CHICAGO -- The evangelistic mandate of Acts 1:8 requires a commitment to sharing the love of Christ in places others have long abandoned, according to a Chicago pastor whose church has chosen to stay in just such a place.
In modern-day Chicago, the "Samaria" that Jesus talks about is an inner-city that desperately needs the love of Christ, said Charles Lyons, pastor of Chicago's Armitage Baptist Church.
"Jesus expects us to expect to be supernaturally impactful in Samaria -- not just locally, not just regionally, but cross-culturally," Lyons said. "Samaria. The people who are close to where we live, but we don't go there. We don't drive through that neighborhood. They eat funny food. They dress funny. They act all kinds of strange ways, and you know their religion just ain't right. So Samaria becomes ... something to detour. Jesus said you will go to Samaria, if you are allowing the power of the Holy Spirit to control you."
Lyons was a featured speaker during Connection 2003, a May 18-21 conference for missionaries, associational directors of missions and other partners of the North American Mission Board held in a northwestern Chicago suburb.
He noted that all of the epistles in the New Testament were written in an urban context, to churches in the cities. But he had words of rebuke for Christians who have abandoned the cities -- when they remain desperately in need of the Gospel.
"We had a better plan. 'We'll move to the suburbs, and we'll do it from where they ain't gonna shoot at us.' We're not doing so hot are we?" Lyons said. "... Because the people that weren't like us moved in, we packed our moving vans and left -- quoting Acts 1:8."
In Armitage's case, he said, God has demonstrated that He is sovereign -- allowing His Gospel to go forth despite difficult circumstances.
Lyons told the story of Juan, a 15-year-old Hispanic boy who began coming to the church, accepted Christ, and quickly began telling everyone around him what Jesus had done for him and could do for them. Then one day Juan heard shots nearby, and rode up on his bicycle to find his 12-year-old brother had been killed in a drive-by shooting.
A reporter on the scene asked the boy what he wanted to see happen to the killers, and Juan said, "I want to see them saved," Lyons said. "The Chicago Tribune reporter put the witness of a 15-year-old Puerto Rican kid from the corner in the newspaper, and it went all over the region," Lyons said.
In the same way the early Christians would have never chosen to spread Christianity through the persecution that drove the early church out of Jerusalem, today's leaders would never have imagined presenting a Gospel witness through such a tragedy, Lyons said, "But Juan bore witness to the power of Jesus Christ in his life, and it went all over Chicagoland -- and in Samaria."
As a result of his actions, Lyons said a prominent city council member offered to put Juan through college. And when the church was planning a mission trip to Kenya with costs of at least $2,000 to $3,000, Lyons was surprised to see Juan in the room. With the help of sponsors he went on the trip -- and 300 children accepted Christ as a result of his testimony in a public school.
In another instance, the church contributed toward a reward fund for a Muslim cab driver who had been murdered. Several Muslim leaders later called Lyons, stunned at why the church would choose to do something like that for a Muslim.
"After stumbling around trying to express his gratitude, one of the gentlemen said, 'Why are you doing this?'" Lyons said. "Do you think a Baptist preacher needs any more setup than that?"
He challenged Christians to make themselves uncomfortable in order to reach those around them who are different.
"If we took seriously the call, the expectation to be supernaturally impactful cross-culturally, you don't know how God might use your church," he said. "... I'll tell you the language that transcends every cultural barrier. It's spelled L-O-V-E."
By Albert H. Lee