What’s Not in the Nightly News
To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven. (Ecclesiastes 3:1 NKJV)
And your time is coming.
Paris. The man in the white fedora and pale linen suit might have just stepped from the set of Casablanca. “Bonsoir. May I join you?”
You look up, surprised.
It’s evening in Paris, cool and drizzly. You’re visiting an American couple who are keeping you hilariously entertained with their old save-the-world stories of helping restore the Gospel around the Mediterranean, and you don’t know anybody else in this town. That’s why it seems safe to be loud. Who cares that you’re lowbrow-chic? Like the other tourists, you’re all sipping espresso, safely ensconced under blue canvas awnings at the sidewalk tables of the Champs Elysée Häagen-Dazs. Here not even the French waiters will give you the boot for laughing too much.
The fifty-ish North African delicately doffs his hat and smiles through a trimmed gray beard. “So you’re the famous Michael and Sharon from America? I think I can tell you the rest of the story.”
You look over at Mike and Sharon, whose mouths hang half-open. You sputter, “I’m sorry we were getting loud; especially mentioning the Harratine ...”
The North African laughs. “No, you are fine. I did overhear, and I think I can tell you what happened to the smuggled plates.”
You suddenly realize you’re being rude. “Here, please do sit down.”
The man settles in, introduces himself, and, in fine Arab-style patience, sits in comfortable silence till a waiter takes his order for a bottle of Badois mineral water. Paris night traffic whizzes by in the light rain. Down near the Place de la Concorde a little white police car flips on its klaxon. You’re getting impatient to hear what he has to say, but—so very culturally sensitive—you sit and sip your coffee.
Finally he takes up the story. “The last you knew, the offset plates were smuggled off into thin air?”
Mike and Sharon nod at the same time. She says, “I don’t know if you’d heard ... We were loud, sorry. We flew in from Venice directly to Zatargat. Fifteen years ago.”
The man leans across the little table. “And that is where you worked to restore the abandoned Christian bookstore.” He notices Mike and Sharon’s guarded look. “Rest assured, I am a believer myself.”
Mike still looks concerned. “Frankly, we’ve been talking too much and too loudly about this. We don’t actually know you, sir.”
You realize how tricky it is to distinguish a true believer from an undercover religious policeman from a despotic regime; every form of spy from everywhere in the world is in Paris. Wheat or tare?
“I understand,” the man says. “So I will tell what I know. The bookstore had been closed because they began printing just a few Bibles and trying to sell them to the Harratine people up in the mountains. The government allowed the bookstore, but not distribution to the Harratine.”
He turns to you, since you’re the novice in all this. “The Harratine are a minority. One of the Berber peoples, numbering about one hundred forty thousand Muslims, they are very resistant to the Gospel. Also called Black Berbers or Black Maure. They’ve had a New Testament since the thirties, but the church has never taken hold. So unfortunately the bookshop was shut down. Then after several appeals it was allowed to reopen, but no printing Scripture in Harratine. That is when your friends here landed in Zatargat. Fifteen years ago.”
Mike apparently decides the man is legit. He says, “That’s right. I’m pulling apart broken workbenches in the back of the old bookstore, and lo, and behold, I uncover crates of offset metal plates. We quietly took one to the region’s Bible Society rep, and finally figured out they were the printing plates of a newly translated Harratine Bible—the illegal Bible. We freaked! We didn’t want to get the reopened bookstore in trouble, yet we wanted the Harratine to have the truth. We’ve always wondered if we did the right thing in obedience or if somebody lost their life because we tried to save the plates.”
The man says, “And so you went clandestine, yes? Contacted some of God’s smugglers who then spirited the plates out of the country—a quarter ton of metal! You did well, you two. We talk of you as heroes.”
Sharon blinks, recovers, and says, “Merci, monsieur. But we’ve been praying about what God would do with those plates ever since. Fifteen years of prayers.”
“You know God’s Word never returns void.”
“Yes, but what happened next?”
The man’s Badois arrives, and he makes a great show of pouring the water over the ice cubes. “They must think I am American,” he laughs. “No one uses ice cubes like the Americans.” He drinks, then settles back into remembering: “Yes, it is now almost fifteen years since your risky act of obedience in preserving the Word of God. The plates were successfully smuggled to Malaga; no one was harmed or apprehended. Finances were finally raised, and about five years ago the Bibles were printed in Spain on a massive press by the tens of thousands—much more cheaply and in far greater quantities than ever could have been printed in the little shop in Zatargat. It was as if God had planned much greater things for that Bible. A few years ago the Harratine began receiving the Bibles. Since then hundreds and hundreds, and then thousands of them have come to faith in Christ! The little offset press at the bookshop would never have been able to keep up with the demand. Isn’t that a wonderful ‘rest of the story’?”
“But,” you ask, “how did the Bibles get back into the country? You mean someone risked life and limb to smuggle them back in to the Harratine?”
The gentleman stands and, like a soldier, puts on his fine white hat. “Well, that,” he says, “was my job.”
You’re just an observer in that conversation, but you sense that it could easily have been you helping Mike and Sharon clean up that dusty bookshop fifteen years ago. And then you too would have watched how God expedited your obedience in His plan to print enough Bibles for what He knew was an upcoming spiritual breakthrough among the Harratine.
You. One of God’s global heroes—whether the setting is North Africa, Paris, or your hometown.
Today, at our point in history, God is orchestrating across the years and across the globe this kind of gutsy obedience among His followers. His plan for the twenty-first century pulses with true stories like this one as He seems to be initiating what many Christian world-watchers call the greatest revival and harvest the world has ever known.
Something’s happening. Something big.
And you have a part in it—even in the near future, between now and 2020.
How old will you be? Where will you be living? What will you be doing?
If you’re banking on being raptured by then, sitting with your harp in heaven, think again: Jesus might not have returned by then. The world might still be too much with us.
Imagine yourself in 2020. What life changes have you gone through? What’s going on in your culture? What kind of current events fill the news?
Looking back, you’ll see with 20/20 vision what has happened between now and then, what God has done in your life, and what He’s done across the world.
But right now, looking ahead to the year 2020 is like squinting through a glass darkly. Futurists with their long-view arts focus on three elements to try to see into the future: current reality, apparent trends, and, of course, the background that led us to this point in history. As believers in Jesus Christ, we can do the same.
In our amateur prognostications, the most solid leads we have about the future lie in our history—in His story. In 2020 Vision we’ll clarify the ancient clues in that story to better understand where we’re headed. We’ll also consider the trends of what God is doing in His ministry on earth. And we’ll see more clearly our current reality—what’s actually happening in the world. Plan to be energized by a fresh look at God’s Word, His work, and His world—all revealing the big cosmic picture of God’s unchangeable purpose for our span of life.
Maybe your heart is restless to be a part of that big picture. Maybe you’re restless to catch a new vision of exactly why you’re here at this point in history.
Think over the energy you’re throwing into life now—trying to be the best you can be, trying to keep your head above water financially, to be a better Christian, a better friend or family member, a better you. Why work so hard? Why ask so often for God’s blessing on your life?
If it’s to have a nicer, happier life, that’s not a bad goal. Especially since that’s what heaven will be—an easier, better existence. If that were God’s sole purpose for you right now He would simply take you home to heaven, right? But in the here-and-now, biblical discipleship is never described as nice or easy.
God does want to bless you. But not to make your life easy! He’ll bless you because He’s got a demanding role for you—a specific task, one that lays down rails to guide your major life decisions, to keep you from spinning your wheels in Christian self-improvement.
Go ahead: Break out of the Christian-culture idea that to join God’s family is to become part of a respectable, privileged group that attends lots of meetings. Being a follower of Jesus is more like being born into a bustling family business—a high-risk business with pressures, challenges, dangerous competition as well as profit-sharing, camaraderie, and job satisfaction. When you’re born into this family business everybody takes part in the Father’s work.
What, exactly, is the Father doing these days?
As any journalist knows, what makes the news is the exceptional, not the normal. But we hear a news story once, twice, three times—and we tend to think those exceptions illustrate what’s ordinary, what’s generally happening out there. The nightly news is sometimes a construct that warps the big picture of real life on planet Earth. Most often that warped picture subtly suggests the lie: In the chaos of this world God is losing. If we live and make decisions based on that lie, we’ll always be off in terms of understanding exactly where we fit and what the purpose of our time on Earth is.
If we want to be about our Father’s business, we won’t find out what He’s doing from the news. For example, a few items that don’t ever seem to be reported in your typical newspaper or media broadcast include:
An average of 3,500 new churches are opening every week worldwide. Thousands of ministries you’ve probably never heard of are diligently multiplying fellowships of new believers. For example: In 1991 Gregory and Galina Sukhyna planted the Church of Praise in Krivoy Rog, a colorless Ukrainian city infamous for violent crime and drug addiction. By June 2002 the church had started 33 other churches in the city, a three-year Bible school, a rehabilitation center, and a program to feed the poor. Then in the next two years the movement grew to 400 churches—with another 15 churches planted in Armenia, 45 in Central Asia (nine of them in jails), and others in Moldavia. Galina, a grandmother, has personally started 100 new churches with her team during that two-year period.
20/20 Vision by Bill & Amy Stearns
Copyright © 2005; ISBN 076420016X
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Unauthorized duplication prohibited.