(T)here and Now

By Rev. Ethan Linder

Josh Needler thought God was calling him to missions in another part of the world. Turns out, God wanted him to minister in his own backyard.

Ever since Jesus said, "Go into all nations," discipleship has been a global thing. And yet discipleship is also relentlessly local -- seeping into workplaces, neighborhoods, pews and gatherings of friends through people who listen, serve and embody the Good News about Jesus to the people God's given them to love.

Churches, families and communities frequently struggle to discern how to hold this local-global emphasis in tension. In our churches and in our personal lives, it can seem like local and global expressions of church compete for time, finances and prayer. But what if our commitment to local-global discipleship helped us do both more fully?

For Josh Needler, a member of College Wesleyan Church (CWC) in Marion, Indiana, participating in global discipleship has raised his attentiveness to how God moves in his own community.

How can I put my passion for this kind of community into practice here in my own context?

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Needler’s experience in global discipleship is rich and extensive, starting with Global Impact Trips through “Yes Ministries,” the former youth missions arm of The Wesleyan Church, and then extending into Peru through connections he made while a student at Indiana Wesleyan University (IWU). Through those connections, Needler went to Peru and ended up living there once for an extended period of time while he was still a student. After his time as a student at IWU, Needler returned to live in Peru for another extended stay.

During this second stay in Peru — as Needler worked alongside youth and processed through his calling — he began wondering about God’s way of calling him to missions. Needler’s fluency in Spanish, love for people and passion for global ministry led him to expect that God would give him a long-term call as a missionary. But that specific call never came. “There was never really a long-term call,” said Needler. “The doors God called me to go through were always toward short-term.” Upon returning to Marion after an extended trip in 2014, Needler was tired and unsure of how God would use his call to missions. During that period, Rev. Chris Williams (then the executive pastor at CWC) approached Josh and invited him to go on a trip to CWC’s sister church in Mexico City: Senda De Vida Church (SDV), pastored by Rev. Alejandro Sicilia.

“I said, ‘No, I don’t want to go.’ But he kept reaching out, and I had several people encourage me to go, and I went.” That trip to Senda De Vida became a turning point in Josh’s posture toward God’s calling to local-global discipleship. “The Mexico City trip was the way God basically spoke to me and said, ‘Josh, there is a reason for this. Don’t lose heart.’ And that came through the relationship I have with a lot of the people in Senda De Vida.”

Since that first trip, Needler has been to Senda De Vida eight more times and has cultivated relationships with Pastor Alejandro, his wife, Ruth, his children, Pablo and Alejandro, and countless lay members of the church who see Needler as an essential part of their congregation (even if from a distance). Needler mentioned that several members of Senda de Vida are among the people he corresponds with on a regular basis. “Technology opened doors for me to realize that these relationships can continue being nurtured. When I first started travelling, WhatsApp [an app for communicating] wasn’t a thing, FaceTime wasn’t a thing and that’s changed the way we build relationships.” Part of the relational refreshment Needler has seen is in his own way of relating with God, community and the church.

“The most impactful thing for me about Senda de Vida was seeing the amount of time and energy their members put into their local communities. 

Outreach runs through their veins; cell groups are their way of bringing people into the church,” said Needler. “So after my first trip, I was really challenged to get more involved in a small group and then started to ask, ‘How can I put my passion for this kind of community into practice here in my own context?’”

Needler’s answer to that question has come in the form of launching Immigrant Connection at College Wesleyan Church, where he serves as an accredited representative. Working at the Immigrant Connection office has enabled him to serve a significant number of people who need legal help and has been a great outlet for building trust and relationships with the Spanish-speaking population in Grant County, Indiana.

“I don’t know a business here locally that is managed by Spanish-speaking individuals whose employees don’t know I speak Spanish when I walk through the door now. It’s just created that connection here in the community that (although I’ve been living here my entire life) I never had until building trust these past years,” said Needler.

This theme, noticing what previously went unnoticed, consistently emerges in the stories of those like Needler, who participate in local-global relationships. Something of God’s character emerges more clearly when we see believers of another culture approach him. Overlooked needs, gifts and populations in our own communities surface more obviously when our discipleship has been shaped by listening to those around the world and in our own backyard. No matter what our job is, our calling is to make disciples in our neighborhoods, workplaces, churches and in “all nations.”

Needler is doing just that: having an impact locally and globally that is aiding in The Wesleyan Church having a Kingdom-Force impact around the world.