As I continue to reflect on TGCW12, a weekend for which the adjective “satiated” seems woefully inadequate to describe the fullness of my soul, I can’t stop thinking of theological famine around the world. The same gospel that gives me a contented heart following such a theological feast compels me to think outside myself about the spiritual well-being of the entire household of God.
I am an Iraqi immigrant, a full-blooded Ninevean; even my spoken Arabic bears the distinct dialect of that northern Iraqi city. Although my father was Syriac Orthodox and my mother Chaldean Catholic, we didn’t receive even rudimentary exposure to the gospel or instruction to grow in the faith. I don’t remember whether we even owned a Bible when we lived in Iraq. The first Bible my father and I ever read together was one we received in Greece, given to us by evangelical missionaries in Thessaloniki who had shared the gospel with my father after we emigrated. These missionaries initially evangelized my parents in Arabic, knowing that was our mother language. Though they were Americans in Greece, they had Bibles and tracts on hand in many languages, and as my family gained fluency and acculturation in Greek, they provided us with Greek resources as well. Enlivened by this teaching and shepherding, my father spoke the gospel to me in a train station in Thessaloniki when I was 8 years old, using a little tract with the four spiritual laws translated into Greek.
So here I was an Iraqi, having nominally grown up within the Christian community in Iraq, with my first real spiritual feeding coming to me in the Greek language because foreign missionaries had brought with them printed resources translated into the local language. I thank God for these missionaries and their resources.
I have now lived in America for 33 years, and I have picked over our bountiful buffet of Christian resources for much of that time. My hunger for the gospel drives me relentlessly to the Word. In God’s good providence all I need to do is go to my bookshelf, or hop onto the WTS online bookstore, or pop some earbuds into my iPhone and listen to a lecture or sermon while doing the laundry and cleaning the house. But what about the relatively bare theological cupboards and pantries of not just church members but even church leaders in the Global South?
Jesus tells us, just as he told Peter the shepherd/elder, to feed his sheep. But how can shepherds/elders/leaders feed the sheep when they are not being fed themselves? False gospels can creep into the home and church, unsound or truncated doctrine can take root, and syncretism may set in. Imagine your spiritual well-being if you had no Bible or books, or if you had only the Bible but no one to train your mind for understanding of the Scriptures. We say the gospel is enough, the Bible is enough—-and we may be right—-but we’re speaking from the safety and abundance of the first world. Imagine how easy it would be to veer away and to fall into all manner of weak or false understanding of God’s Word out on your own, especially in cultures where local shamans can distort, pervert, and undermine the gospel.
We know God is sovereign over all things, including our maturity in the gospel once it has taken root. As we see in the Scriptures themselves, God works to grow his people through faithful, sound teaching. No book is more important than the Bible—-none. However, new believers need guidance in studying and understanding the Scriptures. The Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 is a call for discipleship. In discipling the nations we teach them to observe all that Jesus has commanded.
Thankfully, we live in an age where the written word can be produced, duplicated, and transported anywhere in the world at remarkably little expense. These resources can be used over and over again: unlike a potato or ear of corn, they are not consumed and gone. The Holy Spirit can use these resources to strengthen and grow whole communities, neighboring towns, and even subsequent generations. The global south certainly needs physical nourishment, but TGC International Outreach aims to bring to shepherds and sheep alike the food of God’s Word.
Consider opening your heart to the theological needs of people in other countries. Please take the time to learn about theological famine. And prayerfully consider supporting one of the relief projects.