BEFORE he ascended to heaven, Jesus told his disciples: “You will be witnesses of me . . . to the most distant part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) How was it possible for the early Christians to meet that challenge?
Martin Goodman, professor at Oxford University, observes that the “sense of mission set Christians apart from other religious groups, including Jews, in the early Roman empire.” Jesus had traveled from place to place to carry out his ministry. Following his example, true Christians would have understood that spreading “the good news of the Kingdom of God” would involve finding people who desired to know Bible truth. (Luke 4:43) This is one of the reasons why the first-century Christian congregation had “apostles,” a term that literally refers to those sent forth, envoys. (Mark 3:14) Jesus commanded his followers: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of people of all the nations.”
We do not have any of the 12 apostles of Jesus with us on earth today, but many servants of Jehovah manifest a missionary spirit. To the invitation to expand their preaching work, they respond: “Here I am! Send me!” (Isa. 6:8) Some, such as thousands of graduates of Gilead School, have moved to faraway lands. Others have moved to a different area of their native country. Many have learned a new language in order to be part of congregations and groups looking after the needs of those speaking that language. These brothers and sisters who move to where there is a particular need or who learn a new language may not have had the most favorable circumstances and may not have had an easy time. They needed a spirit of self-sacrifice to manifest their love for Jehovah and for their neighbor. Having calculated the cost, they gave of themselves to help. (Luke 14:28-30) Brothers and sisters taking such steps are filling a real need.
However, circumstances differ. Not every Witness is in a position to move to where the need is greater or to take up a new language. So can we show a missionary spirit even in our own congregation?
BE A MISSIONARY IN YOUR CONGREGATION
First-century Christians had an evident missionary spirit, but it is likely that most of them stayed in their hometown. Still, the exhortation that was given to Timothy was as valid for them as it is for all of God’s servants: “Do the work of an evangelizer, fully accomplish your ministry.” (2 Tim. 4:5) The command to preach the Kingdom message and to make disciples applies to all Christians wherever they are. Moreover, many aspects of missionary work can be applied in our home congregation.
For example, a missionary in a foreign land has to adapt to new circumstances. Many things are very different in his or her new assignment. What about us if we cannot move to where the need is greater? Should we conclude that we know everything about our congregation’s territory? Or could we try to find innovative ways to reach people? For example, in 1940, brothers were encouraged to schedule a day each week to do street witnessing. Is that something that you can have a share in doing? Or what about the initiative to use literature display carts? The point is: Have you personally considered such ways of presenting the good news, ways that may be new to you?
Having a positive attitude will help us to be zealous and enthusiastic for the ministry. In many cases, those who make themselves available to move to where the need is greater or to serve in another language field are very qualified publishers. Thus they can be a blessing to many, such as when they take the lead in the field ministry. Moreover, missionaries often take the lead in the congregation arrangements until qualified local brothers are available. If you are a baptized male Witness, are you “reaching out,” being willing to serve fellow believers in your congregation?
BECOME “A STRENGTHENING AID”
In addition to participating zealously in the field ministry and being available to take on responsibilities in the congregation, there are other areas in which we can help our congregation. Anybody
To be of help to our fellow believers, we need to get to know them well. The Bible exhorts us to “consider one another” when we meet together. (Heb. 10:24) These words suggest that while we do not pry into other people’s affairs, we should seek to know and understand our brothers and their needs. Those needs may be of a practical, emotional, or spiritual nature. Helping fellow believers is not the responsibility of just the elders and ministerial servants. True, there may be occasions when it would be particularly appropriate for one of those brothers to provide assistance. (Gal. 6:1) Yet, all of us may be able to assist elderly brothers and sisters, or entire families, who are facing problems.
For instance, when Salvatore experienced a financial crisis that made it necessary for him to sell his business, his home, and many of the family’s belongings, he wondered how his family could cope. Another family in the congregation saw the need. They provided financial assistance, helped both Salvatore and his wife to find work, and spent many evenings listening to and encouraging the whole family. A friendship was forged that has lasted many years. Despite the real anxiety that marked the earlier period, both families can now look back with happy memories on the time they spent together.
For true Christians, religion is not something private. As demonstrated by Jesus, we need to let everyone know about the wonderful Bible promises. Whether we are in a position to move or not, we can do our best to work what is good toward all. And we certainly can do so in the congregation where we are already serving. (Gal. 6:10) By doing this, we will experience the joy of giving and will be helped to “go on bearing fruit in every good work.”