“I’ll go first” is perhaps the most powerful statement a Christian make. It is the people who go first that I most admire: the innovators, the risk-takers, the pioneers.
It is the people who have made incredible sacrifices for Jesus—who join our Lord, not just in his glory but also in his suffering—that inspire me.
One of these people is Biju Thomas, a pioneering community developer in Northeast India. Biju left “God’s own country”—the nickname of Kerala, the state he is from in Bihar—and moved to Bihar, which is known as the most backward of the backward states in India. This is a reference used in India to states that are no longer supported by the Indian government from an infrastructure standpoint.
In Bihar, I shadowed Biju in one of the least reached regions of the world. Over 101 Million people in Bihar have never heard the name of Jesus. Without Biju, I was an outsider and unwelcome; but with him, everything was different.
When people met me and observed the color of my skin, they would generally dislike me. This is because of the history of colonialism in Bihar—there is a cultural memory that says that white people are bad because they represent oppressive colonialism. But once people found out I was with Biju, they would embrace me. And this is because of one simple reason—the love of Jesus.
Biju and his team are empowering women through business; they are providing clean water; they are offering literacy training; and they are sharing the freedom of Jesus with people who have never heard his name before. And as these people experience Jesus—in a culture where the religious systems have dictated that their life is only worth little—their entire world is changed. Jesus offers freedom and liberty.
THE POWER OF GOING FIRST
Biju is the type of person who goes first. He has made incredible sacrifices for the cause of renewing Bihar, India. And that’s why I followed him and am now going first among another group of people. I’m trying to ignite a movement of people who are willing to live self-sacrificially for the sake of bringing the gospel to the last of the unreached and for the sake of alleviating extreme poverty in effective and sustainable ways.
To fund it, I put my money in first. I sold my house. I sold my stuff. That’s what my wife and I did together. Because I could not look at these problems—and continue to sit in my comfortable well paying job—I had to step up and follow God with everything I had. And I knew that I wouldn’t really know faith, or be able to truly call people to it, until I had taken that journey.
This was the method of Saint Paul. In his letter to the church at Thessalonica, he says:
“For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you” (2 Thessalonians 3:7–8 ESV).
Paul was bi-vocational—meaning he worked and did ministry. He worked so that he could do ministry. He put his money where his mouth was. He led by example. Paul explains this further in 1 Thessalonians:
“Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you” (1 Thessalonians 2:9 NIV).
Paul’s mission was to spread the gospel and to leave no one with excuse. They believed because they saw how much he sacrificed for it and knew that there could be no other reason for doing so than God himself. Paul joined Jesus not just in his glory but in his suffering. He went first and did so without regret.
GOD HAS A GRAND VISION FOR OUR WORLD
God is building a grand vision for our world and we can be part of it. God is calling us to make sacrifices necessary to renew entire communities—physically and spiritually.
The opportunity and resources are there and now we need to do the work. God is calling us to something extraordinary. We could bring the gospel, in its full form—of loving a person in both word and deed—to the ends of the earth in our lifetimes. Imagine if that happened.
Our strategy will take time. It will involve sacrifice. It will involve leading by example. It will involve making decisions for Jesus that are so drastic that people question them. It will involve finding a better way forward to create jobs and churches for the hurting and unreached. But it will be worth it.
This long-form article is part of our 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.