I am writing to you on the last day of this year, A.D. 2018. The “last day” of anything has a special feeling to it, as we realize that we won’t pass this way again.
One of the Scripture lessons recommended for New Year’s Day is Matthew 25:31-46, where we read Jesus’ teaching about the great Judgment, when he will separate those who will be forever blessed in God’s Kingdom from those who will be cursed to eternal punishment. As a guide for how to live in this world— seeing Jesus in the faces of people who are hungry, thirsty, lacking housing and clothing, sick and imprisoned, this is among my favorite passages in the Bible. But many people focus on it more as a prophecy about the end of the world.
After I re-read this passage today (it happens that it was the text for our Sunday School lesson, yesterday), I opened an email from my fried Ubaldo Rodriguez, who with his wife Joy is working in the Philippines. Ubaldo says, “We are doing fine, training God's people for the work of missions for the 10/40 window. This work of mobilizing God's people in order to reach the unreached people's groups is sometimes a lonely endeavor. However, we get energized when a congregation decides to participate in this mission to see everyone reached with the Gospel, and after that, as the Scripture says, the end will come (Matthew 24:14).”
“The 10/40 window” is a popular topic among missionaries. The term was coined by missionary Luis Bush in 1990. It refers to a region in the Eastern hemisphere of our world, between 10 and 40 degrees North latitude, where the largest populations of people living in deep poverty and lowest quality of life are located, and at the same time, it is the part of the world having least access to Christian resources.
This concept ties in with the view, popular among some Christians, that we may hasten the Second Coming of Jesus Christ by focusing our missionary efforts on places where the Good News of Jesus has not yet been heard—like this “10/40 Window.”
For my part, I remember Matthew 24:36, 42, and 44, where Jesus says, “about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. ... Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. ... Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
In either case, we have plenty to keep us on our toes, going forward.
So now we cross over the imaginary line into the Year of our Lord 2019. Only God knows what lies ahead of us. As God also knows all the good and bad things that kept us busy in the old year, now past.
One new thing on the horizon: the Rev. Dr. Freeman Palmer will become Conference Minister of our Central Atlantic Conference on February 1, 2019. Delegates from all around our Conference met on November 17th and affirmed him to take this role. The day before that vote, Rev. Palmer visited Harrisonburg so we could meet him and learn more about him. When people asked him about his vision for the future of the church, I took note of two particular ideas he mentioned. (I am reconstructing my memory of what he told us: these are not his exact words)
For one thing, he noted that people in society at large have a view of “the church” as an institution, and church people as insular— that is, it seems as if we are on our own island, apart from regular people. By contrast, Jesus was not “in”: he traveled through the world as an outsider, mixing with whoever was around. The church should imitate Jesus more, both by standing with people who don’t fit “in” in society, and also by spending our efforts outside the walls of our church buildings, where people live.
Another remark Rev. Palmer made that caught my ear was that, among older people, there used to be a “culture of obligation,” in which folks did things because they felt it was expected of them, whereas now we are surrounded by a “culture of choice,” where each person does whatever pleases them at the moment, like shoppers in a store. The church ought to be aware of this shift in attitudes, not because one is right and the other wrong, but because we can’t succeed if we fail to understand how our current crop of humans feels about our world and the church. We must meet people where they are, for God’s sake.
Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
- Isaiah 60:1