Hi everyone, I was speaking with Ben over Skype the other day and we were talking about things that he has learned since moving to Croatia with his wife 9 months ago.  After he was sharing with me, I suggested that  he write a post for the missions blog in order to share with all of you what the Lord has been showing him – here it is. Ben and Emily have been sent out by C.C. Philadelphia. If you would like to help support what they are doing in Croatia, feel free to check out their blog at www.thespectors.wordpress.com, or just click HERE

“To give a little background on myself, my wife Emily, and I were recently married a little over a year ago, and we moved to Croatia this past September 2011. To us, it seemed a little crazy to get married young, then six months later move to a foreign country and establish our lives there. In the midst of it though, the door was remaining open and the Lord was providing for all of our needs. We first moved to Split, the second largest city in Croatia, to serve alongside another missionary couple who had been there for seven years. After seven months of serving in Split, we recently moved to Čakovec (Cha-ko-vets), a town in the North of Croatia, to serve alongside a fully functioning Croatian church. We need time to learn the language, culture, way of life, build a proper foundation, and obtain good tools, before we, Lord willing, move out to another area of the country to preach the gospel.

During our time in Croatia so far, and through this big, recent change, our eyes have been opened to some vital things that might seem simple, yet in practice have big implications. Carlos asked me to share some of my thoughts, and I thought I would split it up into two posts. The first, which I will cover today, is about discipleship, and the second is this: missions isn’t just building something, it’s investing in people.

In chapter 1:27 of his letter to Philippians, Paul encourages them, saying, “Only, let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ…” Then, later in chapter two, he encourages them regarding how they should live, and remarks, “…you shine as lights in the world…”

Shortly after I became a believer, I started to see my responsibility, as a follower of Christ, to disciple others. After all, this is what Jesus commanded his disciples to do in “The Great Commission” (Matt. 28:18-20). Recently though, certain aspects of discipleship are coming into focus that, prior to my arrival in Croatia, I did not see.

When we first moved to Croatia, we were automatically leaders in a small fellowship of about 6-8 people. Shortly after our arrival, there was a period of about three months in which I taught the Bible studies every week, while the couple we were serving with visited the States. As the one temporarily teaching these believers, they began look to my wife and I as examples. They observed how we lived our lives, not just the things we said. This immediately added to the urgency of thinking through the “how to’s” of discipleship. Previously, I was accustomed to the leaders in my home church doing “those sorts of things.” I would talk with co-workers about the Lord, go street witnessing, etc., but my thoughts regarding what I should do if someone were to put their faith in Christ, never went past bringing them to church. Part of my thinking was that I simply bring someone to church to listen to the Bible studies and meet some other people, hope they keep coming, and then my job was done. In Split, I was suddenly thrust into this place of responsibility to teach others God’s Word. Questions began to arise such as, “What if someone receives the Lord…where do I start? How do I disciple them? What does that look like in daily life? What are the basics that I need to take them through?” Amidst all these questions, one specific thing I learned, and still am learning is this: the way I live my life can either encourage others in their faith, or assist in thwarting their spiritual growth.

This means how I live or conduct myself, how well I know God’s Word, how I talk, how I spend my time, etc. can all reflect to other believers (especially a new believer), what being a Christian looks like. The model they see is the model they will follow. I cannot help Christ-like characteristics be produced in another’s life if they aren’t present in my own. Others have probably said this more eloquently than I, but a shepherd produces sheep that look like him. I am not saying that another’s growth is exclusively dependent on us; it’s God’s working in their heart. But, as Paul said, we “shine as lights in the world…” We are the product of God’s magnificent work of salvation, and therefore, we are the ones to properly showcase that salvation to others.

I know that these things may seem very basic, and I understood them previously, but it wasn’t until I moved to Croatia, that the reality truly set in. This is not America, with endless resources and opportunities for new believers. Here, there is no “Christian culture” for people to associate themselves or their new faith in Jesus with. On top of this, in missions, discipleship takes place either in English (their second language), or their dialect (your second language), all within a culture foreign to your own. By the Lord’s grace He chooses to use us in other people’s lives, even with these barriers, but the way that we live our lives bears a lot of weight. Despite the things that we say, our actions will either communicate authentic Christianity or a poor substitute for it. What will excite others over their faith and cause them to want to learn is when a good example is put in front of them (at least this is true for me).

My new understanding of this reality has been a challenge as I ask the Lord for help, and seek to live as an example to those around me. Praise God for His grace! Just like Paul said to Timothy, his own disciple and son in the faith, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” (1 Tim 4:12). Paul instructs Timothy to set an example, and to set that example through his actions. Personally, I am re-assessing and “taking inventory” of my life to see that it looks the way it should when it is put up against the convicting mirror of God’s Word. If my life isn’t bearing the fruits of the Holy Spirit and exhibiting Colossians 1:10, this not only affects me as the individual, but it can also detrimentally effect God’s people.

Do our lives show forth to others, believers and unbelievers, what living in the fullness of God’s grace looks like? Are we joyfully willing to live holy lives, first to be sanctified to our Lord, but also for the purpose of seeing others knowing Him in great measures? Can we, or are we striving towards a place where we, like Paul, can say, “…be imitators of me.” (1 Cor. 4:16) My hope is to encourage us to be living lives that are pleasing to God, immersed in His Word, so that we might be examples, equipped to make disciples who come to know Him in powerfully intimate ways”.

Stayed tuned for part 2!