When my wife and I were planning to go to missions, we had to read all the mission literature. At that time, one of the big theories was the “power encounter.” What is the power encounter? Basically, it is a demonstration of God’s power that allows the missionary to overcome the cultural and other resistances to the entry of the Gospel into a particular group. In other words, it is a miracle that comes just at the right time to break through resistance to the Gospel. But, having a power encounter as a missionary strategy is quite debatable, as the following quote shows:
Greg Livingstone, General Director of Frontiers, a mission agency focused exclusively on the Muslim world, likes to tell a humorous story of the early days of Frontiers. Greg asked one of his Pentecostal missionaries how he was planning to reach Muslims. The missionary replied, “I’m going to raise the dead!” Shaking his head, Greg queried, “Do you have a plan b”?
Nevertheless, the history of the Church is rife with power encounters, from St. Paul striking a man dumb for opposition to the Gospel, to the many stories that every Christian group on earth has that say how one of their own was unexpectedly saved or had an unexpected opening for the preaching of the Gospel. So, how ought we to consider power encounters? Well, I have my own missionary story to tell you. Let me give you the very short version.
In Peru, we–the southern region of the Church I was with–had been traveling to a village in a canyon in the Andes Mountains. Actually, most of the time it was me on a mule. We had built a “mother’s center” for them and the day had come for its dedication. Local practice was that the dedication happened as the roof was being put on. When the first “leaf” of the roof was placed was the time for the dedication. However, I had not realized that they also intended to do a “beer” libation to Pachamama, the goddess of earth, so that the building foundations might remain firm. I forbade the libation.
Because they knew me, the local villagers agreed. But, as the first leaf was about to be laid, a thunderstorm built up farther down the valley, and we could see it coming. Violent storms are one of the signs of the goddess’ anger, and we could see it coming. The villagers were becoming increasingly worried, especially those on the roof, but they started to put that first leaf on. The air began to feel moist, and we even felt some mini-droplets. And, I was standing there, all by myself since all had withdrawn from me, praying internally very hard. I knew that this could be a make it or break it moment for the outreach. The sky was now gray, with not a bit of sunlight.
And, then, suddenly, the rain parted. We could see it falling on the valley walls to either side of us but not on us. Then a little bit of sky opened and a beam of sunlight came down. And, that beam of sunlight fell directly on the roof. And, in a voice I did not recognize, I found myself proclaiming loudly that this wasÂ a sign and that God had blessed the building. And the whole village looked at me, and the workers laid down that first leaf, picked up a second and kept on laying the roof. It never did rain on us.Â That night we had a celebration. I danced some of the indigenous dances (no alcohol) and thoroughly enjoyed myself. About a year later, the whole village took the decision to join the Church as a group. And, the work began of teaching them further about Our Lord Jesus Christ.
So, how ought we to consider power encounters?