Columnists > Voices

Small beginnings

What looks insignificant can end up changing the course of history

Issue: "Muddy Gras," March 4, 2006

The kingdom of heaven, Jesus said, is like a mustard seed. It's like a measure of yeast that works its way invisibly through the entire lump of dough. It's a treasure in a field, a priceless pearl, seed scattered on good soil and bad . . . huh?

Jesus' followers were dense about the kingdom. "Lord, are You about to restore the kingdom to Israel?" they asked-after His death and resurrection, after they finally understood the Messiah's mission as foretold by the prophets. One can imagine a sigh escaping from Him. Forget about times and seasons, He said. You are to focus on two things: First, wait for the Holy Spirit. Second, go be My witnesses.

We know what happened next: barriers knocked down, prophesies fulfilled, thousands drawn like fish in a net, ordinary men turning the world upside down. But one of the most thrilling passages in Acts-16:6-8-can only be read between the lines: "They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas."

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Turn to the back of your Bibles, class, and look at a map. "Asia" refers not to the continent, but to the western end of present-day Turkey. The other provinces likewise are in Turkey, a highly civilized region of the Roman Empire, where the gospel was going like gangbusters. Yet the attempts of Paul's team to reinforce the work there are thwarted. Stalled in the seacoast town of Troas, they meet a physician named Luke, who expresses a desire to accompany them. Well and good, but where to? Then Paul receives the vision.

As visions go, this one was pedestrian. No wheels with eyes, no cherubim in the heavenly temple, not even a blanket let down from the sky. Paul could have walked down the stairs and opened the door to see this one, except for one thing-the man he saw did not exist. Cornelius at least knew whom to pray to, but the restless souls in Macedonia were being prepared for a God yet unknown. Come and help us, was the message. It was enough for Paul: Boys, we have our marching orders. Silas, go down to the port and secure a ship. Timothy, pack some food, and don't forget the wine. Dr. Luke, could you take notes?

Wait, then go. Off they sailed, west not east: just north of the glory-that-was-Greece, in the shadow of the splendor-that-was-Rome. To Europe.

History takes up the story. The beachhead established at Lydia's prayer spot by the river held firm, the earthquake that shook the prison during the missionaries' impromptu song service reverberated through centuries, until even the most savage Celtic chief had knelt to confess Jesus as Lord. When Rome fell, the church was there to catch it. Then slowly, painfully to rebuild Western civilization upon the rock.

The Macedonian call was a mustard seed, a small measure of yeast that worked its way around the world. Even as Europe burns out and America sputters, the gospel blazes its way so far westward it comes east again. The highest concentration of Baptists anywhere in the world is in Nagaland, on the northeast border of . . . India. American missionaries Edward and Mary Clark were the first to reach, in 1872, this remote and mountainous region, formerly the domain of animists and headhunters. After a slow beginning the church in Nagaland experienced three major revivals from 1956 to 1977. Today, in spite of civil unrest sparked by Naga nationalists, 60 percent of its population confesses Christ. They waited a long time for the Spirit; now they are ready to go. The region has become a center of missionary activity, with eight seminaries, an annual missions conference, and young evangelists already preaching the gospel in Cambodia, Burundi, Thailand, Hong Kong. God only knows how far the Spirit will take them.

It's something to think about, while you're pausing at the door, reluctant to take that first step toward your neighbor's house: Never despise the day of small beginnings, or tiny seeds, or plain visions.

Janie B. Cheaney
Janie B. Cheaney

Janie lives in Missouri, is a columnist for WORLD, writes novels for young adults, and is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series. She also reviews books at Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.


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