Lessons from Boston
By: Kelsey Hanna
I went to Boston knowing almost nothing about Boston. I didn’t know Boston is considered one of the most influential cities in the world. I didn’t even know Boston is further north than New York. I showed up in Boston with the rest of my team and I got my first glimpses while lugging a heavy suitcase down the sidewalk on a very hot day. Apparently Boston has those sometimes. I had very little idea of what we were even doing in a city I knew almost nothing about. I had heard talks of a Jamaica Plain, an up and coming neighborhood in Boston. My team went there; we visited a hat store called Salmagundi, we sat by Jamaica Pond, and I was personally quite intimidated by the task at hand. Our task was this: get to know Jamaica Plain, share the gospel with people you meet, make friends, and at the end of the summer write a report about how a church plant might be most effective at reaching Jamaica Plain. Pre-Boston I thought church planting was just for hip, young pastors in American cities. I didn’t grasp the biblical nature of the task until I arrived in Boston. I was already learning something.
Lesson one: Church planting is vital to growing the kingdom of God. In college I began to understand the importance of the local church. Of course we should remember that the bible refers to the church at large, the global church, as his bride. Yet, Paul writes to the church in Corinth, Ephesus, Rome, and others. It is through these small gatherings of believers that the church grew. Hence, starting new local churches in areas with no bible-teaching church is the primary way to reach that area. At first, I wanted to scoff at the idea of subway advertisements and free coffee. The Corinthians didn’t do this. But to reach Boston, church planters take the necessary measures to reach people for the purpose of advancing the Gospel. And it’s working: church plants in the city grow primarily from the addition of new converts. That’s biblical.
A North American Mission Board trip to Boston lasts about six weeks. For me, it felt like a bit more. We stayed in a dorm on Common Wealth Avenue with 30 other college students with NAMB, a handful of Berklee college of Music students, and a smattering of random people seeking cheap rent in Back Bay. And to keep things interesting we had no air conditioning. As the summer chugged along I started to worry about my choice to go to Boston. If you know me you know I love international missions. I want the 1.4 billion unreached people in the world to be reached. But in Boston, I saw a great deal of church resources being poured into the city. It takes a lot of time and even more money to plant a church in Boston. So why aren’t these resources going to reach the unreached?
Lesson two: Church planting done well can reach the world. Approximately a third of Boston residents are foreign-born. As my summer progressed I began to see unreached people all around me. In our house we had dorm mates from India, Poland, and France. I worked with Somali refugees every week. I made several Chinese friends. I taught English classes to Iranians, Japanese and Chilean students and families at MIT. Our building manager was a Lebanese Catholic. Also, I began to realize the reach of the Gospel can extend well beyond Boston as people who were exposed to the Gospel return to their respective countries. And finally, church plants will ultimately turn into mature churches that are self-sustaining and able to send workers into all parts of the world.
The last lesson I learned was the one I was most afraid to learn because I knew it would be the most uncomfortable.
Lesson three: Live like you actually believe the Gospel. I know all humans are eternal beings, yet I often don’t act like it. All people we interact with are either condemned to hell or will enter into eternal glory through faith in Christ’s righteousness. For me, Boston revealed the apathy in my own heart. I had knowledge of eternity but too seldom acted like it was a reality. In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul says, “I have become all things to all people that by all means I might save some”. In Romans 10 he says, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” I’ve read these verses before and it’s not that I was unaware of the Christian’s call to evangelism; I just wasn’t as obedient as I wanted to be. In Boston I was painfully convicted of my lack of intentionality. Evangelism is exhausting. Yet, I learned that it’s also gives us great purpose and more than that, it’s what we’re called to do. Coming home from Boston I am still more aware of people around me. The third lesson is the lesson I value most. If Boston taught me anything, it was to be more strategic and serious about sharing the gospel with people whenever and wherever.