The Platform and the Bible-less: Mid Pandemic Mobilization
If you haven’t seen the new Netflix psycho-horror movie The Platform, I don’t really recommend it. When I started watching it, I didn’t realize I was getting into a dark movie with lots of profanity, murder, cannibalism, and nudity. Nonetheless, it’s become really popular over the last few days because everyone is pent up at home. It sends a powerful message to the world, but I believe it bears an even more important (though unintended) message to Christians.
The setting of the movie is a prison of 300+ floors with two inmates on each floor. Every day a platform is lowered through a hole in the middle of the building from the top floor (Floor 1) to the bottom. On the platform is a huge mass of food, just enough for each person in the prison to have enough to survive. Obviously, however, the selfishness of those at the top leads to countless people starving. Though they’re randomly moved to a different floor each month (which ought to cause sympathy for those below), those up top end up being more selfish out of fear of starvation. The message of the movie is intended to be one of “spontaneous solidarity”: we ought to willingly share with each other. The movie reaches its climax when two prisoners near the top ride the platform down the levels to protect the food and make sure everyone gets some.
The more sobering message comes in light of our position as campus ministers in the Western world. Imagine for a moment that each month the people stay on the same floor. At the top, gluttony reigns supreme. Over time, those on the top are able to consume incomprehensible amounts of food with no thought for those below. Of the 100 floors in this scenario, the top 10 eat a full meal. The next 50 are able to get by and survive. But for the bottom 40, no food remains—a harsh and daily reminder of their hopelessness. Worst of all, the top floor eats the equivalent of a whopping 450 meals a day! Rather than worry about those below, they debate which food tastes best and contemplate the nutritional value of each dish.
What seems ridiculous in a hypothetical situation is sadly true of the spiritual state of the world. The overwhelming majority of the language groups of the earth live without a completed Bible, while in English-speaking countries we have over 450 translations of the Bible. Now the truth is that the analogy isn’t quite as bad as it may seem to some. The language groups with the highest population naturally get the Bible first, we have multiple translations because we seek textual accuracy, and there are many selfless Christians “riding down the platform,” if you will, to take the Gospel to the least reached, facing obstacles much more out of their control than their individual selfishness or selflessness. In and of itself, our abundance of spiritual resources is a blessing.
Unfortunately the majority of American Christians live in a state of constant spiritual obesity of sorts. Drowning in devotional books, Christian lifestyle books, and online sermons during a pandemic, we’re easily able to fill the time with countless ways to learn about Jesus without actually reading the Bible for ourselves and taking it to others. Fortunately, though, in a time that seems like the worst for talking about leaving home, we have the chance to mobilize students to finish the Great Commission.
The question is: how do we do it?
We just talked about how a dark movie with a message of mutual humanity ought to lead Christians to see the need to combat the temptation to hoard the Gospel. Noe I’d like to lay out a few ways I think we as campus ministers have the opportunity to mobilize students to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth, even while we’re stuck at home.
Here and now…
- Combat spiritual obesity with spiritual workouts.
Truthfully, before we can effectively mobilize we’ve got to evangelize and disciple. We need to be discipling students through their current struggles that are arising now. A child begging on the street for food doesn’t have the capacity to dream about being an astronaut. Whether it’s anxiety, addiction to pornography, or simply wasting the countless opportunities to strengthen spiritual disciplines, we’ve still got to be there for our students and disciple them through current struggles. We also need to be evangelizing creatively and passionately. If students won’t share the Gospel over Zoom or FaceTime for a few weeks, they certainly won’t share the Gospel in the 10/40 Window for 10 years.
- Help students see the spiritual plight of people without Christ in a pandemic.
I talked to a friend working with a Bible translation group the other day as he was broken-hearted at the thought of an African pastor leading a church through a pandemic without the Bible. Midway through translating the NT, they lost their translator who had to come back home due to illness. His message to the States: “Tell the other Christians not to forget about us.” Help students imagine the pain they’re going through, all without the hope of God’s Word and power over death through Jesus.
- Make this the catalyst that turns your students into global pray-ers.
Hopefully by now, prayer consumes our time and that is pouring over into our students. And while we ought to pray for ourselves, each other, our campuses/churches, and our country, millions still suffer from the disease which always leads to death (sin). I was struck this past week at the image of third-world orphans praying over a world map. Make this the catalyst that turns you, your students, and your ministry into prayer warriors fighting for the people groups of the earth.
For the road ahead…
While the past weeks have brought much change, this can and should be a great opportunity for us to pause, not just planning for the next day but reevaluating our ministries and making changes for the months and years ahead.
- Plan for the spring and summer missions that won’t get cancelled.
While many of our mission trips got cancelled, we can use this time to better plan mission trips focused on the least reached peoples. I’m all for supporting the hurting in Latin America or Europe, but my heart truly breaks for those starving spiritually in unreached people groups. A survey on the Joshua Project’s website reveals that diaspora populations of a number of unreached groups live inU.S. cities where we could do better spring break trips, even if all they consisted of were prayer walks among the people and on a nearby campus in need of a campus ministry plant. Also take this time to evaluate: in a world where more than 90% of missionaries go to countries already reached with the Gospel, are your summer opportunities focused on the least reached? Take this time to find one summer opportunity that focuses on mobilizing students for long-term service in reaching the least reached and push it above all the other options.
- Equip every student to reach at least one international student.
Students not taking the initiative to share the Gospel with international students don’t really care about missions. There, I said it. It hurts to hear, but this is true of almost all students, unless they’re just completely missing something. Take this time to build in ways for every student (even if their ministry target is not international students) to minister to a different culture. Personally, I’m a huge fan of conversational English programs. It can give every student an easy chance to do it, while still leaving open the possibility for some to make it their primary ministry target.
- Take the Perspectives course and encourage students to as well.
I love my Master of Divinity program and the 45 books I’ve read in the past 15 months, but none have made the impact on my life that the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course has. This summer is the perfect time to take the course online, and I believe it will completely change you and your ministry. You will be the better mobilizer for it!
A friend and mentor of mine always tells his sons, “complain or compete.” Right now we can take the mentality of a complainer and come up with every reason why we can’t mobilize our students. Or, we can see the spiritual plight of the least reached, see the spiritual blessings we’ve been given, and be some of the valiant few who leave the comfortable to give, send, and go on behalf of those waiting for the Good News about Jesus Christ.
“Missions is God’s family business.” Even when a pandemic wrecks our plans, let us be about our Father’s business.