Antioch's of Southeast Asia

By Rene Alvarado

In 1978 I was graduating from Blaine Elementary school and on my way to Lane Tech high School where a friend would introduce me to Billy Graham for the first time. While I was trying to figure out how to navigate my way to classes with a 4-minute pass, Billy Graham was having a crusade in Singapore that year prophesying that Singapore would be the “Antioch of Southeast Asia”.  A reference to the ancient city in modern-day Turkey that was a key apostolic base in the early days of the faith.

Here I am, 40 years later, working with Resource Global with a mission to encourage young professionals to develop their cities of Singapore, Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur into “Antioch’s”. Specifically, encouraging them that there is no difference between the sacred and the secular and that the marketplace is the key to fulfilling Dr. Graham’s prophesy.

Missions work is much different than the vision of missions I thought of when I chose to accept Christ as my savior sophomore year in college. I had heard of the Jim Elliot stories of missionaries’ who had traveled to unknown parts of the world to bring the gospel to peoples for the first time. The way I interpreted “taking up your cross” meant disconnecting with the western world and living off the fruits of the earth.   

Our trip to Southeast Asia was different. Instead of the jungle, I was meeting people in Board Rooms, Shared Office spaces, and cafes. Instead of traditional places of worship, I was worshipping with others in high rise community rooms and leased office spaces in professional buildings.

Instead of meeting with indigenous people who had never heard of the gospel, I was meeting with people who had graduate level education and corporate world experiences. People who had better command of the language than I had. People who had heard and followed many of the faith leaders that I follow and listen to back home.

This missions work is more of investing in God’s economy of multiplication where the investment is placed into instructing others who would then be “qualified to teach others”. This missions work is about discipleship, or what contemporaries call mentorship. It’s about investing in a co-hort: A group of Jesus followers who desire to apply those teachings in the marketplace.

A model that provides shared experiences much like the disciples had with each other.

This missions work includes the work of Mentors. Much like Eli helping Samuel decipher God’s voice in 1 Samuel, mentors are helping to re-train the mentees to hear and respond to the voice of God and His voice only. Instead of helping young disciples apply God’s truths at home, this mentoring is intentional about the field where these disciples spend most of their time and interact with others the most. The field for this new mission is the marketplace that offers a substitute for what are taught from scripture where identity, idolatry and meaning are the ploys of the evil one trying to pull God’s elect from connecting to the “true vine”.

This missions work is about relationships. The same relationship that God offers us in the midst of our suffering and joys. God favored relationships at every turn. Relationships with a Field Coordinator who is applying his/her gifts in administering the program at a local city. Relationships with mentors who volunteer their time getting to know and encourage the mentees. Relationships with co-hort members. Relationships with other co-hort groups throughout the world. Relationships with Board members who have graciously given their time, talent, treasures to develop and implement a vision for each city. And, relationships with church and faith leaders who are willing to provide the teaching form God’s word on it applies Monday through Friday.

It’s a mission that has a “heart for the city” where each co-hort member lives. A heart that cries out for the shalom and brokenness of the city. A heart that desires its city to be like Antioch. It’s mission work that is looking to make in impact from the inside out. From the places of work where most spend the majority of their waking hours. Cities where Jesus followers are a remnant. Cities where more trust seems to be given to the government and officials. Cites that claim Christ but were much integrity is needed. Where corruption is more of a business practice than integrity and honesty. Cities where  trust of government is broken and that brokenness has become the operational norm. Cities where westerners come and go with a message of Health and Wealth and leave the locals with the broken pieces left behind. Cities on hills, shorelines, mountain sides. Older cities. Man-made cities.

Cities that have a disparate level of wealth. Cities where indigenous people are favored and are still not able to compete. Cities that employ and emigrate other peoples to do menial work and labor. Where these same immigrants seek community and purpose in their lives and work.

Cities that look beautiful on the outside with great buildings, malls and public places. Cities where sites of cranes provide much hope for the future.

But .. cities like my home town that need to hear the good news of the gospel to provide redemption and restoration from its own brokenness. Cities that are waiting for a hero to reconcile itself to what was lost.  

This new mission field, like old ones, still needs the work of the only “true vine” that says “apart from me you can do nothing”.  I am not sure that this is the kind of missions work Mr. Graham had in mind but I can’t help but think it would have made his heart glad to see that his work continues past his time here on earth.

Rene Alvarado is an independent management consultant who has been a long-time friend of Resource Global and has helped visit multiple cities as we have looked to start our leadership cohorts.

Loving the City - ICON 2018

Psalm 107 portrays the gathering of displaced people into a city as an ideal.  “. . . and they founded a city where they could settle (v. 37).”  Displaced people are described as “finding no way to a city where they could settle (v. 4b).”

Jakarta has become a global city where over ten million people have found their refuge. The Chinese are among those who have settled in Jakarta.  This mega city in South East Asia on the island of Java has the highest number of overseas Chinese in Indonesia. ICON 2018 was a conference to promote the values and practices of “Loving the City” for an audience made up mostly of young ethnic Chinese.  Several other people groups were among the audience, but the majority were definitely the Chinese and, if history told it all, the Chinese would not have a reason to love Jakarta.  The article on “Chinese Indonesians” in Wikipedia, documents a history of discrimination and persecution against this group.  And yet, over 100 young (average age, 27), Chinese Indonesian professionals gathered on a Saturday in July to receive instruction and encouragement to love Jakarta.  Why?

Many of these professionals came to a personal faith in Jesus Christ while studying abroad and now desire to live out that faith in and through their lives.  But they have a problem, or a potential, depending on which angle one approaches the issue.  Their positions in the business world allow them to implement changes of scale larger than mere personal transformation. The potential of influence would be a problem if the conference did not specifically address this unique angle.  But the organizers have been tracking the needs among this audience for the last four years with excellent, on-the-ground data. Resource Global was able to challenge the audience on their level, and at the right point for their next step.  In education a timely challenge, that is truly a next step in ability and willingness is called, the Zone of Proximal Development.  Debriefing with several participants made it evident to me that ICON hit the Zone.

A business owner at my table decided to make himself accountable.  Mr. Steve Preston, the keynote speaker, a business leader and a former US housing secretary, mentioned that businesses could become deliberate in changing a neighborhood. “Why not cooperate with other businesses and deliberately place your next venture where the economic situation is dismal?”  That is exactly what this business owner heard and inquired about after the speech. What would the dynamics be if he placed his next manufacturing/assembly business in an accessible place to a population that was a need?  He promised he would pray about it and investigate the actions necessary to make the love of Jesus tangible in a neighborhood.

After all, these young professionals have committed themselves, at least forty of them, to implement whatever they learn from the Scriptures in their family businesses and work places and in their personal lives.  Icon 2018 gave them specifics on scaling their influence to not “take out of the city, like many others, but to give to the city” (challenge from Alex Evans, the pastor at The Collective.)

The theme for next year will bring the focus back to personal ethics and issues of integrity.  The organizers of ICON know how to dance between the Sermon on the Mount issues (Matthew 5, ethics) and the parable of the good and faithful steward in Matthew 25 (stewardship).  Icon is making disciples in Jakarta who can and want to change how Jesus’ love would be experienced in healthcare, education, politics, architecture, and more in a city where many migrate to (over 50% of the population is not from Jakarta).  It is crowded now, but open spaces are coming!

Dr. Julius Wong Loi Sing - thoughts from ICON 2018

Loving Your City

When you think about creation and God's original intent for mankind, what do you envision? Does your mind immediately fill with images of wide open spaces filled with beautiful creatures living in perfect harmony and free from the busyness, noise, and clutter that comes with urban living? It is easy to think of the Garden of Eden as the ideal dwelling place, but it is just as easy to forget that God's original mandate to man was to "be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it." In fact, as we look at Scripture, the Bible gives a very positive view of urban areas and even gives us a glimpse of the eternal future of all believers:  the Holy City, the new Jerusalem.

Cities have a dual nature:  the capacity for great good if they are God-exalting, or the capacity for tremendous evil if they are man-exalting. A God-exalting culture brings glory to God's name and is a means of serving God and neighbor, but a man-exalting culture results when something is done with the motivation of self-recognition. As we look back over mankind's history as it unfolds through Scripture's narrative, we see how this dual nature has played out in cities like Babel, Nineveh, Babylon, and the Roman Empire. Interestingly, the city is also a glimpse into God's redemptive story and one which should give us encouragement to love our city and to be excited about its tremendous potential as a mission field.

The city of Babel is an excellent example of what can happen when the potential good of a city is perverted. The inhabitants—who the Bible describes as resourceful, ambitious, driven, and hardworking...all good things—set out to build a city and a tower. But instead of using their talents to bring glory to God, the people sought to make a name for themselves and to avoid being scattered over the face of the earth. Their actions were in direct opposition to God's command to Noah and his sons that they "be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth." Their hearts were filled with pride, and their actions brought about God's judgment. As we read the Bible's account of the city of Babel, we are reminded that God will not let evil go unpunished; but we can also be encouraged that there is hope for our cities. When we recognize how the potential for good in our city has been perverted, we have the opportunity to step in and bring God's light to very dark places.

Nineveh, like Babel, was a city filled with people with evil intentions. In fact, Nineveh had built up quite a bad reputation among its neighbors. As we read the Bible's account, we are even told that Nineveh's evil had come up before God. But instead of intervening the way He did at Babel, or bringing swift destruction as He did with Sodom and Gomorrah, God gave the Ninevites a forty-day warning. It can be easy to look at the evil that is being done in our cities and wonder why God does not step in and act, but we forget that "our Lord's patience means salvation." The people of Nineveh believed God's message through the prophet Jonah and repented. They turned from their wicked ways, and God showed the city mercy. Throughout Israel's history, prophets had been raised up and sent to preach to God's people to call them to repentance, but Jonah was the first prophet sent to a pagan city. Jonah and Nineveh are a new phase in the unfolding story of God's redemptive mission. No matter how evil a city is, God wants everyone to have the opportunity to repent, which is why he is so patient with us.

As believers, we know that this place is not our home. I 1 Peter 2:11 Peter writes that “we are like aliens in a foreign land, eagerly awaiting our return to our heavenly dwelling.” But just as God told the Israelites through the prophet Jeremiah that they were to settle down and invest in the good of Babylon during their time as exiles, we too are to be contributors, not just consumers, in our places of residence. Hananiah, the false prophet, dishonestly prophesied that God would bring the Jewish nation back to Jerusalem within two years of being exiled in Babylon. Instead, the exile lasted seventy years. If the people had believed Hananiah, they would have remained disengaged in their new city, waiting day after day for God's imminent deliverance. But through Jeremiah, God reminded the people that He was the one who had placed them in Babylon, that this was His plan, and that He wanted them to pray for the city and seek its peace and prosperity, promising that if the city prospered, the Israelites too would prosper (Jeremiah 29:7). In the same way, we as believers may long for heaven, but we should not put our lives on hold simply because we prefer to be somewhere else. Instead, we must recognize that God has placed us in our city for a reason; it is His plan, and we are to make the most of our time here.

Have you ever considered why the early church grew so quickly and the gospel message spread so rapidly throughout the province of Asia? The believers' strategy was to evangelize the cities. Acts 17, 18, and 19 tell us that Paul made it a point to travel to Athens, the intellectual center of the Greco-Roman world, Corinth, the commercial center of the empire, and Ephesus, Rome's religious center. At the end of the book of Acts, Paul makes it to the empire's capital, Rome, the military and political center. Major cities are the unavoidable crossroads of societies and the place from which culture is influenced and ideas flow. As we consider our evangelism strategy, it should give us great encouragement as we think about the potential our cities have to reach entire nations!

From the time of David onward, the prophets spoke of a perfect urban society that was yet to come. We are told that the city of God, the new Jerusalem, will be "the joy of the whole earth." The Bible's narrative recounts the great spiritual conflict throughout history of the struggle between a society that is created for self-salvation, self-service, and self-glorification versus a society that is devoted to God's glory. This future city will be the culmination of that history. The new Jerusalem is the reason for our hope and why we strive to share the Good News with people. Our cities are temporary; God's city is eternal.

The final goal of Christ's redemptive work is not to return believers to a rural, Edenic world. From God's command in Genesis that man "be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it," to the new Jerusalem as described in Revelation, it is clear that God's intention for mankind is that we raise up cities that glorify him and be good stewards of the resources He has entrusted to us. Our work in our cities is vitally important, and we can take great comfort, just as the Israelites in exile did, that God, himself, has placed us here and that He has a plan.

It is a good thing for us to love our cities and it is a good thing for us to seek the wellbeing of our cities. God's heart longs for their repentance and redemption. Shouldn't ours?

Tommy Lee