Monday, June 18, 2007

Anywhere to Anywhere

A 1997, my wife and I had the great privilege of taking the first team of Ethiopians to India as short-term missionaries. While SIM helped them with their airfares, the KHC churches in Ethiopia raised all the money for their salaries. The churches in India provided them with housing and a translator. After three exhilarating months in India (1352 profession of faith), we returned to Ethiopia and went with each team member to their home church to thank their congregations for sending them.

Two pictures stand out in my mind.

We were in Southern Ethiopia at a place called Dilla – the area where my parents, Alberta and Evelyn Brant, had first taken the Gospel back in 1948. It was also the home of Subsibe, an Ethiopian who had gone with us to India. Subsibe had called a meeting of the leaders of the 450 churches which form his District. These leaders listened to us tell about how God had used Subsibe and the Ethiopians in their powerful ministry in India.

After I finished speaking, someone pulled out an old woven grass mat into the middle of the meeting floor. A passionate appeal was made by one of the elders as he placed an offering of what he could give on the mat. It was only a few dollars in our money…nothing to send a missionary to India. But, following his lead, a handful of others came and put their two centimes on the mat as well – and then a trickle of others. Gradually, dozens, even hundreds of people moved quietly to the aisles and began bringing their gifts to send more missionaries into world missions. I watched in wonder as each brought just a little – but as they kept coming and coming. At that moment, it became clear that even poor nations of the earth can participate if they are given the opportunity. We had not asked for any money. This was their heartfelt response to the work that the Holy Spirit had been doing in their hearts for more than half a century.

The next day was Sunday. Subsibe took us to his village. When we got to the little church, people were already in prayer. I remember thinking that my clean pants would get dirty as we knelt down on the dirt floor. I don’t remember what I preached about that Sunday, but I must have told them about how God had used Subsibe and the team in India. At the end of the service, an old man stood up weeping. He could hardly speak as there was so much emotion in his voice.

He looked up and pointed his finger at me. “Your father,” be began, “brought the gospel to us over 50 years ago. We were in darkness – worshipping idols of trees and stone. He told us about Jesus and we believed in Him. He also told us that if we believed in Jesus we should tell others about Him. We did. We sent our evangelists all throughout our tribes and now there are over 450 churches among us. We have sent missionaries to other parts of Ethiopia, as we should have. But your father also told us that one day we would send our children to the ends of the earth to take the gospel to the other nations of the world. Today that has happened – and I just want to thank God that my eyes have seen this before my days have ended.”

The service was ended and Subsibe asked if we would like to visit his house. He led the way down the muddy path between the banana groves and coffee trees. We rounded a corner and came to a shack with a tin roof. A woman came running out of the house. She was beaming. “Subsibe is my son!” She glistened with the pride of a mother who had the joy of being involved in world missions.

Subsibe led us behind the tin shack and further into the coffee grove. The path led us to a tiny grass hut not more than four meters in circumference. It had one center pole, no windows, not even a door. A reed mat was placed across the entrance. “This is my house,” he said quietly.

We bowed our heads and prayed there. We thanked God for sending Subsibe from this tiny grass hut into India to become a missionary with the most powerful message in the universe. We thanked God for taking him out and bringing him home again. As we stood there for just a moment, I could not help but stand in wonder to think what God had done in taking this wonderful man from such a simple home in Ethiopia to India to serve Him there. I said, “Lord, if you can take Subsibe from here to India, then I will never doubt You again – that You have the power to send people from anywhere to anywhere.”
Postscript. Today Subsibe serves with his wife as a missionary in South Sudan. He and a team mate have just recently led a leading witchdoctor of the area to the Lord and are discipling him and his family.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Who is the Real Missionary Anyway?

I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.

Apostle Simon Peter

Birganj is a little town on the boarder between India and Nepal. My plane was late and so I stepped out of the tiny domestic airport and walked out to the main road. There I saw an Indian man dressed is a saffron cloth, sandals, a walking stick and a bag over his shoulder. I took him to be a traveler of some sort -- perhaps one on a pilgrimage. "Where are you going?" I asked. "Lhasa Tibet" came the response.

I knew from my travels that Lhasa, Tibet was far from where we stood. One would have to to up through the capital of Nepal, Khatmandu -- up over the Himalayan mountains, cross the foothills near Mt. Everest and then go up through rugged mountain passes into Lhasa! Tour groups drive this route in five days.

"Oh, are we waiting for the same aircraft?" "No, sir." "Are you waiting for a bus?" "No. sir." "Well then, how are you traveling," I asked. "I walk," came the answer.

"Please help me understand," I said. "I do not understand how you can walk to Lhasa Tibet from here." "Yes sir, that is what I am about to do."

I looked at this Indian man. He look plenty intelligent with bright sparkling eyes behind his dark rimmed glasses. His English was not that of a local peasant. He sounded like someone of standing who had been well educated. I took another tack.

"Why are you going to Tibet?" I queried. "I am a missionary sir." "Oh, are you a Hindu guru -- or Buddhist -- or what." "No sir. I am a missionary." "Well then, what is your religion?" "I am a Christian sir! A Christian missionary."

"OK. Are you a Jehovah Witness, or Mormon or what?" "No sir, I believe that Jesus, the Son of God died as our Savior, and that all who believe in Him will have eternal life. My duty is to tell this wonderful message to everyone I meet."

I was dumbfounded. I had never met anyone just like this man before. "Please, explain to me how you as a Christian missionary are going to walk from here to Tibet. I know that it is hundreds of kilometers away over high snow covered mountain passes." "I will walk. That is what I do. I awake very morning and I pray and ask God to show me the people along the road who need to hear of Jesus. Then I walk. And as I see people out farming in their fields or working by the side of the road, I stop and ask them if I can tell them about Jesus. If they are interested, I spend a few days with them until they have made a firm decision and then I move on. I intend to do this all the way to Lhasa Tibet."

"Who are you? Where did you come from?"

"Well sir, 15 years ago I was a nominal Christian with a high paying job as an engineer. I got in trouble in my work and was thrown into prison. While I was there, I told the Lord that if He got me out of prison, I would quit my job and would spend the rest of my days telling people about Him." At this point he reached into his little bag and pulled out a photograph. It was of smartly dressed Indian business man. "That was me," he said. "But this man is now dead -- and I am a new man in Christ."

As I pressed this man, I learned that he has been "walking for Jesus" for 15 years. His home is in Chennai (Madras) in the South of India. But he has walked up into Pakistan, into Afghanistan and now in to Tibet to share the Gospel. A quick calculation of how far he has walked went up to about 20,000 kilometers (12,000 miles).

A few minutes later my small plane landed and I rushed to climb aboard. As we flew up into Nepal I looked down into the mountains and canyons below and thought of my new friend Sadu -- and him walking for Jesus with the Gospel.

There, I began to ponder a deep question? Who was more of a missionary -- me flying along in this little airplane headed for a conference with Christian workers in Nepal -- or this humble man who is walking for Jesus?

Slowly the realization hits, that while there are over 100,000 foreign missionaries who are registered as coming from the Western world, there is a vast army of emerging missionaries who are rising up in Asia, Africa and Latin America . Many are unknown, have little financial backing, have no large sending organization behind them -- but they are out there faithfully doing the work of the Kingdom.

My question then -- and now is, "Who are the real missionaries anyway?" The truth is that in our day, there are more emerging missionaries like Sadu out there spreading the Gospel than the combined total of all sending agencies in the Western World. This fact, has profound implications for world missions. Implications that we will explore more and more in this blog. Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Preparing a Higway

Hong Kong. A mass of humanity in a sardine can. Wall to wall people. I visited there first back in about 1995 -- before it became a part of mainland China. I never forget sweeping into the old airport between the sharp mountains and the equally tall skyscrapers wondering how our pilot ever found his way down -- and how many wrecked aircraft didn't make it. On my next trip, they had built a new airport -- one out on a man made island in a bay.

What caught my attention, however, was the amazing highway that led from city center to the new airport. The highway ramped up over the sprawling mass of humanity below. It led directly into a mountain side -- where the wide mouth of a tunnel opened to allow the traffic to pass. Just after the exit from the tunnel, a massive suspension bridge was flung across the bay allowing speeders to zip right into the airport. As we sped along, I began to think of highways.

As a young man, I had worked on a highway crew and had an appreciation for the hard work that went into every culvert, every small stream that had to be crossed. But as each was encountered, a permanent solution was sought and found. One could not go back fixing highways over and over again. They had to be built to last -- tough and strong enough to endure for decades. What enormous planning had to go into a highway.

I was whizzing over this HK highway in 20 minutes because it circumvented every obstacle -- city, mountain, sea! But the hardships that had to be over come. And as travelers sped over the smooth asphalt they never thought of who had the dream of building a highway, or the enormous planning it took, or the gigantic effort it took to build the high pass, the tunnel and the suspension bridge. But now they were all done, it just took 20 minutes from downtown HK to the airport!

Mission agencies are like highways to me. Highways transport people and goods from one place to another. Mission agencies help people from one part of the world who want to serve somewhere else get there. They move people, money, supplies from one part of the world to another. In days past -- traffic was all one way -- from the "West to the Rest." But in a globalized world traffic is starting to move both ways.

For many years, I have been involved in an evangelical mission agency, SIM. SIM started out as Sudan Interior Mission and then morphed into Society for International Ministries and eventually into Serving In Mission. Over the past 20 years it has merged with a number of other missions until today it stands as one of the larger Evangelical mission agencies working in Latin America, Africa and Asia. During my 22 years of working in the International administration of this mission, I came to the growing realization that SIM could become a Highway for All Nations -- not just western nations but for emerging missionaries from any part of the world as well.

In this blog, I will attempt to track to story of how SIM becomes transformed from a Footpath to all People to a Highway for all Nations. I take inspiration from prophesies in the Old Testament where Isaiah spoke of someone who would come crying "Prepare the way for the LORD in the wilderness. Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. Let every valley be lifted up, And every mountain and hill be made low; And let the rough ground become a plain, And the rugged terrain a broad valley. Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, And all flesh will see it together; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken."

I believe that mission agencies like my own ought not only to take the Gospel to the Nations, but they should enable the Nations to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. I am convinced that the time has come for God to use all nations in the missionary enterprise -- without regard to ethnicity, social standing or even financial ability. I am not simply interested in seeing emerging missionaries join my mission to make it bigger or stronger. I am interested in seeing mission movements start up in each country of the world. If my mission can be the highway to get them from one part of the world to the next, so be it -- but the important thing is that they become enabled, encouraged, and activated for the cause.

To that end, I have put my life forward to do everything I can to advance this cause. I share this blog with you so that you can join in the mountaintops of joy and the valleys of sorry as we work toward "Preparing a Highway for all Nations to be involved in world mission."

Highway Howie

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Sharing the Vision -- Emerging Missions Network

Welcome to this blog on emerging missions.

Anyone who understands globalization will know that there are several powerful forces which draw people beyond their own ethnic boundaries and social classes. One is economic, the other is entertainment and a third is religious affiliation. A common faith and a shared vision of the future are powerful forces drawing people of all various ethnicity and background together.

I will never forget walking into a large hall in Amsterdam in 1985 where 10,000 evangelists had been invited to a consultation on evangelism by Billy Graham. At the time, I was working in Northern Ghana as a Canadian missionary traveling from village to village sharing the Gospel. But in that consultation, I saw 10,000 missionaries just like me. What shocked me then was the color of those assembled. They were all shades of brown -- from near black Sudanese to bond haired, blue eyed whites. At that moment, I understood that the missionary enterprise was for all nations without regard to ethnic background, social status or even financial disparity.

Almost 20 years later I was back in Amsterdam at a similar meeting sponsored by the same organization. I happened to be in a seminar being conducted by Bruce Wilkerson when he commented that as we advance in years we ought of focus our attention on the one thing that God has called us to do. I pondered my position in my mission (I was Deputy to the International Director) and prayed. "Lord if you can get me out of this administrative post, I would love to serve the nations of the world by preparing a highway for all nations to be involved in world mission. Several years later, that prayer was answered as SIM released me to become their "champion for emerging mission."

I am most humbled to be chosen for this task. There are many who could do a better job and have wider experience, but this one thing I do have -- and that is a passion to see all nations involved in world missions.

As a result my wife and I left the USA and moved to Nairobi, Kenya from where I travel and promote emerging missions (my wife Directs the work of SIM into Sudan). I find that Kenya provides a central location for communication where the need is greatest. The Latins have missions figured out and so do those in the Far East. The potential for development is in Africa and South Asia. In 1996 my wife and I were involved in taking 10 Ethiopians to India and working with them there for three months. This program resulted in Ethiopia starting to send its missionaries to India, Pakistan and Sudan. It was there we understood the potential of Africa and South Asia.

My vision is fueled by the prophesies of Isaiah concerning John the Baptist. It was foretold that when he came, he would cry, "Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness. Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. Let every valley be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low. Let the rough ground become a plain and the rugged terrain a broad valley. Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, And all flesh will see it together; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken." (Is. 40:3-6).

My calling, as I see it now, is to apply this approach to the emerging mission enterprise. In an African context, when a new highway is built, the first one to go down the highway is the King. After that, everyone can follow. There are plenty of "mountains, valleys, crooked places and hills in the way of emerging missionaries, but they can all be overcome. As this happens, the glory of the Lord will be revealed.

This blog then, is dedicated to the idea of emerging missions. I claim no propriety over the issue. It is open for all to comment and do what they can to further the cause. But I would like to publish my own thoughts, efforts and observations along the way. Readers are welcome to comment and/or subscribe to a little paper we put out called "EMNET" which stands for Emerging Missions Network. Subscriptions at

If you know of people who would like to become advocates for emerging missions -- or if you know of others involved in such a network, please respond to this blog. Any information will be much appreciated.

Preparing a highway for all nations to be involved in world missions.