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We don’t go alone

After 11 years serving in Mexico, CMS missionaries Peter & Sarah Sholl have recently returned to Australia for Final Home Assignment. Peter reflects on the great joy of going in fellowship with others.

For years the image I had in my mind of the apostle Paul was of some sort of gospel lone ranger. Travelling along dusty roads and riding leaky boats by himself, preaching to hostile crowds in synagogues and town squares, then bedding down in a quiet corner (or jail) before heading off to the next town to repeat the pattern. Perhaps this image came from the wavy line drawings of the Good News Bible of my childhood, but—like many images we have in our mind—it bore little resemblance to reality.

The reality is that although Paul was an itinerant preacher, he was constantly in the company of others and was part of a wider fellowship. Barnabas, Luke, Silas, Timothy, and Apollos are names that come to mind when we think of Paul’s ministry companions in Acts. Romans 16, 1 Corinthians 16, Colossians 4 and Titus 3 contain lists of names of men and women who Paul identifies as faithful co-workers, companions, fellow-workers and servants in the work of the Lord. His letters are full of thankfulness and confidence in believers scattered across the region, and his deep concern for their ongoing faithful service of the Lord is evident in his prayers for them. He doesn’t consider himself a lone ranger, but rather a partner with a fellowship of believers.

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. (Philippians 1:3-5)

Serving in partnership

For the last 11 years I have been living in Mexico, serving as the director of MOCLAM. Together with the MOCLAM team, we have been offering theological education courses by distance across the Spanish-speaking world. That chapter of my ministry is coming to an end now, as we have returned to Australia for Final Home Assignment, but as I reflect on the last 11 years, the partnership and fellowship that Paul expresses in his letters echoes in my mind.

There has been an itinerant aspect to my ministry, as I have travelled to different parts of Central and South America, and to Spain, to teach courses in various different contexts. My battered suitcase and dog-eared passport bear witness to many hours sitting on planes, standing in immigration lines and sleeping in different beds. But in this context of usually solo travel, I haven’t been some sort of theological education lone ranger. Quite the opposite! I have been blessed to be in partnership with a long list of faithful believers in the Spanish-speaking world and in Australia.

Growing together

For 11 years I have enjoyed and benefited from the insights, wisdom, and hospitality of my Spanish-speaking brothers and sisters. As I have taught them and been taught by them, together we have grown in our understanding of the Bible and what it means to be his people. In the last few months I have received farewell messages from people all over the globe thanking me for my teaching and service, but there is no doubt in my mind that the fellowship I have enjoyed with these brothers and sisters has shaped me too. It is a wonderful blessing to be a co-worker in the Lord.

I am also deeply aware of the fellowship that I continue to enjoy with partners through CMS Australia. As God has grown the MOCLAM ministry over the last 11 years, the prayers, the communication and the support we have received has been invaluable. From one-line ‘we prayed for you at church yesterday’ messages, to longer emails engaging with the prayer letters we have sent out, and in-depth conversations during Home Assignment, the CMS fellowship is a real and wonderful expression of the ‘co-worker-ness’ in the Lord that Paul talks about.

[Paul] doesn’t consider himself a lone ranger, but rather a partner with a fellowship of believers.

Going together

From time to time I have a conversation with someone who is thinking of becoming a missionary. Every time I share with them the importance of partnership with supporters back at home, and the wonderful culture of gospel partnership which is part of CMS. The clear priority of gospel proclamation to see a world that knows Jesus unifies the partnership at an organisational, church and individual level.

If you are part of that partnership culture, thank you. Keep up the great work as a fellow worker in the Lord. Your support keeps people like me on location and means we can carry on the gospel work we are involved in without the stress of where the next dollar will come from. Your care encourages us to keep going and energises us when we are on home assignment. Your prayers bring our work and our personal joys and struggles before the Lord.

If moving to a new location to serve cross culturally is on your radar, then consider carefully the value of partnership. As missionaries we are not sent to be lone rangers, but rather fellow workers with others in the Lord. You might be the one who ends up going, but there are a multitude of faithful servants who will pray for you, care for you and support you.

CARE

It is such a joy to partner with CMS missionaries—whether on location, preparing to go or those who have now returned to Australia. Take a few moments now to pray for and encourage a fellow gospel worker in the Lord via text message or email.