were not special people. They were just people whose hearts were ready to listen to God. The Holy Spirit changed radically how the first disciples understood God and faith. God was no longer a property of a specific group or culture. He was, in a way, liberated to be who He is truly; a gracious and merciful God of all languages and peoples. He became truly impartial in the hearts and minds of the disciples. All languages contained the capability and concepts to express the divine mystery of God’s grace. In other words, God revealed that He was and is speaking and working among all peoples. Our missionary task is to discern His presence among them.
I have been a missionary in three different seasons of my life. I started out as a lone ranger missionary. It wasn’t because I thought that I did not need anybody. I just allowed my zeal and enthusiasm dominate my actions. I wasn’t necessarily foolish. Maybe I was a little impatient. I was only 23 then. I had an idealistic view of missions. I left for the missionary field thinking that it was a lifetime call and I was never going to return to my land of origin. This actually turned out to be true. I remember saying goodbye to my father at the airport. It was the last time I ever lived in the same place as he did.
In my first missionary experience, I went out with the intention to bring the gospel to people who have not heard the gospel message. I went to the Amazon first. It sounds cliché but I thought it would be a good place to start my missionary journey. It was a complete failure, at least from my perspective. However, it did help me realize that I am diehard urban citizen. I only felt truly at home in a concrete jungle. Any city under 4 million habitants was a small town for me. It became obvious that I should retry my missionary efforts in São Paulo. I left for São Paulo from the Amazon as I was turning 25 and started working with the homeless children and teens immediately. I loved it. It was like coming home to a place where I never knew existed. I always felt close to God where a normal human being would want to flee. Not because it was dangerous. It was the unforgiving stench. It would be obscene to try to describe it. We are still not immune to it but we won’t trade places for anything. It is the place where God meets us. He meets us in the strangest place. It was here where I met my wife and we became one unit in ministry. People now cannot imagine a time when we weren’t together. Things were going great until we had to leave against our will. It was an issue with our visa to stay in Brazil. We moved to the States and worked on returning to missions. We managed to do it but it was a failure. Well, perhaps at this point, it would be appropriate to mention that there is really no such thing as failure in God’s economy. It is all part of our personal maturity. A true failure would be giving up completely. We almost did this but something gave us the strength to move forward. Before we could do this, we needed to understand why the failures were pivotal in our understanding of missions.
During our first missionary experience in the streets, the Holy Spirit opened our eyes to see that these children needed to be connected with the church. Our second trip we tried to create this connection according to our own understanding and wisdom and thankfully, it was a disaster. This is our third return to missions to the same place. This time we realized that missionary work is not our task. We don’t make things happen. It starts and ends with the Holy Spirit. It started on the day when God poured His Spirit on all peoples. The gifts He bestowed upon His disciples were to help them discern and participate in His work. We don’t bring God to these places or peoples. God is already there, about a million steps ahead of us. He calls us to do something simple. He did say that His yoke is easy. He calls us to listen and testify to His Voice of Grace and Mercy that is always actively present wherever people are present.
His voice connects us with each other. The church is defined by those who listen and heed the voice of the Holy Spirit. We took us many years to realize that any effective ministry begins by listening to the Holy Spirit. We listened and listened. Then our eyes were opened to see what God is doing. However, we still can’t see the whole picture. It is not necessary. God does not burden us with all the details. He gives us what we can handle. There is injustice and violence and pain and suffering where we work. We don’t know the answer to all these problems. However, we can love despite not having the solutions. Then God showed us that love cannot be separated by space and language. He is able to connect those who listen to His voice even if they are thousands of miles apart. We testify to this truth. It is amazing that a boy who can hardly read or write can say complex foreign names like Nancy and Jenny or Kat perfectly when these names are usually difficult in his native tongue. It is because they are no longer strange names. They are people who have become part of their lives. We thought that it was up to us to connect the church with the children. In reality, God was already doing it. Sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers who write to these children were not inspired by us to do so. They are people whom God has prepared for this task. It doesn’t mean that those who do not do this aren’t listening to His Spirit. It only means that God has another project for them. He is doing something among all peoples. Mission work is learning to listen and discern God’s project in our midst