This post has been adapted from notes I used to speak on my time in Vietnam at Oasis Lunch Club at All Saints, Wellington (13/09/16). All scripture references are from the ESV.
Acts 8:1-22: The Power of Connections.
Today I would like to talk about the power of connections. Connections are important. As a former Councillor, and someone who loves networking, connections are vital for business, politics and communities. Often, we think of connections as being important with regards to a person’s status. For some, lunch clubs for the elderly like these are lifelines for people who need social events to help them integrate better with others. I thank God for the work here.
In today’s reading, we read about Philip the Evangelist’s encounter with the Ethiopian Eunuch (a man with a great connection to royalty). Philip, as we will see, was a man who loved to connect people to God, and to the wider Church.
In Acts 6, when it seems that prejudice is starting to creep into the Church because of problems with the distribution of food to Greek-speaking widows, Philip and a few others are drafted in by the Apostles to help solve a problem. Sadly, many communities are defined by racism or other prejudices, but of course, we must never in the Church allow ourselves to reach this point. We must break down barriers to inclusion in our Church community in order to maintain our integrity in witness to others.
Further on, in Acts 8:4-5, Philip goes to Samaria to connect the enemies of the Jews to Christ. This was a direct command by Jesus Himself in Acts 1:8, where Jesus told the disciples to make more disciples of those outside of their own community. Philip gladly does this, and sees fruit that is later confirmed by Peter and John. For some, mission is to those in our close communities, but for others it is further afield.
For me, my role was to help influence the next generation of Vietnamese leaders through English Teaching, and serving in Ha Noi, Vietnam, as part of a missions programme to the City, through Lichfield Diocese’s St Chad’s Trust. This organisation connects young people aged between 18-35 to wider mission opportunities, including our partner dioceses in Singapore, Canada, Germany, South Africa and Malaysia (hope I didn’t miss anyone?!)
Vietnam is an amazing country of some 90 million people, with a strong history of conflict (China, France and America), but also one of traditional family virtues and ancestor worship. A one-party communist state, it has seen great poverty since the Fall of Saigon in 1975, but currently looks to develop thanks to greater ties with the U.S. and Britain etc. Amazingly, the gospel seems to be less restricted now than it was, and I thank God for the witness of faithful Christians during the last 40 years.
My role as an English Teacher was to help connect the Vietnamese to better standards of living through ESOL. There is a great demand for the learning of English, and I was privileged to be able to teach not only children, but also adults through discussion groups. I also helped prepare some Vietnamese young people for an English Summer Camp in Singapore.
Ultimately,the vision is to shape Vietnamese culture for Jesus, connecting people to God, and Vietnam is seeing new generations responding to the love of Jesus Christ. But what does this mean for us? Is mission just in Asia, or Africa? No. Mission is where we are now. You and I are called to connect people to Jesus in our communities also. When I was in Vietnam, I felt very isolated, and in a sense felt pretty disconnected to various people. Who are the disconnected in our community? Maybe you feel disconnected or alone… I often felt alone, but our connection to Jesus keeps us. It is our responsibility to identify these people, and find ways to include them by learning their language.
Moving to our key passage in Acts 8, Philip meets an individual in a desert. Sometimes, God sends us to places that don’t make sense. Philip is leading many to Christ, but the Spirit tells him to go to an individual. Why? Because individuals matter to God. Philip then uses the Old Testament to connect them to the story of Jesus, who in turn uses his influence to potentially shape a country. The desert place makes no sense strategically to us, but God values individuals. Whether it’s the disabled or elderly etc., people matter to God. Don’t underestimate anyone.
Finally, he comes near to the man to connect him to God’s Son Jesus. The Eunuch naturally makes a connection between water and baptism into God’s family (amazing that God sends Philip to a desert, but next to a water spot!) Our relationship to God is the most important connection we can ever make, but it can only be made by accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.
Psalm 145 encourages us to declare God’s acts to future generations. If you’re a believer in Jesus, keep looking for people to connect to God’s story. That might be your neighbours, or God might send you overseas. Who knows? It doesn’t have to be preaching; just share your story of how God impacted your life, and how through His cross and resurrection He transforms those with no connections or many. If you’re not a believer, I want to encourage you to connect to Jesus today, by asking Him to forgive your sin and come into your life. Will you do that today?