by Jacob Via
There is a coastal town in the southeastern tip of Haiti, called Anse à Pitres. Several years ago, this small town experienced a movement of the Holy Spirit that dramatically transformed the face of their community. Within the first week, nearly 100 people had given their lives to Jesus, about 50 were baptized, and a new church was formed. By month three, hundreds of people had been baptized and about two dozen new churches had been planted, some to the third generation. Among these new disciples were gang members, police officers, poor farmers, and voodoo priests - all radically changed by the power of Christ’s love. What sparked such a movement to spread? It all started with two young amateur missionaries named Renaldo and Wiskensley.
Back in Port Au Prince, Renaldo was a moto driver (a motorcycle taxi). He was tall and brawny and a ladies’ man before he gave his life to Christ. Now, since he’s been following Jesus, you will find Renaldo treating all people with love and respect and always with an enormous smile across his face. Wiskensley was a small shy student, usually sitting alone under a tree with his books. Now, because of the Holy Spirit’s work in his life, Wiskensley is bold and direct with the gospel. These two young men became close friends while sitting under the training of Joshua, a local pastor who had completely overhauled his traditional church to be a training and sending center. Joshua had committed his life to a few disciples whom he trained to engage new areas with the gospel, disciple new believers, form simple churches, and equip new leaders from within them.
One day, while Joshua and his team were all praying over a map of Haiti, Renaldo and Wiskensley spoke up about a town in the south, Anse à Pitres, where they had some family living. “Can we go there and see what God will do?”
Joshua responded, “You do not need my permission. Jesus has already given you authority to go.” They laid hands on them and sent them off. With no formal training and no official church authority (two things that are deemed extremely important in Haitian culture), these two amateur disciple-makers, in the power of the Holy Spirit, travelled south with the hope of making disciples and forming a new church. Following the example of Luke 10, they went with no extra provisions and searched for a person of peace. They were unable to connect with the family members they had planned to see. Instead, they began sharing the gospel house-to-house, asking the Lord to lead them to God-prepared people.
After a few hours, they met a man in the street named Calixte. As they shared with him about the hope found only in Jesus, he received the gospel and gave his life to Christ. Renaldo and Wiskensley asked Calixte where he lived and he led them to his home. They entered the house, shared the gospel with his entire family and they all chose to follow Jesus that day and were immediately baptized.
Renaldo and Wiskensley remained there and spent the next four days with this family. They trained them how to share the gospel, how to obey the basic commands of Jesus, and how to gather as a simple church. They took the family out into the community and helped them share the gospel with their neighbors. During those four days, 50 people were baptized and they formed a new church in Calixte’s home. For several months, the two young men continued to return every few weeks and stayed for days at a time to help this new church grow in Christ. Eventually, the church appointed Calixte as their first elder and Renaldo and Wiskensley began to slowly transition out. They continued investing into Calixte as he led the church meeting in his home. This good news, that even gang members and people from the slums could find hope in Jesus and were welcome into the church, spread like a wildfire. As the news spread so did new churches. The new believers in Anse-à-Pitres continued to make disciples, trained others to make disciples, and multiplied into more than a dozen other house churches across their community. Three years later, through many persecutions, difficulties, victories, and joys, they are continuing to grow in obedience to Jesus and to multiply across southern Haiti and into the Dominican Republic.
I recount that story because it reminds me that the people Jesus used in the New Testament were regular everyday people. If you’ve ever attended a missionary commissioning service, you’ve likely heard Acts 13 read. The church in Antioch was praying and fasting when the Holy Spirit spoke to the Antioch church and said, “Send out Barnabas and Paul.” It’s almost a heroic moment, right? A young church sending out two of their best trained professional missionaries (that’s often the way we think of them). We love to talk about Acts 13 mobilization, but I wonder if we sometimes forget that Acts 13 was only possible because of Acts 11.
“Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Gentiles also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.” (Acts 11:19-21)
These people who “scattered” were ordinary followers of Jesus. The Apostles had stayed in Jerusalem, while the gospel launched out into the world through the amateur missionaries of Acts 8 and Acts 11. Some of these disciples who scattered found their way to Antioch, shared the news about Jesus, and started a new church. No professionals required. News reached Jerusalem and so they sent Barnabas to check things out. When he arrived, he rebuked them for not having permission from the proper authorities to form a church and accused them of starting a cult. Just kidding. Acts 11:23 tells us that when Barnabas arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was excited! He encouraged them to keep on doing what they were doing! The chapter ends with Barnabas going to find Saul, and the two of them spending a year with the church in Antioch. But the story doesn’t end there. Because of the Amateurs of Antioch, the gospel was now primed to move to the ends of the earth as Jesus had originally declared. This multi-ethnic community of believers became the hub of a cross-cultural missionary movement that literally changed the world.
Here’s my point. I believe we are finally coming to a tipping point in church history where we realize that our traditional methods of making disciples won’t do anymore. The church is declining while the population of the earth is rapidly multiplying. Something needed to change. So we went back to Scripture, committed ourselves to multiplication, and pursued church planting movements. However, we forgot to change our missionary paradigms along the way. We are still sending out professionals.
We have taken Jesus’ plan for reaching the world with the gospel and given the job to only a small percentage of His people who “feel called into full-time missions.” Most of our churches don’t know what to do with them, so we default to mission agencies. Our mission organizations serve as gatekeepers, narrowing the entry point down into a very finite model that over 99 percent of Jesus followers look at and say, “If that is missions, I don’t fit.” We take the ones who feel called and put them through a rigorous approval process. If we determine that they are qualified, we ask them to quit their jobs and go into “full-time fundraising.” During this deputation, the missionary will spend months writing letters, cold-calling churches, speaking at every potluck and Sunday school class that will have them, and carrying out a plethora of online fundraisers and yard sales. Eventually, when they are “fully funded” and have undergone extensive cross-cultural training, we will launch them out into the field. We give them cooler titles now too, like Strategy Coordinator or Movement Catalyst.
Through all of this, we make it increasingly more difficult for full-timers to get to the field and we create a larger and larger gap between clergy and laity and between missionary and mission field. So much so, that if and when we raise up indigenous leaders from within the field, we have modeled a type of “missionary” and “missionary sending” that is not reproducible or sustainable. . As one Haitian pastor once told me, “Oh, we could never do what you do.”
To be clear, I want to honor those in the past who have given their lives to further the gospel under our conventional mission models. However, I agree with Andrew Scott in his book Scatter when he wrote, “We do not honor the past by sticking in it; we honor the past by moving forward.” So I simply want to ask the question, “What would it look like if we amateurized missions?” What if every believer was allowed to be a full-time disciple of Jesus? I’m not advocating for a particular model, like Business As Missions or Marketplace Missions, nor do I have any one specific solution. Because the Holy Spirit is at work in all believers, there are many expressions of how we can all live this out through our individual giftings. How wonderful it would be to watch the church, not just in the West, but everywhere, get creative in mobilizing people to the ends of the earth. If full-time support-based professional missionaries was the exception and not the norm, I believe it would create space for millions more of God’s priesthood to get on the frontlines of Kingdom advancement. We could mobilize armies!
If we are going to finish the task our King gave us, it's going to take all of us. We need a mass movement of servants like Renaldo and Wiskensley, ordinary disciples who will count the cost and go. We need another Acts 11 scattering of God's people to the ends of the earth until there’s no place left.
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
“But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia.” (Galatians 1:15-17)
Jacob and his wife Keesha follow Jesus, make disciples, and multiply churches while world schooling their seven children. They call their small sustainable farm in Virginia home between travels and apostolic adventures.