In March of 2019 I started a ministry in Utah called the Elevation Project. I'm communicating with you because I treasure your friendship, prayers, and partnership in the Kingdom of God. I plan to send updates on a regular basis. If you no longer wish to see these, please let me know and I will take you off my list.
If you were to take some time to analyze where you live and the people you live around, I imagine you would quickly identify some things that are unique. Take something as simple as how you might greet someone. In Edmonton, Alberta when you ask people how they are doing? They reply with "Oh, not to bad, eh!" One time I was in Atlanta, Georgia for a week and I was called "Sugar", "Sweetie", and "Honey" so many times I thought I should check my blood sugar level! How people interact with common phrases are some of the simple things that help define a culture.
The definition of culture is: the customs, arts, social institutions and achievements of a particular nation, people or social group.
When a missions organization sends people overseas they recognize that extensive research and analysis are required to understand how a people group communicates, thinks, interacts, and behaves. Without this it would be extremely difficult to communicate effectively in a particular culture. I think most of us understand the need for good missiology when it comes to overseas missions.
Jesus' last words spoken before leaving earth come from Acts 1:8. Here he cast the vision to "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
When I was a student at Moody Bible Institute in the mid 90's, I loved that we had a week dedicated to missions in the Fall every year. We would host missionaries on our dorm floors and have small group sessions with missionaries from all over the world. I often would ask, "Lord are you asking me to go to the mission field? Are you calling me to Africa or India? Here I am send me!" Despite my prayers, I never sensed that God was calling me to go to the ends of the earth. Since those days, I’ve come to realize that the Great Commission in Acts 1:8, is about more than just going to the ends of the earth. Jesus gives us a clear strategy. It's about reaching Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria, too!
If we apply this idea to our own context it may look something like this... Jesus wants us to reach the city where we live, our Jerusalem (culturally like us). He also wants some of us to go to the surrounding area, our Judea (culturally similar to us). Much of the modern church multiplication movement is focused on reaching their Judea. But then there’s the call to reach our Samaria (nearby, but culturally different than us). Through the years God has been opening doors for me to do ministry in my Samaria. Now more than ever I recognize the unique heart and call of Jesus to reach people who aren’t like us and hard to reach!
When I lived in Chicago in the late 90's, God lead me to be a part of a multi-ethnic church in Edgewater (a community on the Northside) which did inner-city ministry in the most ethnically diverse area in the entire United States. This was my first taste of discovering my Samaria, engaging culture/s that were nothing like me. Fast forward 5 years to 2002 and God has led our family to Utah. Utah is amazing! In some very real ways this is the best place to live in America! The economy here is excellent, the crime is incredibly low, It’s the only state in American to receive a 3 star michelin rating as a must see travel destination and if that’s not enough, your neighbors bring cookies over fairly often! But Utah also has the most unique culture you’ll ever experience. We live in a place where 83% of the people belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. This monolithic religious culture is daunting for everyone, even those who are members of the Mormon Church. Most of my LDS (Latter Day Saints) friends tell me how much they’d love to live somewhere else outside of Utah, even they get exhausted by living in what is referred to as the Utah bubble!
Throughout the month of June I have been teaching a class called Living in Utah at Alpine Bible Church in the town of Lehi, UT (which is named after a prophet from the Book of Mormon). How many churches are teaching Living in Michigan or Living in California classes? The fact that we teach a class like this ought to tell you how unique it is to live in this state. The purpose of this class is to equip Christians living here to understand the culture and be better able to live and communicate the gospel in culturally effective ways. Living in the midst of a competing religious culture isn't easy. Mormons have a worldview that’s hard to understand, which makes sharing the gospel confusing and complicated. They now teach that they are Christians too. This complicates things further, because traditional Christianity and the LDS worldview don’t align. Learning to understand, speak truth, and be able to do so in loving ways is paramount!
One of the main reasons for the confusion is that Mormons and Christians have a shared terminology. We use the same Biblical terms like salvation, atonement, Heavenly Father, but we define these things in completely different ways. For instance, for Mormons the atonement of Jesus happens in the Garden, it’s not related to the cross as we believe. For Mormons salvation is a complex plan of progression that starts in the pre-existence where human spirits exist without a body. Living in Utah is a lot like living in ancient Samaria. We can learn a lot from examining how Jesus interacts with the Samaritans throughout the gospels. In Luke 17 he heals ten Lepers, but only the Samaritan returns to Jesus to give thanks. In Luke 10 He tells the story of the Good Samaritan. In both those accounts in Luke Jesus is doing something beneath the surface. He’s making the Samaritans the hero of the story. He’s telling His Jewish audience that He values, loves, and appreciates Samaritan people. This would have been a culturally shocking thing for them to hear. Jews and Samaritans hated each other. Devout Jews even refused to step one foot in the Samaritan region. And then in John 4 Jesus sits down at a well with a Samaritan woman and opens up with her about being the Messiah in a way that He often kept silent with his own people. Jesus loved Samaritans! He broke all the social norms of his day! He shows us how to break down walls and minister to people who live nearby, but culturally nothing like us.
I have been meeting 12 Pastors here in Utah who are leading people as they engage Mormon culture. These churches are making a massive difference despite their limited resources. One of the things I value most is spending time with these leaders and encouraging them and talking about how we engage this culture well. Almost all of them are on missionary support and the majority don’t have any full time staff members, but they are humbly fulfilling the call of Christ to reach this Samaria!
Over the past 3 months as this ministry has launched, I have been focused on building and strengthening my network of Pastors. I had the joy of attending a weekend strategic planning seminar with LifeStone Church and Pastor Ben Helton. I was able to work with them on their assimilation strategy and their cultural engagement. Before I launched the Elevation Project I met extensively with Pastor Nathaniel Wall at Alpine Bible Church about what a ministry like this could look like and become. Since then I have also been able to work with them on their assimilation strategy and cultural engagement. God continues to open doors with Pastors and churches. We all sense that God is preparing the local church in Utah for greater multiplication and harvest in the future. We are trusting in Him to open the door for more resources and more believers who have a desire to be on mission with Christ in Utah!
Please pray for the pastors and churches in Utah. Ask God to encourage and protect them. Ask Him to open doors for the gospel to be received. Ask Him to provide resources for the Kingdom of Christ to be advanced here in UTAH!
The Elevation Project is a ministry of the NAB (North American Baptist) NW Region.
Your prayers, thoughts, and support mean so much! Thank you for thinking of this ministry as you take time and prayer throughout your week. We believe that God wants to do a work here in Utah beyond what we can possibly imagine!
Please make your designation to: Utah (Nate Fox)
Current support level at: 42%
If you are interested in coming to Utah with a team please visit my contact page