Nine years ago I was nearing the end of my time at university and considering what I wanted to do next. After a couple of short-term trips to Kenya I was very interested in returning to East Africa longer-term, and felt that Bible translation may be a good way to indirectly use the maths skills that I had learnt as part of my degree.

As I considered joining Wycliffe, I had the option of either doing so immediately after leaving university, or working in the UK for a year or two first. As I thought and prayed about this decision I became more aware of what I considered to be the urgency of Bible translation for people who currently have no access to the Bible, so decided to join Wycliffe as soon as I could.

Nine years later I am happy that I made a good decision (for one thing I probably wouldn’t have met Laura otherwise!), but I think I would see things differently now.  Over the past few years I have become less convinced that God is in a hurry, and more convinced that he is much more concerned that we do things that are consistent with his character and his kingdom.

Last week I read through Simon Cozens’ excellent critique of the “unreached people groups” approach to mission, which is essentially a strategy for “reaching” the whole world with the good news about Jesus as quickly and efficiently as possible. It is an extremely pragmatic, business-oriented approach to mission.

Simon explains why he believes this approach to be flawed from various angles, particularly in relation to the way God works and the way he involves his church in his mission. I would encourage you to read the whole article, but one line really stuck in my mind, where he was quoting the idea of Kosuke Koyama that

God moves at three miles an hour because walking pace is the pace of love.

The more I think about this the more I think it is true of God. He is more concerned about loving and relating to people than he is about achieving goals quickly. He allowed thousands of years to pass before he sent Jesus into the world, and when he arrived Jesus wasn’t in a panicked rush to achieve everything that he came for. There were even times when people died because Jesus was “distracted” by others along the way and didn’t reach them in time. Jesus moved at walking pace because that was the pace of the people around him, and because he had complete confidence that if he was obedient to the father that God was more than able to achieve his goals, even if it meant raising people from the dead.

Eight years after I joined Wycliffe I am starting to learn that God often moves at walking pace, because that is the pace of love. As we have recently moved closer to the centre of town, Laura and I are enjoying walking around the neighbourhood more, and even walking to places where we would normally drive. I am starting to realise how much we can miss out on what God is wanting to do in us and through us when we zoom from one place to another in our (metaphorical and literal) cars, rather than taking an hour or two to walk from one place to the next, taking in the sights, sounds and smells of life, and allowing ourselves to be distracted by the people along the way.

As we have been preparing to go to Tanzania over the past few years it certainly feels like things have been moving at walking pace. We originally planned to leave in January 2008, and our hope finally seems to be coming to fruition in January 2012. As we look back we can see that God has taught us a huge amount in those four years of waiting, not least that when we finally live in Tanzania we shouldn’t be so focused on urgency and goals that we forget to walk at three miles an hour.

Men standing by car

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  2. Ed Lauber says:

    Nice blog. One of the things about the reaction to Vision 2025 is that Westerners pick out the urgency angle and forget that the statement talks about sustainability, capacity building and other stuff. Urgency really is part of my home culture. I don’t particularly like “three miles and hour” either. Discerning the times and seasons is the Biblical approach running through both the wisdom literature and the Gospels. I think that there is a time to hurry – a time for urgency. It is just just not all the time.

    • Mark says:

      Thanks for commenting Ed. I definitely agree with you that as Westerners we can easily be drawn to the urgency side of Vision 2025 and ignore the values, priorities and ways of working that are key to the vision. Yes, there is a time for everything, and like you say discernment is vital if we are to truly join in with what God is doing and not just go off on our own mission.

  3. Ed Lauber says:

    Cozens makes some good points, but there is a lot to do for his blog to be a really thorough analysis. Take his section “People group theory does not take God’s calling seriously”. He tells a great story about a student who felt put down because Spain, where he felt called, was classified as “reached” by somebody. I have had exactly the same response from people when I said that we need to put more focus on training Africans. “Oh, you don’t need me”, is the response. So this thing of being put down by an attempt to set priorities is much, much deeper and bigger than UPG theory. Somehow, our culture tells us that macro trends, facts about the macro situation and conclusions drawn from those (UPG or not) are directly applicable to my “micro” situation. UPG theory, facts about unreached and bibleless people, the changing shape of the missions workforce, etc do not constitute a personal call to anybody. These things are all facts we should get before God about in order to turn them into his information for us personally and the groups we missionaries work in. To treat them otherwise is to allow them to put the “fear of man” in our hearts. Cozens see the problem and mistakenly ascribes it to UPG theory. I could go on …

    • Mark says:

      I think in this example Simon is criticising the way UPG theory is used by some to judge the relative value or even validity of work in various places, which I would say is a fair point. I don’t think Simon is against researching areas and ethnic groups that have had little exposure to the gospel in order to inform decision makers, but rather the way that in some cases UPG theory can be seen as the overarching narrative of mission, having the ultimate say in mission strategy and decisions.

      I would encourage you to comment on Simon’s post however, and to see what he would say…

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