Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” Acts 8:26-29
About 5 years ago, my church got a phone call from Catholic Charities about 40 or so refugees from Burma whom they were helping to relocate into our city. Our church had been an emergency shelter during Katrina and I suppose that helped put us on Catholic Charities’ call list. “Sure, we can help!” After all, providing this small group of dear people with some much-needed help as they acclimate to their new home here in San Antonio would not exactly tax our church’s human resources. But, rest assured, this was not a ministry we had identified in our strategic planning process. This demographic was nowhere on our radar screen. There was no grand plan for this ministry at all. All we had was a sense that God had used Catholic Charities to place this opportunity before us, so we said “yes”.
To me, it seems similar to this passage from Acts 8 about Philip. We are not privy to very much of the “planning meetings” by the Apostles or by the other leadership of the early church…we do not know what kinds of ministries they had put into place that were aimed at the spread of the church in the face of serious oppression and persecution. But I am pretty certain none of them had identified Ethiopian eunuchs as one of the demographics for their next outreach effort, nor had they likely identified the desert road to Gaza as their next territory to claim for Christ.
But are there not times in the life of His church when God places totally unplanned opportunities before us? Are there not circumstances through which God issues an unmistakable calling to a place or to a people group or to a human need which none of us saw coming? And if you say, “Yes, Blake, that surely does happen” then the next important question is this: how can we best posture ourselves to be able to move when God calls? Now THAT is a question that should keep us all up at night as church leaders!
Oh, and that ministry to Burma refugees I spoke about? We started a whole new worship service at our church for them (in their various languages)…and then started another one (turns out there are actually several language groups represented among them)…and those refugees are now numbering between 400 and 500…and are expected to grow to over 700 in the next couple of years. This amazing ministry has nothing whatsoever to do with amazing planning on our part. It has everything to do with listening to the Lord and saying “Yes!” when we hear Him. From the beginning, it has been all about seeing Him at work and then running and trying to catch up!
Philip would be proud, I think.