Recently we were visited by South Sudanese Archbishop Hillary Garang Deng. He had an amazing story to tell. He told of great trial, of growing up in a civil war, of losing all of his family assets, of remembering bullets flying through his own home, and of spending four days under their beds. He also spoke of the strengthening that happened in the Church specifically during seasons of persecution.
How can the people of God be strengthened and even thrive in times of trial and persecution? By relying on and being filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. Hudson Taylor, missionary to China, insisted that “We give too much attention to method and machinery and resources, and too little to the source of power.”
And yet the first disciples were told to wait. Waiting surely helped to keep them from the allure of method and machinery and resources. Their waiting was worth it. They were to “wait for the promise of the Father, which he said, ‘you heard from me…(for) you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Acts 1:4) They were told to, in essence, “give much attention” to God’s power in the Holy Spirit - the same power that can enable weak and fragile disciples in South Sudan to be strengthened, and even thrive. After a period of waiting the first disciples would receive power. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
This power not only enabled weak disciples to be strong, but it birthed, on that first Pentecost, the Church and its global expansion. John Stott gives a fitting perspective along these lines: “We must be global Christians with a global vision because our God is a global God.”
On that first Pentecost, at least fifteen different languages were uttered. Dinka, the mother tongue of Archbishop Hilary, unfortunately wasn’t represented. Mine wasn’t either. Both weren’t listed in Acts 2:9-11. However, the Holy Spirit is not limited to the fifteen listed. It was just a beginning. On that remarkable day in the history of the world, the Spirit of God was poured out and peoples of the world heard the “mighty works of God.” The Good News was to be known not just among the Jews but among all nations, among the rim of the Mediterranean, among the Dinka, and even among the Texans.
Pentecost means that God unleashed His power on His people so that even trials and persecutions could be overcome, but it also means that He engaged His people with His plan - a plan to welcome those on the outside into the household of God. Paul said it this way: “For through (Jesus) we...have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” (Ephesians 2:18-19)
We celebrate Pentecost this Sunday because His power has been given and His plan has been enacted - a plan that extends to the Dinka as well as to you and me.