Mike Lopez has been around the block…on the other side of the world, that is.
He’s logged decades of missionary work in just about every area of the globe with his family, other adults, university students and high school teenagers. As the director of the Student Mobilization Department of the International Missionary Board, he also heads the OneLife Project that serves 19 unique people-groups with short-term and long-term investments.
Needless to say, he’s learned a thing or two about how to speak into another culture.
Preaching: What’s the last place you visited where you felt out of place?
Lopez: My office! If I’m not out there sharing Christ with people, I wish I were there. I know I have a lot to do administratively, but I’m one more capable, trained human being who has something I can share with other people. Just put me on a field in a village and let me share Jesus with someone. I transform into a different person overnight there.
Preaching: Have you noticed trends in how the various people you speak with tend to think about Jesus?
Lopez: It’s interesting. There are some cultural perceptions in places such as China where an entire generation has been taught there is no God. Yet in each person there is still that God-shaped vacuum they’re hoping to fill. They all seem to realize that, but don’t know how to articulate it. When you explain to them and they realize Jesus is the only One who can fill it, they light up.
Then there are some places such as India where a lot of people relate to Jesus through stories. Hindus worship more than 300 million gods and at first assume they easily can add Jesus to the stack and be very happy with it. When you really start to show them the uniqueness of Christ, they start to believe He is who He says he is—that He can heal them and hear them—and suddenly they’re experiencing that.
Preaching: That’s amazing. Have you encountered any kind of rejection to that message?
Lopez: In some places, people accept Jesus only because it’s improper not to [do so]. For example, if I ask someone in Asia, “Do you want to respond to Jesus?” they often answer, “Yes, I do.” I’ve learned that many do this because they don’t want you to lose face or insult you.
Then there are surprising places full of extremes, such as how Europe is postmodern and post-Christian. Europe has gotten so far away from God and so dark in many places that some people don’t even think of God, as if the concept of Him hasn’t ever crossed their minds. On the other hand, it’s actually opened up a new mission field because for a lot of the younger generation, Jesus Christ is a totally new concept for them. Still, somehow it’s a challenge for them to accept Him because they think they have everything they want.
Preaching: That all sounds similar to what someone in the United States might encounter, perhaps depending on the person. How do you prepare for all of that? Obviously your teams don’t always know what the response is going to be to what they do.
Lopez: It all depends on what the need is in the moment. We start by encouraging our teams to read
For example, if a people group or region has physical needs, we first try to serve them in that area. The Holy Spirit uses that and other things He’s been doing in their lives to prepare their hearts to hear the message. When you are willing to share it, the real spark happens. I’ve even heard some people say, “Why did you wait so long to get to me?”
Preaching: So that model from
Lopez: It does, as does the feeling of seeing their hearts light up. It’s because we intuitively depend on the Holy Spirit to give us the message He wants to share with people. It’s similar to when you go to the supermarket looking for fruit, you can pick up quickly on which pieces are ripe and ready to be taken home.
Jesus said the fields are ready for harvest, and we need to pray to the Lord to send workers into them. I used to think it meant I needed to pray for more harvest, but it means I need to pray for more workers. So even as I go out and look to God for ripe fruit among those who might be ready to receive Him, I’m also looking for God to bring them into a relationship with Him so they might become workers, too. The full spectrum of the kingdom of God is sitting right there in your face as it happens.
Preaching: You really seem to have this overflowing from your core. What’s one of the best messages on missions you’ve ever heard that spoke to you and helped further this in you?
Lopez: Boy, I’ve heard a lot on this topic. I’d have to say what made the best ones stand out is they were totally based on Scripture, and there weren’t a ton of stories and illustrations that didn’t relate back to those Scripture [passages]. They were totally based on God’s plan for the salvation of the nations.
Preaching: How would you describe that plan in your own words?
Lopez: What does Scripture say about who God is? What does He want to accomplish regarding His will and purpose? Why are we here?
What did God intend for us? Those are the questions that get us back to understanding how much God wants us to know Him, follow Him and share His love with the nations. If that’s why He created me, I need to ask if I’m doing those things.
That’s the basic message we take to people overseas. We say, “God created you for this purpose. Are you fulfilling that purpose? If not, how do you come back to Him on that?”
Preaching: It’s easy for contemporary sermons to focus on helping individuals, such as “7 Steps to a Happier Marriage.” How do you think it looks for a pastor to incorporate more of a global mentality?
Lopez: That’s simple. Life is about Jesus, others and you. So first, we need to focus on what Jesus cared and taught most about, such as the kingdom of God, serving the poor, providing for the thirsty, protecting the abandoned, rescuing the enslaved and proclaiming salvation in everything. Jesus is also about others we overlook, such as the sex slave who loses a little bit of her soul with every customer, the orphan who can’t go to school because he doesn’t have a notebook, or the beggar who survives on less than $2 a day.
Of course, Jesus is also about you and everything you have inside of you to become an advocate who makes a difference. People are dying without Him, and the key to their freedom is Christ in you. With our OneLife projects, we try to help people figure out the unique way they can become advocates for something or someone that won’t create long-term dependency on them. We’re trying to nurture an eternal and lasting difference in the lives of others. When you do that, your life will be transformed, as well, which brings you right back to Jesus.
Preaching: Jesus said His food was to do the will of the Father. It seems as if anyone can experience that through what you’re proposing, even if he or she doesn’t have the gift of evangelism.
Lopez: How could you not talk about these things? Jesus did, but He didn’t just shout out a message. He ministered to people the world would soon forget about. He even said to the upright religious people, “Why don’t you hang out with us?”
I think any pastor reading those Scripture [passages] would see there’s a command to take the gospel to all nations. OneLife offers a [variety of ways] to do it progressively. I’m not all about just convincing people to do mission trips, because there are so many ways you can make a difference starting right where you are. We need to funnel ourselves into making a difference, and our organization is set up to be that funnel at all phases.
Preaching: It seems as if your projects reach just about everyone, from a group of kids whose futures could be transformed by having school supplies now to water systems that renew how generations of a village can live. What kind of motivation does it all require?
Lopez: I like to tell people, “Look at this list…I dare you not to find something you could do.” There’s always something there that stands out, because anybody always can do something. A person will realize, “I may not be able to go to India and install pump handles, but I can make a difference by talking about it online or being an advocate in another way.” There are so many things that don’t require sacrifice; if we do want to get sacrificial, we can go really deep with this.
It all comes down to being faithful to who or what’s in front of us. I’ve never been happier than when I’m in the center of God’s will, knowing I’m doing what He’s asked me to do. I’ve also never been more miserable than when I know I’m not in that place.
We were on a train in China, and a lady was sitting across from us. She didn’t have huge human needs, yet I reached out to her with the message of Jesus on that comfortable, air-conditioned train. She eventually looked at me and said, “Why? Why would God do this? Why would He die for me?” I answered, “Because He loves you, and He wants you to come back to Him.” I realized that whether she’s starving or looking all dressed up and taken care of, it’s about faithfully sharing the gospel in word and deed.
Preaching: So essentially everyone is called not just to preach about sharing Jesus but must actually share Jesus?
Lopez: We have a little campaign we’re doing right now called “#StopTalking,” which represents the idea, “Stop talking about doing it and start doing it. Get up and do something. Make a difference. You have the resources. You just have to begin to make it happen.”
God doesn’t allow excuses on this. Regardless of what we think about it, it doesn’t matter. He has chosen His church to proclaim His message to the nations. If we’re not doing that, then we’re not in His will. I can’t imagine that He will continue to bless us if we’re not willing to be blessings.
OneLife works by facilitating opportunities that typically partner with IMB missionaries already in place. As Mike Lopez describes it, OneLife projects allow the American culture’s unconscious ethos of “Have it your way” to do some good by letting people take on the cause they want to adopt and advocate for in a missional approach that affects those who are served, as well as those who do the serving.
Current projects include:
• One Bowl of Rice: Japan
• One Nomad: Mongolia
• One Outhouse: East Asia
• One Child: East Asia
• One Orphan: Zimbabwe
• One Notebook: Zimbabwe
• One Woman’s Shelter: India
• One Community: South Africa
• One School: South Africa
• One Brothel: China
• One Cup of Water: India
• One Farm: Kosovo
• One Refugee: Greece
• One Girl’s Shelter: Bangladesh
• One Slum: India
• One Island: Southeast Asia
• One Village: Kosovo
Find out more at OneLifeMatters.org/projects.
Tony Myles is an author (Uncommon Wisdom from the Other Side: A Senior Pastor Talks Youth Ministry), speaker, volunteer youth worker and lead pastor of Connection Church in Medina, Ohio.