Balin tells incredible stories of what happens in his prison ministry. He is a little too charismatic for me and this makes me skeptical about some of his stories. In case you have not run into it before let me just say that charismatics generally have really poor math skills. So, when Balin tells me that he regularly gathers four hundred women together and preaches to them and that they have a small building that they call a church and that they have around twenty five or so women who regularly gather there to worship I don't take any of this at face value. One day I said, 'ok let's go to the prison together.'
Let me tell you some things about Balin. He is young. This means that in our Muslim society he has no respect because he is not married yet and has no children. He is loud and gregarious. This means in our conservative society that he must be immature, unintelligent, and ill-mannered. He is a mad man who meets everyone Jesus first and proclaims Christ in the most inappropriate ways I have ever seen in a Muslim Country.
We pulled up to the imposing prison gates and as we did the whole place came alive. Guards on top of the walls were shouting, "BALIN! Balin is here, Balin is here! Open the gates, call the director, Balin is here!" They were pretty excited to see this guy. We went in and I met with the director of the prison. He was one of the slimiest, most corrupt men I have ever met. He could not stop going on and on about how much he loved Balin and how much they appreciated his ministry with the women. We went in and gathered the women at the church. I played a couple of songs and Balin preached. It was clear these ladies knew the Word. There were a couple of really mature leaders there. Many of the guards crowded around to hear him as well. Then he called out, 'who wants prayer?' Many cried out different request. He prayed for all of them, blessed them, and we went out.
Let me add here that Balin has zero training to do what he does. But there is no one like him in the world. What he is is simple. What he does is anointed by the King. Not just anyone can get physically into the prison. Not just anyone can get permission to put up a room and call it church. Not just anyone can shine spiritual light into what I consider one of the most hostile spiritual places on earth. I believe that Balin is an apostle. An apostle specifically to the prisons of Gondor.
Well, now that we come to it what do I mean? What is an apostle? I could say that Balin is an evangelist and everyone would nod their heads up and down and say, 'hmmmm I think so too.' But he is not just an evangelist. The evangelist is a specially gifted person to be able to speak truth into the darkness of a lost soul and see it respond. I am not one and I appreciate very much those who are. I speak truth and sometimes it seems to bounce off the brick walls of men's hearts. An evangelist comes in and all of a sudden there are tears and repentance all over the place. We have all seen this. We understand this. But what then, is an apostle?
An apostle is a ‘sent one.’ He is given a specific task for breaking down barriers and he carries a ministry across the barricades that the enemy has erected to spread the light of the Kingdom in a previously dark place. The key difference for the apostle from the other ministries is the concept of barriers. Paul was sent to the Gentiles. This was cross cultural ministry. He went (physically) from where he was to a different place and culture with the Good News. Peter was an Apostle to the Jews. He was a Jew. He did not in one sense cross a barrier in that he was who he was sent to reach. But in another sense he crossed an important barrier. The Jews had rejected Jesus. Peter was ethnically a Jew but he became a citizen of the Kingdom and then was sent back to the Jews. He was in a sense re-crossing the barrier he had come across. Crossing barriers is important to apostles.
Another characteristic is the ministry. A preacher can preach anywhere. An evangelist evangelizes everywhere he goes. But they are not apostles. An apostle brings a ministry with him. He is not just a team leader. He is a team empowerer. Because he is called to cross the barrier he is given the authority to do the job that the King has called him to. As with all gifts in the Kingdom it only has meaning as it is given away. An apostle gives his authority to others that they may expand the ministry. I have seen this many times in my own ministry here in Gondor. I go out with the team. We meet with the local leaders in the village we go to. I bless them and give them my authority. Then I move on and get out of their way. If I don’t go in the first place the team is powerless to act. If I stay too long I keep the power to act to myself and leave the team ineffective. I need to go, bless, and get out of the way. We see this over and over again in Paul’s ministry. He lands in a place, shares the Good News, then (usually because of persecution) he gets out and leaves the work for Timothy, Titus, and others. In my initial story above this is Balin’s greatest weakness. He has trouble sharing his authority and acts alone too often. We are working on this.
What I have written here I have not seen in print anywhere else. If anyone has better ideas please share them. If you have concerns with what I have said I would greatly welcome a dialogue in the comments section.