“I’ll go first” is perhaps the most powerful statement a Christian can make. It is the people who go first that I most admire: the innovators, the risk-takers, the pioneers.
One of these people is Biju Thomas, a pioneering community developer in Northeast India. Biju left “God’s own country” — the nickname of Kerala, his home state — and moved to Bihar, which is known as the most backward of the backward states in India. This is a reference used in India to states that are no longer supported by the Indian government from an infrastructure standpoint.
In Bihar, I shadowed Biju in one of the poorest and least reached regions of the world. Over 101 million people in Bihar have never heard the name of Jesus. Without Biju, I was an outsider and unwelcome; but with him, everything was different.
Because of the color of my skin, people often disliked me when they met me. Given the history of colonialism in Bihar, the long-standing memory of those in Bihar is that white people are bad and represent oppression. Once people realized I was with Biju, they greeted me with warmth and happiness.
Biju and his team are empowering women through business, providing clean water, offering literacy training, and are sharing the freedom of Jesus with people who have never heard his name before. And as these people experience Jesus — in a culture where the religious systems have dictated that their life is only worth little — their entire world is changed.
Biju is the type of person who goes first. He has made incredible sacrifices for the cause of renewing Bihar, India. And that’s why I followed him and am now going first among another group of people. I’m trying to ignite a movement of people who are willing to live self-sacrificially for the sake of bringing the gospel to the last of the unreached — and for the sake of alleviating extreme poverty in effective and sustainable ways.
To fund Jesus’ Economy, my wife and I put our money in first. We sold everything, literally, including our house. Because I could not look at these problems — and continue to sit in my comfortable well-paying job — I had to step up with my family and follow God with everything we had. And we knew that we wouldn’t really know faith, or be able to truly call people to it, until we had taken that journey.
This was the same calling of Saint Paul. In his letter to the church at Thessalonica, he says:
“For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you” (2 Thessalonians 3:7–8 ESV).
Paul was bi-vocational — meaning he worked so he could do church ministry. He put his money where his mouth was. He led by example.
Others believed because they saw how much Paul sacrificed for the gospel and knew that there could be no other reason for doing so than God himself. Paul joined Jesus not just in his glory but in his suffering. He went first and did so without regret.
God is building a grand vision for our world, and we can be part of it. God is calling us to make sacrifices necessary to renew entire communities — physically and spiritually.
The opportunity and resources are there, and now we need to do the work. With each of our unique gifts and callings, we could bring the gospel, in its full form — of loving a person in word and deed through both mercy and justice — to the ends of the earth in our lifetimes. Imagine if that happened.
It will take time. It will involve sacrifice. It will involve leading by example. It will involve making decisions for Jesus that are so drastic that people question them. It will involve finding a better way forward to create jobs and churches for all God’s children. But it will be worth it.
This article is adapted from Living for Jesus, a blog of Jesus’ Economy.