{The Rev. Dr. Gemechis Buba of the North American Lutheran Church presented on the topic of “Our Mission Today and Tomorrow” at the recent International Conference on Confessional Leadership in Peachtree City, Ga. A transcript of his presentation follows.}

Dr. Gemechis Buba of the North American Lutheran Church

I would like to quote three people before I go into my presentation or my message. The first one is . . . I heard the word martyria and read the word martyria, or witness, for the first time when I was a seminary student in Ethiopia. That word was written on an article drafted and shared with the church in Ethiopia by the late Reverend Budina Tumsa, who was the general secretary of the Mekane Yesus Church. Reverend Budina Tumsa wrote the word martyria saying, “Our witness is both in life and in death,” and the word martyria is the original word for “witness” and at the same time, for the martyrs. Eventually he left this word, and in the Communist days, he gave his life for the witness and ministry of the Church.

The second person I would like to quote is when I was serving in the ELCA as Director for African Ministries. We were in great turmoil and trouble in 2009, and during those times President Harrison was interviewed on the radio, and the word that you spoke stuck with my spirit where you said, “We just have to confess our way through this storm.” “We have to confess our way through this turmoil and through this storm.” And that really stuck in my spirit. That is, for me, what confessional leadership is all about.

And the third person is our own Bishop, from the North American Lutheran Church, John Bradosky who always says, “Whether we believe it or not, whether we like it or not, we are a confessional church, and we need to confess Christ in this day boldly and confidently and constantly.” That is confessional leadership.  We are in those trying times. We are in those situations and in those moments where Christ requires of us to be a community that witnesses and confesses Christ boldly in the face of change.

The topic that was given to me says, “Our mission today and tomorrow.” I tried to describe it in such a way that our mission in the first century and our mission in the 21st century, and I named it, “The same mission and the same mission field.” So many people tried to say it is a different mission and it is a different mission field. It is the same.

“Mission in missiological discussions have evolved to a great exchange with the changing seasons and with the blowing wind of human civilization.” There are many churches and church leaders that are severely impacted and swayed by cultural shifts, paradigm change, worldview evolutions and social transformations of the world around us. These are all external shifts around us. The change has developed very, very strong muscle to the extent of shaking and moving even some unmovable institutions with dogma and doctrines and identities like the Church. These external shifts, the kind of internal/external rearrangement of the Church’s mission, is being described in many, many situations as “structured” flexibility. And some even quote it. Now we have to leave in this change within the Church with some catchy phrases such as “living together with bound conscience,” bound conscience to two different theological polarities. One is through the Scripture, and the other one is through the neighbor. Bound conscience.

I come from Ethiopia. In my country of origin, there is a saying that says, “If someone wants to buy everything and doesn’t know what they want to buy, don’t send them to the shop.” Dancing on the fence, on the fence or playing with a beast of fleshly temptation. Trying to make peace with the world and denying the existence of the devil in the name of doing mission is becoming the trend of the day. Theologians are devoting a great deal of time, energy and resources in coming up with catchy phrases and trendy phrases such as “structured flexibility,” “bound conscience,” this and that, in such a way that the Church would have a superficial unity on a foundation that does not exist.

Christian mission is precise. Christian mission is concise. Christian mission is clear. Christian mission is targeted. Christian mission is unique. And Christian mission is unchanging. Everything may change around us. Everything may be shifting, or at least may look like it is changing, but there is nothing new under heaven. Let me read a Scripture from the book of Ecc. 1:9: “What has been will be. What has been done will be done. And there is nothing new under heaven.”

In Christian mission, there is nothing new under the sun. There are many that are trying to reinvent Christian mission in the name of contextual realities. That is why many mainline denominations in North America, Europe, Asia, Latin America, including Africa, are going astray in the name of looking for a new message and new methods to carry out their new mission. That is what I call “revisionist missiology.” It is a global threat: “revisionist missiology.” It is a global threat that is growing and expanding like a wildfire around the world. It has been there since the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s. Now it is putting its final seal on the change and on the shift that it has been trying to achieve. It is succeeding in the Episcopalian Church, in the Lutheran Church, in the Presbyterian Church, in the western frontier, in Europe and in North America. And now it is exerting its power in Africa, Latin America and Asia, trying to put its final seal of approval of changing the Christian message and mission in the global Church. The last five to ten years, these gigantic votes and revolts in change and revisions that have been taking place in the Western Hemisphere are the next reality and the next phase for the other churches: “revisionist missiology.”

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday,today and forevermore. He was, He is and He will forever be sufficient for our salvation and for our redemption. He is the sole authority behind the mission of God’s saving power. Based on these promises, one can draw some points from the life of Jesus, and I will be reflecting on things from Matthew 9, one of my favorite verses when it comes to missions. This Jesus had a mission and routine, something that He liked to do repeatedly. I call it His mission and routine. In Matt. 9:35–38, we see Jesus doing His missional routine. You can catch it in seven small words. One: It says he was going from towns and villages, and He was moving. Going and going and going. Jesus did not have a central mission station. His mission station was the towns, the villages and the homes. He was moving.

The second one: Jesus was teaching. Jesus was a teacher. And Jesus was preaching. Jesus was healing.

Jesus was casting vision and leading.  And I will describe more in all that. But before speaking of the mission of Jesus in missiology, the first thing that God sends because the word mission is to be sent. The first thing that God sent into the world is His Word. In Genesis chapter 1, God created the heavens and the earth, and then the reality described was four words: it was formless, it was empty, it was dark and it was deep. What does that describe to us today? Formless, empty, dark and deep. That was a pre-human creation reality. That was the reality of human form. That was the reality of Babylonian rebellion. That was the reality of Israelites under the captivity of Egypt and under the captivity of Babylonia. That was the reality of humanity when Christ was in mission and in the apostolic age. That was the reality of humanity during the 1,000 Dark Ages. And that was the reality of humanity and modernity and more crystal clear in post-modernity. Formless today. Empty. Dark and deep. That is human circumstance. That is reality that is facing us today. How did God deal with it?

The Bible says the Spirit of God was hovering over all this. That is why Jesus said, “The Spirit is ready,” but waiting for one thing—the Word, the Logos, the Rehma—to be spoken.  “And God said, ‘Let there be light.’” The Word of God came. And the Spirit of God struck that darkness off the planet. What do we have today? The Word. Is the Spirit ready? Absolutely! Is the world formless, dark, empty and deep? Absolutely. So what is our responsibility? Speak the Word! Let there be Light! It is not a negotiation. It is not a plea. It is not begging. It is a Word of authority in the world. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, North American Lutheran Church, Mekane Yesus, churches from the East, from the West, from the North and from the South, Africa or Asia, altogether commit to stand up and speak the Word. That is our mission: Speak the Word.

That Word became flesh in John 1:14. That Word became not a missionary, but continued the mission of God. Mission is not the duty of Christ. It is the identity of Christ. He did His missional routine in those ups and downs, up and down through Judea to Galilee. He was doing His missional routine, which was the office of visiting and teaching. One thing that the LCMS is known for in the circles that I know is the quality and integrity of the office of teaching. I am extremely thankful in my own context that about seven or eight PhD students graduated. If your students graduated from Fort Wayne, it was a phenomenon for us. It has to even multiply more because revisionist seminaries are working so hard and so fast in producing revisionist theologians for Asia, Africa and Latin America, to export, distort and corrupt the mission of Jesus Christ around the world. How can we stop that? How can we change that? How can we pre-empt that? How can we get ahead of that?

We have to move every institution that we have in orthodox churches, such as the LCMS, to produce more and more biblical, theological scholars so that we can go out and produce and teach and keep confessional and biblical integrity around the world. I would think that would be a major, major missional duty and responsibility for your church.

Jesus was doing His missional routine constantly. After doing His missional routine, in the middle of His daily teaching, preaching, healing, visiting and touching and comforting and having dinner in people’s homes, Jesus did one thing: He looked. He broke out of His routine to look at the crowds! And the Bible says, “He saw a crowd.”

Leadership is what we have been talking about. In the New Testament, Jesus said one extremely important thing about leadership. One. And this is what He said: “If a blind (man) leads a blind (man), both of them will go into a ditch.” For Jesus, leadership is vision. Leaders see. Leaders look. The difference between Saul and David as two different leaders is a difference of vision. Both of them faced the same challenge and the name of the challenge was Goliath. Both of them were looking at that. For Saul, Goliath was a scary challenge. But for David, it was an opportunity to reveal the power of God.

What do you see today? One billion unbelievers in India. One billion in China. The entire Middle East. The entire North Africa. Secular Europe. Secular United States.  This gigantic four-plus billion people around the world without the Gospel of Jesus Christ . . . what do you see? When you see that Goliath, do you see a scary challenge or do you see a great opportunity? That is the difference between David and Saul. That was a question to the priest from Anatoth by the name of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah. God asked him a question, “What do you see?”

Brothers and sisters in this room, respected leaders, bishops, archbishops, theologians, what do you see every day? Are you depressed, stressed and tired by looking at the statistics that are always shifting, the challenge that is always growing, the muscle that is being developed against the Church? Do you see a challenge, or do you see an opportunity? Do you have your five stones in your pocket?  Are you willing to speak the Word and to throw the stone, just like David, so that the glory of God may be revealed? What do you see? Jesus saw the crowd. And then the Bible says He had compassion for them. Vision plus compassion, [and] you have mission. No compassion, no mission. Compassion connects your soul to the soul of your mission field.

Jesus had compassion because the people He saw had three problems. The first one was they were harassed.  They were harassed. Why were they harassed? Who is harassing their soul? Let me tell you: Satan is loose. Luther was very crystal clear in saying the satanic fall. There is something by the name the devil— Satan, evil spirits, Diablos, Lucifer— that spirit is still working. Go and read Ephesians 2. In the life of every unbeliever, people are harassed day and night. I have a small television ministry three days a week, broadcasting out of London from satellite into Africa, all the way covering the Middle East, North Africa and the entire sub-Saharan Africa. And on that television ministry, we just started something as a sample for the first time. We said we would put three telephone numbers under the screen and invite people to call for prayer. Ahhh! Ohhhh! The number of people hungry for prayer! People are harassed in their homes, in hospitals, in prison, on the street side, in refugee camps, in the Middle East, in South Africa. Everywhere you go, there are people hungry for what we have! Hungry for what we have, hungry for the touch and the visit of the Holy Spirit. Jesus looked at them because they were harassed.

Second, they were helpless. Who is the greatest helper in the New Testament? The Holy Spirit! The Holy Spirit. Life without the Holy Spirit is easily described as a helpless life. That is why Jesus gave us a command in Acts 1:4 that says, “Do not leave Jerusalem unless you are covered by the power of the Holy Spirit.” It was not a suggestion. The New Testament Acts 1:4 says, “He gave them a command.” That is a stout, deep, critical [command], allowing the power of the Holy Spirit to lead, to comfort, to strengthen, to inspire, to guide, to illumine, to encourage, to chastise, to rebuke, to admonish, to guide our life. May the Holy Spirit be loose in the Church of Jesus Christ in the 21st century.

“And they were like a sheep without a shepherd.” Ahhh. Jesus, in John 21, over and over and over speaks to Peter, “My sheep. Take care of My sheep.  Take care of My sheep.  Take care of My sheep.” We have to restore a compassionate heart and a passion for the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the pastoral office in the 21st century.

Institutions and seminaries and churches should not only produce and manufacture theologians, but compassionate pastors, pastors who love their sheep. I once asked . . . there was an election in the Mekane Yesus Church. I once asked Dr. Dubela, one of our theologians, I asked him what is the requirement of election for president in the Mekane Yesus Church? He said, “A shepherd that is willing to lay his life down for the sheep.” Period. Do you love the people that you lead to the extent of laying down your life for them?

Our late general secretary Budina Tumsa was begged by President Niereri of Tanzania to leave the Communist Ethiopia. He even sent in his private jet to Addis Ababa to airlift him out of a Communist junta in Ethiopia. But Budina Tumsa said, “I will never leave my sheep. I will die with them.” And in a few days, he was taken into a dark room, and he was hanged and killed. That day Africa lost a great theologian and a prophet. Restoring that compassionate heart in the pastoral leadership, in the confessional leadership. Confessional and compassionate. Loving the people that you lead, loving the sheep of Jesus. Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love Me?” Peter said, “Yes.” “Take care of My sheep. Live for them.” And then Jesus was very clear. After having this conversation with His disciples, He looked at the sheep and framed the missiological reality of the first century, which is exactly the missiological reality of the 21st century. He said, “The harvest is plentiful; the workers are few.” I would bet anything to ask all of you as church leaders . . . I am sure none of you will stand up and say, “The harvest is few, and the workers are plenty.” All of you would frame your missiological reality with words exactly like Jesus. “I have an abundance . . . “ The missiological harvest field in the United States, in Bangladesh, in Lithuania, in Ethiopia, in Nigeria, from wherever you came from, you have the same missiological reality. That is why I said the same mission, the same mission field. The harvest is plentiful. The workers are few.

So, what shall we do? What shall we do? That is the question. I have changed cities since I have come to the United States. I have lived in Atlanta, in Philadelphia, in Chicago and now in Columbus. Every time we change cities for life, we are always having a challenge in finding places and directions. My wife and I ride in the same car, and I am usually the driver and I get lost. And I don’t like to do what you all men don’t like to do, which is ask directions. And my wife says, “Why are we spending all this time?” And then I say, “What shall we do?” “Ask!”

Ask. Church of Jesus Christ, don’t try to figure out mission and strategies and plans. Ask! Be on your knees. Let us be a praying church one more time. Jesus never outsourced missional leadership to anyone. It is in the hand of the Holy Spirit. There is no guru. There is no missiologist. There is no bishop or archbishop or pope or president or missional expert who knows how to do mission. The master plan of mission . .. the designer and the leader, His name is the Holy Spirit of God. That is why Jesus said, “Ask! Pray!” Pray, brothers and sisters, pray.

My Jesus spent most of His days praying. Isolated places. Mountaintops. Gardens. People’s homes. Upper rooms. Lower rooms. He was praying. Asking God. A church that prays will be powerful. A church that does not pray will be powerless! It is as simple as that. That is why Jesus said, “In the face of a very well-framed missiological reality, where the workers are few and the harvest is plentiful, your solution is to pray.”

There is a difference between Lutherans and Pentecostals. That difference is [that] we Lutherans are very strong in the Fourth Article of the Augsburg Confession, where we say, “Salvation by grace through faith alone!” There is no negotiation on that. That is our identity, our foundation, our salvation, our trademark. That is what we proclaim. But when we go out into the mission field, we think that mission is by muscle and not by grace. The same grace that saves us is the same grace that works out mission. As we rely on the grace of God for our salvation, we also have to rely on the grace of God for mission. Pentecostals preach works salvation. You have to do this. You have to keep this law. You have to keep the regulation. But when they go out into the mission field they say, “We rely on the Holy Spirit.” There is some inconsistency. Lutherans, we have to be consistent with our theology of salvation and theology of mission, relying on the power of God’s grace and a prayer-centered life.

Finally, Jesus framed it, and He says, “Ask the Lord of the harvest.” Jesus is the Lord in the Middle East, in North Africa, in Asia and wherever there are Christians and non-Christians. He is the Lord. Not only the Lord, He says He owns the harvest field. And He sends us into that harvest field. It is the same mission. And it is the same mission field. Why? God is still the Lord of the harvest.

Number two: The harvest is still plentiful. The same.

Number three: The workers are still few.

Number four: The message is still the same. First century or 21st century, the message is still the same: Law and Gospel. Repentance and forgiveness. Confession and absolution. The same message. The method is still the same: Word and deed.

Then what is new? Nothing. We are just trying to make, “Ohhh. The first-century people had it easy.  We are facing an insurmountable challenge that has never been tried before.” The challenge in the first century and the challenge of the 21st century is the same. The difference is the first-century apostles were absolutely dependent upon the power of the Holy Spirit. They were praying people. They preached the Gospel fearlessly. They were willing to lay their life, and they were sacrificial. They were doing it as they learned it from Jesus.

In the 21st-century, the Church is a different mode. But now, we are in a different situation. Look at this room. United States is not sitting in this room planning to send missionaries to Africa. African bishops are here now. It is not the 18th century, the 16th century, where we say there is light on this side and there is darkness on the other side. There is light everywhere: light in Asia, light in Africa, light in the Middle East, light in North Africa, light in North America, light in Europe. It is a different situation. We have become global. We are all in this room as children of God.

It is a different time. It is a different season. We are a different people. Lithuania spoke to us yesterday. Kenya spoke to us yesterday. Korea spoke to us yesterday. America spoke to us yesterday. Germany spoke to us yesterday from the same pulpit, from the same platform. We are in a different global situation. We are positioned. We are blessed. We are empowered. Let us do one thing: Let’s have a clear vision. Let us sit at the crouch. Let us acknowledge that the world in which we live is formless, is empty, is dark and is deep. Let us acknowledge that there is a Holy Spirit ready and hovering, always ready to go, waiting for us.  For me and for you, to open our mouth boldly and confidently to say, “Let there be Light in the middle of darkness.” Speak the Word of God fearlessly, and that is our mission.

The mission is the same. The mission field is the same. Now, let us get out and make the difference by speaking the Word faithfully, confidently and boldly in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Thank you very much.