13:1 Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger,  Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. (Acts 13:1-3 (ESV)
Thus begins the missionary journeys of Paul and Barnabus. It begins with worship and fasting. It doesn’t really say how long the fasted, but one sees here the relationship between fasting and prayer. The worship would have included scripture study, and the Lord’s Supper, as well as prayer. They seemed to be anticipating something, but not yet sure what. Then the Holy Spirit tells them. And Paul and Barnabus are set aside for the work. Here again, it is done with fasting and prayer. It was a regular part of the early church to fast, for special occasions like this. The Bridegroom wasn’t among them. When the fasting and prayer were finished, they ended a sentence with a preposition to mark the occasion. They sent them off.
It doesn’t say here where they are sent. First they go to Cyprus. There is an odd thing here. Today we think of mission trips as going to foreign lands. Growing up I spent three years globetrotting as my dad prepared to go to Africa and then did. He had to learn a foreign language, and cultural customs. The work was being funded by one of the greatest mission societies ever formed, a great legacy of the Lutheran Church, in a small German hamlet named Bleckmar. They trained and sent missionaries all over the world, and still do so. And something seems lost to me today as college kids spend springbreak on mission trips and call themselves missionaries, often not even having bothered to learn the language of the host country they are going to. But then as we venture further into a post-colonial world, I imagine this will more and more become the norm for foreign missions. And the old mission societies will find new purpose. Today places like Africa and Asia have many fine homegrown pastors. It is the west that is in need of missionaries. And so it is that missions is really taking on more and more the character of Paul’s missionary journeys. Paul’s travels took him to different lands, but rarely a different culture. Even when he gets to Rome he is among Greek speaking people. It was the language he grew up with, the language he knew, the people and customs he knew. And why not? But this does mark a change.
Previously the gospel had spread as persecution scattered the Christians to new places of refuge. Now the gospel is going on the offensive. Now these two are deliberately going to preach gospel in new places, deliberately traveling to share the gospel with others who have not heard. One doesn’t have to travel far to do the same today.