It’s the mid 50s AD. A man named Paul has been traveling the world, spreading the good news about Jesus of Nazareth. Paul believes this Jesus is God incarnateand the savior of the world. This all started when Paul encountered the risen Jesus, who had been crucified in Jerusalem. Before that, he had persecuted Christians.
Paul is now on a mission. He is near the end of his third missionary journey. He desires to see the Christians in Rome. In a letter, Paul tells the Roman church that heplans to launch from Rome a mission to Spain (Romans 15:22).
On the other side of the known world is Thomas. At first, Thomas had doubted Jesus’ resurrection (John 20:25-28). Now, Thomas has been sent out by the church in Jerusalem to bring the gospel to India (This is according to early Syrian church tradition.)
Paul and Thomas are attempting to bring the gospel to opposite ends of the known world—the furthest western point in their geography, Spain, and the furthest eastern point, India.
Paul and Thomas are following Jesus’ commandment: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8 NIV). From the very inception of the church, they saw themselves as missionaries bringing the gospel to the ends of the earth. The former persecutor and former doubter dedicated themselves to this. And we should do the same.
But the work is far from complete. There are over 3,000 people groups without missionaries. It’s estimated that 99.7% of the church’s resources—it’s missional activities and financial support—is dedicated to areas where the church is already present. Only 0.3% of resources are dedicated to where the church is not present. Let that number sink in.
Like Thomas, I went to India because I had heard of a place where 101 Million people had not heard Jesus’ name. The state is called Bihar. There in Bihar, I shadowed an indigenous, pioneering church leader named Biju Thomas. In Bihar, I met hundreds of people who had heard the name of Jesus for the first time through the efforts of Biju and his team. And I personally witnessed hundreds of people hearing the name of Jesus for the first time ever in their lives. I saw the freedom of Jesus reign in their lives and renew their hearts. I saw their eyes light up as they realized that their lives had value far beyond what the local religious systems had rigidly defined.
In Bihar, the book of Acts is happening today. There are thousands of people coming to Christ; there are miracles happening every day; and the needs of the impoverished are being met.
I remember meeting a young woman, perhaps 16 years old, whose face was filled with sadness and anger. She was from a remote village and had until recently been living with father who an abusive alcoholic. At first, she had tried to stay in school—and endure her father’s neglect and abuse—but she would regularly walk three miles to school, just for the teacher not to show. Thus, she moved to Patna, where her mother was and found work and education. But the sadness about her upbringing, future, and her father endured. And her religion demanded chants (mantras) to change this. But she could not chant where she was living.
During a youth event, she heard the gospel told plainly for the first time. And she realized, deep in her heart, thatJ esus is what she needed—not mantras. Jesus whispered quietly to her that she had value. I will never forget her face as she walked up the aisle of the classroom to ask for prayer. Her smile brimmed from ear to ear. She had been so angry and embittered looking but now joy swept across her face. Jesus had turned darkness into beauty.
I want to see this type of joy reach every last personon the planet. I want to see the renewal this young lady experienced be offered to every person of Bihar.
As I left Bihar, I thought, “If the book of Acts is happening today in Bihar, perhaps a model could emerge from the book. What if the answers to our problems are right there in the Bible?”
Image Credit: ©Thinkstock
This long-form article is part of the Jesus' Economy weekly series, “Living for Jesus.”
John D. Barry is the CEO of Jesus’ Economy, an innovative non-profit creating jobs and churches in the developing world. At JesusEconomy.org, people can shop fair trade and give directly to a cause they’re passionate about, such as bringing the gospel to unreached people groups. John is also the general editor of Faithlife Study Bible and the author or editor of 30 books.