Tom and Nancy Lin

Leading a Global Missions Movement among University Students and Faculty (@tomlinnow)
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I’ve been recently excited about the development of common vision around Scripture engagement among various ministry organizations and leaders. It is one of our 4 objectives for Urbana 12, to see student’s not only study the biblical basis for missions but also grow to love studying God’s Word.  In November, a national Summit in Orlando around Scripture engagement will involve various organizational leaders.  Next week, I head to Wycliffe Bible Translator Board meetings, where the Directors are passionate about advancing the work of Bible translation. And in my role in InterVarsity, I also see significant new initiatives around Scripture engagement, esp. engaging young students in God’s Word and growing them to be passionate about God’s Word.

We just launched a new online daily, inductive Bible study for students called “Thirsty” — which provides a passage and 3 inductive questions, delivered each day to your inbox or smartphone. Those who would like to discuss the passage or share personal application can interact on the daily “Thirsty” site or Facebook page.  (See a video introduction in my prior blog post.)  Two of my current staff and one of my former staff are significant leads in this new initiative, so I’m especially proud of this good work!

About 650 Christian leaders from 150+ nations are gathered this week at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, for the quadrennial World Assembly of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students.  I am leading a delegation of 44 InterVarsity/USA staff who feel honored to be here.  What’s perhaps most encouraging is the presence of 130+ student leaders from movements around the world!  See my World Assembly reflections on InterVarsity’s blog and yesterday’s Mission Network News report.  Or listen to a six-minute interview, where I share on-site reflections from Krakow.

As Lausanne North American International Deputy Director, I often get asked what the Lausanne movement is all about.  The Lausanne Congress last year has been called “the most representative gathering of Christian leaders in the 2000-year history of the Christian movement" (Christianity Today).  Four-thousand Christian leaders representing 198 countries attended the Congress in Cape Town, South Africa.  Learn more by watching this short documentary.


Getting around Kolkata will either make you a saint or a mean, crazy son of gun. I’m serious. I see a lot of saints and last night I was one crazy son of a gun. We left home at 1:00 pm to travel from the North to the South to help YWAM folks give a program at an AIDS Hospice. We got home at 10:00 pm. For this 2 hour program, it took 2 subway rides, 1 taxi, 2 cycle-rickshaws and 5 auto-rickshaws. Add 98% humidity, the temp at over 30 degrees, diesel fumes, and never a place to sit that wasn’t squashed next to another sweaty body for close to 6 hours.  Also you have to add sounds of honking horns at all times, a political rally leader yelling at full blast, and the constant task sound that Indians make with the side of their mouth to show they are frustrated. Parked cars, construction equipment and people bulge into the already inadequate driving space because there are no rules for where you can and cannot park, and most sidewalks are filled with hawkers. When we arrived home, our host mother said, “you look tired” which I took as a compliment because I was so filled with rage at the inconceivable inefficiency and over-stimulation that I felt ready to rip someone’s head off. But I was too tired for violence and so we ate dinner quickly and headed upstairs to bed.

Days like this is exactly the reason why people come home from trips like this and say pithy statements like “It made me so thankful for what I have”. Because before coming here, we didn’t think to be thankful for the fact that commuting for a church service takes only 5 – 20 minutes rather than 4 hours. Nothing I do at home in Vancouver requires as much effort as getting anywhere, to do just about anything in Kolkata. And I even walk to get my groceries in Vancouver! Other mission teams from Western Countries get around this massive irritation by renting large Air Conditioned Buses that drive them door to door where they are going to serve. It’s easier, more comfortable and more efficient, depending on strikes, traffic and what the cows are doing that day. But after raging for awhile, here are my 3 thoughts on why my soul (and everyone on the team’s souls) are all better from the experience of local transportation:

1. All of our souls really are on a life-long path to being more of a saint or more of a mean maniac. Towards God, love and peace or away. The difficult circumstances of life, those that make us most uncomfortable, help rise to the surface the stuff of character, which produces perseverance, which produces hope which produces faith. That’s somewhere in the bible I know it.

2. Certain kinds of transport can only get you certain places, part way of a larger journey. We may want to get to Kalighat, but first we have to stop at 3 other places, each with their own unique feel. Just like we may want to get to intimacy with God, but we have stops of self-awareness, and skills for loving others and disillusionment that come along on the trip to intimacy with our Creator.

3. Each mode of transportation has it’s own unique feel and way. Just like personal prayer feels different than public worship, or journaling feels different than service. Each mode is good, but not complete in itself to get us to the end of the journey of experiencing the fullness of God.

While I think scripture commands us to be thankful for what God gives us, I also think we have so many other commands to consider when we realize our position of privilege. I can choose to go home in 2 weeks to traffic lights and walking to church, but my friends here cannot. And how do I steward that choice when I follow a God who didn’t stay up in heaven and be thankful that he never had to step in cow poop on a crowded street in Kolkata? It’s not clear what my choice should be, which I suppose is why I have a few more stops and rickshaws to take on my journey with God.

- Today’s Reflections from an InterVarsity Staff who is leading the Kolkata Trek


The following is from an American student at the Lima site on InterVarsity’s Global Urban Trek: “Meet Carmen… A loving wife and mother of two young boys. Together with her husband, she has started a non-profit ministry aimed at helping children develop into leaders for the future in their churches and their communities. When asked, Carmen details how she would like to expand the program to offer more, but the only people who fund it are Carmen and her husband, selflessly giving everything they have even while raising two growing boys.

"Meet Luis… A pastor at a local evangelical church that is overflowing on Sundays and has four church branches in the mountains. Despite a continually growing congregation and typical services with around 100 people attending, he is still in despair. When asked about programs the church has for children, he sadly says that there are no programs, yet dozens of children, because of the lack of resources. No one can give time, either, as members struggle to help their families eat on a daily basis.

"Meet Isabel and Elena… Unpaid directors of the comedor, these two women work tirelessly so children in the neighborhood can get free, nutritious lunches during the week— perhaps the only balanced meals they get. Neither young woman knows how long to remain at the comedor, as working there means that they cannot get a job to help support their families. Selflessly, neither woman has decided to leave, because quitting means that 40 children go without meals.

"These are just a few of the examples we have seen— people sacrificing what little they have and dedicating their lives to raise a generation of confident children. But in every case, I witness such a lack of resources. These programs and many more that we have worked with are noble causes that help the youth in the community. It’s difficult to see so little being offered. Being an American and having the “if there’s a problem, fix it” mentality, I’m at a loss with how to help here. And maybe that’s part of the problem. Coming in with the mindset that I, in my own way, can help fix this problem.

"I’ve learned here that the problems run much deeper than it seems on the surface. Issues of drug use, abusive relationships, child neglect, gang violence and others run rampant in the streets where we work and live. I’ve taken a learning posture in this experience by sitting back and taking in as much as I can. The more I see, the more questions I seem to have. What has caused people to be in their current situation? How can I help? Can they get out of it?

"I’ve learned that the answers aren’t clear. The sad reality is that the people we’ve met can work extremely hard the rest of their lives and still be consumed by poverty.

"Present among the poverty, the waste, the hungry, is truth: God is here. I see it in the kindness of the mothers’ hearts and the sheer joy on the children’s faces. God is bigger than all of this and gives Peruvians and me a reason to hope for the future. With him, anything is possible, and because of that, we can be truly grateful, even when answers are unclear."

(All names have been changed in this post.)

A press release went out today about my new role with the Lausanne movement — Tom Lin named as new North American IDD.  While there are many great opportunities for the future of Lausanne, many people do ask about the relationship of Lausanne to Urbana, among other questions.  Here’s some excerpts from a recent interview I did:

Q: Why did you agree to serve as Lausanne IDD for North America?

Tom: Like the InterVarsity student movement and Urbana, I believe the Lausanne movement is a very strategic ministry which influences the future of the global church and connects those who are most passionate for God’s mission around the world.  I also believe that North America is a region that still has much to contribute, and I look forward to the opportunity to discern what our best contributions might look like in the future.

Q: How will this role intersect with your positions at InterVarsity/Urbana?

Tom: It intersects quite well, as Lausanne leadership has always had strong overlap with the leadership of Urbana and International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES), of which InterVarsity is a member movement.  The Lausanne Cape Town Congress was a perfect example of this, as many former Urbana speakers gave plenary talks and Urbana leaders served as consultants in program, operations, drama, etc.  Many IFES leaders also continue to serve as IDDs, so I am not alone in experiencing this type of intersection!  Finally, Urbana’s experience and perspective on the student generation will be helpful for Lausanne in considering what emerging leaders and the global church might look like in the future.

Q: You have both North American and International mission/evangelism experience.  How will that influence your role with Lausanne?

Tom: Indeed, along with my family background and culture being from Taiwan, I hope that it will help!  My experiences serving in a missions organization that focuses on North Americans (InterVarsity) as well as my experiences planting new ministries in the majority world (IFES-East Asia) and serving on the Board of one of the largest international agencies (Wycliffe) will hopefully give me a well-rounded perspective of what’s going on in North America in relationship to the rest of the world.  It also gives me a keen sense of urgency for the significant amount of work that is to be done in North America, in addition to work to be done outside North America.

Q: What are the major issues facing the church in North America with regard to mission and evangelization?

Tom: There is much to be said here and many challenging issues ahead.  I’ll start with one on a long list: a growing diversity in the evangelical church.  As we know, the North American church is rapidly changing in its ethnic and gender make-up as well its denominational make-up.  This, along with a new generation of leaders in the church, is significantly impacting the way we engage in mission and the way we think about evangelization.  The North American church will need to embrace these future realities, or it will see greater fragmentation and ineffectiveness in mission.

Q: Are you encouraged or discouraged by what you’re seeing in the North American church and in the lives of Christians?  Why?

Tom: While there certainly are many reasons for discouragement and concern, I’m actually overall quite encouraged and hopeful about the future of the North American church.  I have hope because of what we’re seeing in this student generation.  For example, in the past 5 years, InterVarsity has seen more first-time decisions made for Christ than in any other 5-year period in our 70-year history.  We’ve also seen more students engaged in cross-cultural missions projects than in any other period in our history.  There are thousands of gifted evangelists in North America who are graduating from universities every year, and the future looks bright because of what I believe God can and will do through this generation.

The transcript for my talk on “The Role of the Next Generation of the U.S. Church  in Global Mission" is now available on this link, along with other resources from the Orlando Consultation last month.  As a follow up piece, I was able to recently visit my old stomping grounds in Boston and speak to a group of local missions pastors, senior pastors, and parachurch ministry leaders.  It was a joy for me to learn from them, to hear about what they are seeing in the next generation.  I ended our time sharing not just about my 3 hopes, but also about 3 challenges that lie ahead for the next generation:

1.  Current financial model of American missions is unsustainable. DEBT and increased resistance to raising support by this generation’s innovative missionaries are huge concerns.  The WSJ Online reported this week that the Class of 2011 is graduating from America’s colleges and universities with a dubious distinction: the most indebted ever — $22,900 is the average student debt of newly minted college graduates!


  • Looking at large, well-known Christian colleges that have traditionally been fertile recruiting grounds for mission agencies, the picture looks even more bleak.  The average debt for a student graduating from one of these schools can be around $35,000.  And when you consider that many mission agencies have debt policies (typically driven by a value for strong member care and wise financial stewardship) that limit the maximum debt to $20,000 or $25,000 in order to be a viable missionary candidate, you begin to see the challenge that’s ahead!

  • Not just debt, but donor trends also make this a challenge.  Increasingly, American missionary budgets seem irrational to supporters, especially when compared to the perceived inexpensive cost of non-Western workers.


2.  Learning how to empower and walk alongside global church partners, rather than race ahead with our own agendas.  Leslie Newbigin accurately depicts the global reality that the North American Church and this generation are wrestling with today:  “We are forced to do something that the Western churches have never had to do since the days of their own birth – to discover the form and substance of a missionary church in terms that are valid in a world that has rejected the power and the influence of the Western nations.  Missions will no longer work along the stream of expanding Western power… We [need to] learn afresh what it means to bear witness to the gospel from a position not of strength but of weakness.”


  • Working from a position of weakness has not typically been a strength for Americans, and I believe it is one of the most difficult challenges for American missionaries today.  After over 70 years, one major international agency recently appointed the first three non-expat country directors for their mission.  But shifting to these new models and structures which mobilize more non-Western workers and indigenous leaders is challenging for Americans.

  • Shifting North American identity and roles from being North Americans “drivers” of the global bible translation enterprise, to being “servants” that bring value when “supporting” indigenous leaders or when “invited in” by indigenous communities is challenging for us Americans.


3.  Increasingly dangerous persecution and violent global anti-Americanism. We certainly live in a time of growing global political unrest and violent terrorist activity.  Many believe that the number of Christian workers killed could mount up quickly for this next generation.

  • Not just limited to political unrest, but a growing anti-Americanism within certain places of the majority world church as well, as some are even saying, “send us American money, but not American people.”

  • This is a huge challenge for a Net Generation that values “playing and fun” in their work and “freedom and choice” in everything they do.  Going to these difficult places in the world might become increasingly less attractive among the menu of options that they have to consider (and they certainly do have more options than any previous generation before them!).


Having shared the above 3 challenges, I do have great hope in what God can do through the next generation.  As I interact with this student generation and see their passion and their love/compassion for the world, I can’t help but believe that they are more than equipped to meet the challenges that will certainly come there way.

As someone who has the opportunity to interact with many global issues and see the missions landscape firsthand, people often ask why Bible translation is one of areas that I choose to invest my time in.  My good friend, Ruth Hubbard (a Senior VP at Wycliffe), captured my sentiments well in her recent post on the urgency of “eradicating Bible poverty in this generation.”  But my conversion experience in the Bible translation movement actually began in 2002…

In 2002, Nancy and I moved to Mongolia to pioneer student ministry with InterVarsity.  It shocked us to learn that in 1989, there was only 1 known believer in the entire country, but after the New Testament was translated in the 1990s and the Old Testament completed in 2000, the church exploded into tens of thousands, due in large part to the fact that Mongolians could now read and hear Scripture in a language that speaks to their heart!

In our work with Mongolian students, we owe much gratitude to those who worked so hard to translate the Scriptures into Mongolian, because without them, we would not have been able to share the gospel with Mongolians.  We witnessed hundreds of students reading their Bibles (some sharing Bibles) every morning, drinking up the Scriptures like water! Now, as we look at other communities of people around the world who don’t have access to the Scriptures, indeed it seems unjust.  What can we do together to eradicate bible poverty around the world?

An exciting area of InterVarsity’s missions is our Urban Projects.  My own life was changed as a college freshman, when I spent a summer with InterVarsity’s Chicago Urban Project, engaging poverty and a cross-cultural environment, and being challenged to consider how Scripture called me to serve the city.  Twenty years later, during this past Spring Break 2011, over 1,500 students just participated in our 43 different urban projects in 19 cities, tackling such issues as evangelism, justice, and stewardship of money.  Lots of great stories to share, some of which made Mission Network News.  Enjoy!