Different, But the Same

In the 1930’s some young adults studying under the faithful professors at the Lutheran Bible Institute in Minneapolis were moved by the Holy Spirit to pray together for the regions of the world still unreached with the gospel, asking especially that the Lord of the harvest would send laborers into his harvest fields (Luke 10:2). I wasn’t there, of course, but I can imagine them gathering in a living room, a class room, or a church basement. They talked about the unreached and the call of God to commissioned living, and they embraced and practiced prayer as their “working method.” It wasn’t long before the praying turned to going and sending, and the World Mission Prayer League was formed.

Today, four or five generations later, another group of students is also being moved by the Holy Spirit to meet together and pray. As you can imagine, they’re quite different from those who began the Prayer League so many years ago, and yet they’re also the same. Due to the COVID crisis they couldn’t meet in a living room or church basement even if they wanted to. They’re meeting in a Zoom room online. And that’s a good thing because they’re not just from Minneapolis. Logging in from four different time zones, they attend a variety of schools and live in several different states and Canadian provinces. And yet, they, too, are moved by our Lord’s words in Luke 10:2 and Matthew 28:18,19. They, too, prize the voices of their elders, but also believe their understandings, passions and perspectives matter. They, too, though not many in number, are wondering together how and where God might be calling them. Each week they’re connecting with like-minded Christians their age, considering together how to respond to the Bible’s teaching on commissioned living, and praying for a specific group of those in the world who still have little or no access to the gospel. And I believe that each week they’re contributing a little bit more to what the sequel to World Mission Prayer League will be.

As I noted in last month’s Together in Prayer, we need to listen attentively to our “youngers” who share our commitment to the Lord’s Great Commission and to prayer. Some may wonder if they’re really mature and responsible enough to provide essential direction for the future of the work we share. Some might think them too “naive,” I suppose. Certainly, genuinely welcoming their input and participation will require some humility on our part. I recall reading an article not long ago wherein the author shared that “whether or not they should, young people often will say what’s on their minds and take adults to task for older generations’ perceived failings.” They are “imaginative and hopeful,” she explained, “and instead of saying, ‘It can’t be done…’ they ask again and again, ‘Why not?’ Some may call this naiveté, as if this word carries an inherently negative connotation. But I believe naiveté should be embraced as a virtue in a world in need of unprecedented transformation.” [Melissa Bonaccorso, Star-Ledger newspaper, September 27, 2019]

I believe wholeheartedly that our community and our mission require transformation more than continuation, and that may come only from those bold enough to dream and perhaps brusque enough to demand change. Such were the souls that the Holy Spirit gathered together in Minneapolis back in the 1930’s. Mildred Tengbom, speaking to the founding of WMPL in The Spirit of God was Moving, describes John Carlsen, who, in his early 30’s, was the oldest of the group and its organizer, as “impulsive, visionary, demonstrative and sometimes stubborn and difficult to work with.” His “big heart,” she wrote, “often carried him in a dozen different directions at once.” John and his wife Constance were to become among the very first harvest laborers sent by the Prayer League.

I am praying and believing that today God is gathering together young followers of Jesus who in many ways are much the same as those he inspired and guided some eighty years ago. I want us unashamedly to listen to and be led by those among them whom God has gifted to dream and to act. Indeed, they are different, and yet they are the same. That, my friends, is good, very good.

Also good are many of the rather significant differences, and I’m excited to share more about those with you in the near future. Between now and then, please pray for God to gather and speak, for these young adults to respond and dream, and for us to listen and learn.

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