Living as Influencers

How God uses the obedience of one family to make disciples of all nations both near and far

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Living as Influencers

Eric Asp | Nov 2, 2018, 19:48 PM

How God uses the obedience of one family to make disciples of all nations both near and far

The teachings of Jesus and the wisdom of the Bible were my paradigm and point of reference for life throughout childhood and youth. I was an obedient student at school. I thought carefully about important decisions, like what musical instrument I was going to play in the middle-school band. I tried to stay away from the "bad kids" who liked to cuss and watch “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” and lustfully leaf through the pages of the women's underwear section in JCPenney catalogues.

But as I got older, I learned to manipulate other people with my behaviors and leverage my "Good Kid" reputation to maximum effect. As patterns of hate, lust and pride took root through adolescence and early adulthood, I felt increasingly isolated from God.

And then I went away to college.

At Bowling Green State University (in northwest Ohio), it became more clear to me than ever before that we live in a broken world. I saw the brokenness playing itself out in the subject material from my lecture halls and in the personal lives of the students who lived alongside me in the dormitories. Women were raped and abused. Drunk drivers would kill and be killed. Entire categories of people around the world were being oppressed and ignored. I came face-to-face with sin and secularism at college in a way that I had never encountered before.

I consider it God's goodness and grace to me that, during this same period in my life, I was also freshly confronted with Christian community. But instead of the middle-aged, middle-management types and pious octogenarian folk of my earlier church experiences, the Christians I met in college were hockey players, disc golfers and pranksters. They were fun, but they were also intellectual and authentic. They were idealistic and serious about the Bible, studying the book as if it was something new and revolutionary.

We studied the Bible and digested its content, both individually and in community, while sitting in our dorm rooms, working out at the Student Recreation Center, and eating in the university cafeterias. And soon the Bible felt new and revolutionary to me too (even though the core message was surprisingly similar to what I had grown up with). The Gospel came alive even further as I started sharing it with others in my residence hall and classrooms. I was mobilized to act as a missionary long before graduation. When I became an employed missionary with Reliant in 1999, it felt like a continuation of the course that had been set for me in my college years.

From 1999 through 2002, our family was involved in a student ministry called H2O at Bowling Green State University. Over time, our church grew and solidified to the point where we felt compelled by Jesus’ instruction to “Go and make disciples of all nations” and thus consider starting another church elsewhere — someplace with a lot of young people (since our experience was in ministering to university students), someplace with opportunities for strategic influence (we wanted to influence a city that could in turn influence entire people groups and create inroads to other parts of the world) and someplace with a need for churches. Eventually Amsterdam, the Netherlands, became a particular point of intrigue. It fit our search criteria perfectly: a city of 1.5 million with approximately 400,000 between the ages of 18-30; an extremely international community (the population is roughly half Dutch and half international, with 140 different languages spoken in the city); and less than three percent of the population living as evangelical Christians.

An exploratory trip to Amsterdam allowed us the opportunity to get the counsel from any Christians we could find in the city and talk to the average “person on the street” as well in order to gauge the spiritual vibe of the city. Every church and ministry leader who we talked to urged us to come. Furthermore, in interacting with random strangers in the parks and pleins and cafes — asking for a sampling of opinions about God and about church — we were shocked by what we learned. In all of our random encounters during the course of that trip, we met lots of spiritually curious, open-minded people, but we did not meet a single person who had ever even visited a church before! It seemed like God paved the road to our church plant in Amsterdam.

Our family landed on the Continent in January 2003, and we watched God do some pretty amazing things during the course of the next decade in the city. In a Western European context, where church growth is typically measured in terms of dozens of people over decades of time, our ministry actually saw hundreds of people become involved after just a few short years as a church community.

In 2012, our family felt that it was time to move back to Ohio and let Amsterdam50 chart its own course for the future. My current ministry responsibilities in Ohio allow me to maintain a catalytic relationship with the developing leaders of European churches (both through periodic video conferencing and through visiting Europe a couple of times per year to provide support). It’s also been exciting to get back to ministry in Ohio! God has been working in this part of the world in amazing ways over the past decade. The church that we left in Bowling Green in 2002 has since grown and multiplied to become a network of twelve different churches on twelve different campuses across the region. Thousands of college students are now involved with H2O across five states. In our own family’s transition, we felt led to band together with old friends who were working at Kent State, where a new campus ministry was established three years previously.

In a very real way, I feel that we are working to mobilize the next generation of missionaries and church planters. College students are just idealistic enough — and just crazy enough — that they are uniquely positioned for missions mobilization. Now with almost ten years of international ministry experience under our belts, we feel like we have a unique opportunity to live among these twenty-something, faith-filled, idealistic “missionaries-in-waiting” and season their zeal with some degree of wisdom and experience… so that they can be even better equipped and prepared than we were when we moved to Amsterdam. In so doing, we ultimately pray that our family moving back to Ohio could help to advance the Great Commission exponentially.