In the spring of 2022, I had a tough assignment: preparing a talk entitled “When unity is hard” for OMF Japan’s first in-person conference as Japan slowly came out from COVID-19 restrictions.
I did not find it an easy topic to prepare. I had been given the Bible passage of 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 to speak from; that helped, but still it was a thorny task.
It is always a challenge to speak from God’s Word, because I want to be clear, simple and apply it well. Also, to speak to missionaries who have a weighty mix of theological training, long experience, and great passion for the gospel is hard.
It was also a challenge because I knew of real disagreements between missionaries in Japan. They were under the surface of normal life and ministry. And having been here for over 20 years, I know the diversity of opinion that exists in OMF Japan. We agree on the central core of our faith, but outside that there are differences.
Those differences can cause misunderstanding, hurt, and disputes. I’ve experienced this myself and probably caused a few too. If you add differences of background, personality and approach to ministry, then you have a group of people for whom real unity will be hard. Sometimes it may be, sadly, impossible.
Looking over my talk, I think I didn’t do a bad job at explaining the passage and applying it. However, on reflection I was not simple enough with my application. The application I gave was relevant, it was just a bit complex.
I realised that I missed out a key phrase that helps build unity, both in a mission and anywhere in the body of Christ. I wish I had asked my audience to practice saying the phrase out loud of few times, because it is never an easy phrase to say to another person. Unity in the body of Christ is hard, much more often than it should be. But when it is, words that will start to build unity again are “I’m sorry.”
Try saying them the next time unity is hard, and pray that missionaries to Japan will also say and mean these words too.
By Peter, an OMF Missionary