Letting God lead us forward

Lawrence Tong, International Director | International

OM is known for action, not reflection--for pioneering, not reminiscing. Still, we are wise to celebrate milestones and learn from our past, whatever will serve us well for today and tomorrow.

God alone deserves the glory for OM’s story. Despite the founding generation’s inexperience, God laid a solid foundation of ideals and principles that have withstood great testing:

  • OM’s passion has always been to mobilise ‘ordinary’ people into mission. Short- and long-term programmes made it possible for people from all backgrounds to serve together.
  • Leaders were passionate in training people and releasing them to serve in or start other ministries. More than 200,000 people have served with OM over the last 60 years. More than 100 mission organisations were birthed by OM graduates. Thousands of Christian leaders trace their mission roots back to OM.
  • OM was birthed out of prayer, fuelled by prayer and will continue to be powered by prayer. Whether it was our own needs or those of nations, we threw ourselves at His mercy. It was in nights of prayer where vision was cast, ideas were developed and faith was strengthened. This intensity and frequency of intercession must continue.
  • From the early days, there has been a sense of urgency to reach those dying without Christ, driving us to redeem time and opportunities for evangelism. May we never compromise in this area!
  • OMers were known for being able to accomplish a lot with very little. It was never proof of spirituality; rather, it has been about being good stewards of what the Lord has entrusted to us, whether ministries or materials.

OM has contributed to the modern missions movement in several ways. One is that we broke from tradition in mobilising workers. Life experience and passionate commitment are valued as much if not more than higher education alone. OM also created short-term opportunities for ordinary people with a few weeks to offer—an opportunity that has often been life-changing and has been adopted by other missions.

Secondly, training has always been hands on, side by side and continuous. Cross-cultural understanding, language acquisition and ministry skills are developed in active ministry rather than in classrooms of theory.

Thirdly, OMers employed innovative methodologies often only recognised in hindsight: smuggling literature through the Iron Curtain, using ships as a demonstration of global faith, organising massive mission conventions for teens and more. Recently, this has included agriculture and small business enterprise to sustain the work and bless poor communities.

Challenges we must face

Our world’s culture is changing so rapidly and broadly that it challenges biblical convictions. Though we now find ourselves a minority, we must not waver in our conviction in the Word of God. But we are also confronted with gross injustices, a tsunami of the poor and increasingly antagonistic governments.

In light of these, we are determined to increase our impact, while handicapped by our work’s long-term sustainability. Our capacity to sustain (let alone increase) workers from non-traditional missionary sending countries is insufficient. Many workers come from smaller churches and regions with limited economic means, so funds must come through other means, such as being bi-vocational in business. Essential home office staff, especially in administrative roles, struggle to raise support for their strategic work that directly affects every team and ministry worldwide. I believe that solutions exist, but we must seek them together.

In recruiting, there has been a shift toward a kingdom theology that speaks of justice in economic, political and social relationships. This has wide-ranging implications. Today’s generation is looking to work with mission organisations that represent their values; if OM does not address issues close to their hearts, they will find someone else to work with.

Internally, we can become victims of our own success and put administrative efficiency over innovation. Management and administration exist to serve ministry, not the other way around. Life is messy and vibrant and creative, and our life as a mission organisation needs to be in tune with that. Not everything that really matters is neat and controlled; if we lose sight of this through increased bureaucracy, we can become ‘armchair OMers’, which is definitely not good stewardship!

OM’s mission is “to see vibrant communities of Jesus followers among the least reached.” That will only occur in partnership with the whole Body of Christ. Mission is a collective effort with local churches and mission organisations everywhere. OM has done well in this regard, and yet so much more needs to be done in cooperation. It will also require a paradigm shift in our recruiting. Living among the people, earning their trust and acceptance, winning them to Christ, discipling and then sending them in ministry demands long-term commitment. The unreached are the final frontier for missions, and reaching them will not be easy; there will be discouragement, disappointment, rejection and opposition. It will take people with Holy Spirit-led tenacity to not give up until the harvest comes.

I want OM and our partners to prayerfully consider our part in the Great Commission by focusing on the least of the least reached, who absolutely have no access to the gospel whatsoever. What if OM and all our partners commit afresh to re-harnessing that zeal that made us a movement over the past 60 years? “To know Him and to make Him known” was OM’s heartbeat in earlier days. As we are now closer to the Lord’s return than ever before, we “look forward to the day of God and speed its coming” (2 Pet.3:12, NIV) by striving together so that all will be reached for Christ.

On 1 September 2013, Lawrence Tong, from Singapore, became OM's third International Director. Lawrence's leadership journey has included serving on the Board of OM Singapore, as OM country leader for Taiwan, as director of Logos II, and in financial development with the OM Ships USA office in Florence, South Carolina. Lawrence also led the fast-growing work of OM in China, with a significant focus on welfare and agricultural programmes. He met his American wife, Susan, while serving on Doulos and married in 1989. They have two adult sons, Josh and Benji.

Published: Thursday, 21 December 2017
Credit: Lawrence Tong, International Director
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