The Restore the World vision of Highland Church of Christ derives from this core conviction: The Creator God, through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the ongoing presence and activity of the Holy Spirit, is working to bring about the restoration of all things and is inviting the people of God to participate in this mission. We prayerfully and humbly seek to be a part of God’s redemptive work in the world, “in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:20-21).
This vision seeks to set a trajectory for the next twenty years of Highland’s global ministries. While we have sought to discern this vision humbly and prayerfully, we remain open to God’s Spirit altering the direction as we move forward. We ask for eyes to see and ears to hear.
The Whole Gospel
Every detail of Highland’s vision intends to be a way in which the gospel is proclaimed, in word and deed, throughout God’s good creation. The gospel is that Jesus is Lord and through him the reign of God is breaking into this world. This good news is to be good news to individuals enslaved to sin and death, families broken apart by poverty and abuse, societies suffering from systemic injustice and discrimination, and a world mired by hatred and violence. Thus, the ministries with which Highland partners will be holistic—seeking to bring restoration to all facets of the communities with which they work.
We believe that God uses the church, manifested in local communities of Jesus disciples, in unique and sacramental ways to bring about God’s restorative purposes. Thus, Highland will support, encourage, and empower local churches, by partnering with missionaries and/or local leaders, to proclaim and embody the gospel of Jesus Christ in contextually relevant ways. While we hope to forge partnerships with humanitarian organizations engaged in redemptive work, as a way to reflect the holistic mission of God, working with local churches will remain central to Highland’s global ministries.
Whether we are sending out missionaries or supporting NGOs, we will strive to develop strong partnerships and promote significant involvement of Highland members. With a portfolio of partnerships, we want to focus our attention and efforts around specific global initiatives. A concentrated vision will enable Highland members to gain a robust understanding of our global ministries. Furthermore, it will enable Highland to invest deeply in specific global issues and regions over a relatively long period of time which will increase our ability to measure effectiveness and foster faithfulness through encouraging and discouraging times. The overarching desire is to create opportunities for Highland to move beyond an identity as a funding church toward an invested partner and co-laborer with God’s people around the world.
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’, and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’”
“Do this and you will live.”
“And who is my neighbor?”
“The one who had mercy on him.”
“Go and do likewise.”
Our participation in God’s restorative purposes in the world begins and ends with this strategy: To love our God and love our neighbor and to invite others to do likewise. The Restore the World vision reflects that desire. Highland’s global ministries will revolve around four initiatives in order to make a substantial and long-lasting impact. By narrowing our focus to these four areas, our prayer is that the Highland church will be transformed, more fully loving God and our global neighbors.
“Then he put the man on his donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.” (Luke 10:34)
For our global neighbors who find themselves on the side of the road with nowhere to lay their heads, may we have mercy.
Initiative #1 – Restoring the World by Welcoming the Homeless in Brazil
The Highland Church of Christ and the Itu Church of Christ will develop a reciprocal partnership, propelled by the common vision to love, serve, and empower our homeless neighbors in our respective locales. This phase of the vision will consist of the following components and potential ministry opportunities:
• We will strengthen relationships between our churches’ members, staff, and elders in order to sharpen and edify one another.
• Continue to support Antenor and Phyllis Gonçalves, which will provide a natural bridge for strengthening these relationships.
• Learn from one another’s experiences and expertise through sending and receiving teachers and ministry leaders, seeking a relationship of mutuality and equality (avoiding paternalism and dependency).
• Send Highland members on short-term trips to build relationships, learn about what God is doing in Brazil, and/or help with Camp Roots and CURA medical campaigns.
• Make funding available for Itu church members to come on short-term trips to Abilene in which they can lead groups for Restoration Week, teach classes, and/or connect with college students through Highland’s university ministry and in local university classes.
• We will establish stronger ties between Highland’s homeless initiative and Crescimento Limpo (CL) and exchange ideas about “best practices” for loving our homeless neighbors.
• Learn from CL leaders about hospitality, the relationship between homelessness and chemical dependency, and integrating homeless brothers and sisters into the life of the church.
• Dream with CL and provide access to Highland’s resources and experiences. For example, if CL wants to investigate a job-training program for those in the halfway house, FaithWorks personnel could share their experiences and resources to help CL create a similar format in its context.
• Provide funding for a new project that will expand CL’s holistic mission to its homeless and chemically dependent neighbors.
• We will prayerfully discern together about potential partnerships in mission efforts.
• Contribute financially to a common organization in the 2nd and/or 3rd initiatives of this vision.
• Send a short-term team of Itu and Highland members to a mission effort in another region of the world.
• Prayerfully consider forming a team comprised of Itu and Highland members to plant a new church in Brazil in an area with a dense homeless population.
• Prayerfully consider forming a team comprised of Itu and Highland members to work together as a part of the 2nd and/or 3rd initiative of this vision.
Rationale for Initiative #1
• Highland recognizes that the center of global Christianity has shifted to the global south. Therefore, we must become a partnering church, not a sending church, in regions where there are vibrant communities of faith.
• God’s Spirit already seems at work in this partnership because of our similar, yet previously uncoordinated, calls to minister with the homeless in our respective cities.
• Highland has a long history with churches in Brazil, and with the Itu church in particular. We want to build upon that relationship for the sake of mutual edification and a common missional vision.
• Highland has the personnel resources to work well with a Brazilian church (e.g., Bryan and Becky Gibbs, David and Carolyn Mickey, Ron and Janine Morgan, Jackie Beth Shilcutt) and to coordinate with Crescimento Limpo (e.g., Housing First, FaithWorks, ACU).
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.” (Luke 10:30)
While we care for those on the road who have been left half dead, may we work to transform the road itself so that the conditions no longer exist for people to fall into the hands of robbers.
Initiative #2 – Restoring the World by Combatting Trafficking in Southeast Asia
The Highland Church of Christ will support missionaries in Southeast Asia engaged in making disciples and training leaders in young churches. We will also partner with humanitarian organizations focused on ministering to those affected by human trafficking so prevalent in this region. More precisely, we want to partner with those addressing the systemic issues that create and perpetuate the practice of trafficking. This phase of the vision will consist of the following components and potential ministry opportunities:
• Within three years we will have two fully supported missionaries working in Southeast Asia.
• These missionaries will focus on evangelism, making disciples, and training leaders in hopes of forming selfsustaining, self-theologizing churches.
• These churches might directly engage with trafficking, thus creating a more robust partnership. Or, these missionaries can help connect Highland to effective organizations in the area with whom we can partner.
• We will partner with two organizations working on the issue of human trafficking. The Southeast Asia team will investigate organizations in this area during the next year and recommend organizations with whom we might make a three-year commitment. After this period we will evaluate the partnership(s) and make a decision about our commitment(s).
• We will concentrate our efforts on organizations working on the prevention side, though one organization might focus on liberation and after-care.
• We will encourage Highland members who have relevant training and skills (e.g., social work, law, education, business) to prayerfully consider going to work with one of these organizations.
• We will explore the possibility of creating a coordinated effort for Highland members to sponsor children/families in an area where trafficking is prevalent. This could mean we promote a specific project/location which Highland can “adopt” for sponsorship.
• We could potentially recruit one Highland member (giving priority to active university ministry members and retired teachers) each year to teach at Chiang Rai International Christian School (the school the Penningtons work with in Thailand).
• We will seek opportunities to learn about trafficking in the United States and explore avenues for Highland members to support organizations combatting trafficking stateside.
Rationale for Initiative #2
• The global issue of human trafficking demands a holistic approach. It involves discipleship, community formation, education, liberation, mercy, justice, advocacy, and empowerment, offering many Highland members the opportunity to participate with their various gifts and talents.
• In the world today, those enslaved through human trafficking are among “the least of these.”
• Despite the center of Christianity shifting to the global south, Southeast Asia remains one of the most densely populated regions where Christians are an extreme minority. In this region, so significantly shaped by colonialism, there is a huge need for contextualized expressions of the gospel and churches doing local theology.
• Highland has a history and resources related to trafficking (Eternal Threads) and Southeast Asia (Larry and Pam Henderson, Chris and Cara Flanders, Bailey Cate, Derran and Ann Reese).
“Then a despised Samaritan came along…” (Luke 10:33)
May our imaginations be converted so that those we once regarded as Samaritans will become the heroes of the story and our enemies become our neighbors.
Initiative #3 – Restoring the World by Making Peace in the Muslim-Majority World
The Highland Church of Christ will take the next 4-5 years to learn about the Muslim-majority world, beseech the Spirit to begin transforming our fear into love, and prayerfully discern and research ways in which God is already moving to bring peace and reconciliation in areas characterized by conflict between Christians and Muslims. After this time period we will support missionaries and/or local church leaders, as well as partner with organizations focused on peacemaking and reconciliation in conflict areas. This phase of the vision will consist of the components below:
• We will investigate and equip Highland members in:
• The core tenets of Islam
• The history and current state of the Christian church in Muslim-majority areas
• The conditions of displaced peoples, particularly persecuted Christians, in conflict areas
• An awareness of churches and organizations focused on peacemaking, reconciliation, and Christian-Muslim dialogue
• Opportunities for Highland members to foster love for Muslims through prayer, confession, and interaction
• After 4-5 years, we will recruit 2-3 missionaries (most likely vocational missionaries), or support native missionaries, to start or mature churches living in a Muslim-majority area.
• We will partner with an organization(s) expressly working toward peacemaking and reconciliation in conflict areas.
• We will seek to form a coalition of Abilene churches and/or North American Churches of Christ who will jointly partner with an organization(s) in a Muslim-majority region to create a desire for peacemaking and reconciliation within our churches and communities.
Rationale for Initiative #3
• There is no more significant and prominent issue on the global stage than the conflicts related to the Muslim majority world. If we want to participate in God’s restoration in the world, then we must become proactive peacemakers. In doing so, we can become agents of reconciliation between Christians and Muslims.
• With fear and hatred toward the Muslim world so rampant in the global north, we have an opportunity to testify to the gospel of enemy-love and join God’s work of destroying the dividing wall of hostility in order to “create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace” (Eph 2:15).
• Because this issue is complex, and engaging it will be costly, Highland needs a period of learning, prayer, and discernment so that the Spirit can prepare us for this type of work.
• Networking with other churches committed to peacemaking and reconciliation can create a profound and significant counter-testimony to the message of fear, hate, and violence.
“Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:37)
May we repent of being priests and Levites who walk on the opposite side of the road and, through God’s grace, become a people who respond to the invitation, “Go and do likewise.”
Initiative #4 – Restoring the World by Restoring Highland
The Highland Church of Christ will develop avenues through which its members can use their gifts and talents for the sake of God’s mission in the world and be transformed more fully into the image of Christ.
• We will work to equip Highland members to become global Christians. The Church Equipping team will coordinate with the other ministries of Highland (worship, adult discipleship, student and children’s ministries) to make this happen. The following are examples of possible avenues for church equipping:
• Develop curriculum for teaching adults about world religions, global Christianity, culture, and best practices in social and economic justice.
• Incorporate prayers for the nations in worship.
• Connect our youth through focused efforts within the student and children’s ministries to global Christianity and the specific contexts of the vision initiatives.
• Expose members through short-term trips to the ways God works in the world.
• We will promote opportunities for members to use their talents, resources, and energy for God’s restorative purposes in the world. We hope this vision captivates our members to such a degree that inspires initiative towards action, both in their immediate contexts and as missionaries and workers we send out in the future.
• Invite members to participate in implementing the vision by joining one of the Restore the World ministry teams.
• Encourage members to learn one of our global partners’ languages to strengthen relationships, practice hospitality, and serve more effectively.
• Work with student ministries to help college students and youth imagine ways in which their schooling and talents can contribute to what God is doing in the world. More specifically, we hope our young people will grab onto this vision and, in five or ten years, be the people we send out to these fields.
• We will not ask Highland members just to “do more” for the sake of a “cause.” We want to work diligently to help people create margin in their lives. We recognize that many of our members lead extremely busy lives and find themselves with very little “extra” time and energy for “more” ministry. Combating the social norms of busyness that have become a consuming reality in our context, we want to ask people to do less as they live holistically within a lifestyle of ministry, freed up with space for loving and serving their neighbors.
• Work alongside other Highland ministries to help cultivate the practices of simplicity, sabbath, and silence among our members.
• We will fully support every Highland member who desires to do long-term, holistic mission that aligns with our vision.
• When a Highland member expresses a desire to be sent out, he or she will submit to the discernment of a group of fellow members for a period of six months. This group will prayerfully discern whether this person is suited for this work and whether his or her plans fit within Highland’s vision. This group will also offer advice about training needed before going out.
• We define a “Highland member” as one who has been an active member for at least 3 years.
• “Long-term” means a 5-year commitment as a missionary or a 3-year commitment working in a partnering humanitarian organization.
• A Highland member we send out will be adopted and fully supported by one small group during their initial 3-5 year commitment. At the end of that period, we will evaluate as to whether that small group or the church’s budget will continue to supply the funding.
Highland’s global ministries will work to integrate its missions ministry, both financially and organizationally, with the Restoration Movement and Called Campaign capital into one cohesive enterprise.
For efficiency and effectiveness in the various components of the vision, Highland will expand from the existing model of one missions committee to a structure comprised of seven teams charged with specific and focused responsibilities. The Director of Global Ministries will oversee and coordinate between the various teams, and each team will have a ministry leader tasked with providing direction, finding new members, encouraging current ones, implementing action plans, and communicating with the vision team, other team leaders, and the congregation.
The seven teams and their respective responsibilities are as follows:
Led by the Director of Global Ministries, the Vision Team will oversee the development and implementation of the Restore the World vision from a macro-level. This team will also coordinate with the other teams and manage the finances underneath the Restore the World umbrella.
The Missionary Care team will provide care, support, and encouragement to our workers, including Highland’s missionaries and others on the field. A primary, and perhaps most significant, job will be prayer. A major task will be finding creative ways to regularly express the love and support of Highland to those on the field. It will also coordinate with missionaries about furloughs, as well as missionary care trips to visit them on the field.
The Short-term Trip team will work to develop and oversee a process for doing effective, formative short-term trips in conjunction with the overall vision. This team will think creatively about trips that will enhance the discipleship of members, do no harm to the receiving community, and promote the vision and member involvement. Examples of possible ways to do short-term trips effectively within our vision include:
• Careful planning with attention to context and coordination with the hosting party
• Short-term trips organized around small groups in order to promote deeper community
• A required pre-field curriculum to learn “best practices” in short-term trips and understand the context to which they are going
• A series of debriefing sessions in order to theologically reflect on their experiences and explore ways in which those experiences can impact the life of the Highland church
• Fasting by participants who will give up something during the 6-month period before the trip to create a purposed mental and financial investment, setting aside their own money to cover a portion of their trip expenses
• Priority in funding for trips aligned with our vision
The Church Equipping team sets the trajectory for increasing involvement in Restore the World initiatives, equipping members to be global Christians, and fostering discipleship practices among members to create margin in their lives and participate more fully in God’s mission in the world.
Brazil and Homelessness
The Brazil team will maintain good communication between Itu and Highland, as well as the respective homeless ministries. It will investigate opportunities for new projects and avenues for partnership. It will proactively promote this initiative to Highland and evaluate the effectiveness of this partnership.
Trafficking and Southeast Asia
The Southeast Asia team will handle efforts to discover and then oversee partnerships with missionaries and organizations related to this initiative. It will work to increase awareness among Highland members about trafficking and what God is doing in Southeast Asia.
Peacemaking and the Muslim world
The Peacemaking team will work to increase Highland’s understanding and love for the Muslim-majority world, as well as the condition of the church in those areas. It will bring in resources to help this process. It will also prayerfully investigate potential partnerships related to this initiative.
The Restore the World vision team humbly and prayerfully submits this vision proposal as a part of Highland’s Restoration Movement. We hope the dreams, goals, and initiatives articulated in this vision align with God’s mission in the world and reflect the our church’s desire to participate in God’s restorative work in Highland, Abilene, and the world.
We know that God is working throughout creation to make all things new through Jesus Christ. To that end the Holy Spirit beckons all of God’s people around the world to participate. This vision expresses how Highland seeks to join in God’s restorative mission in focused and intentional ways. The four initiatives outlined in this vision provide opportunity for a holistic global ministry, clear foci for long-term partnerships, and avenues for God’s Spirit to transform the Highland community.
The Highland church gave generously during the Called Campaign, and we pray that God uses those funds and this vision to draw this community of faith more fully into the life-giving mission of God.