Patrick and I have been talking alot recently about this phenomenon, this widely held erroneous belief, of crosscultural missionaries somehow being regarded as the ones doing the real Kingdom work around here. Now don't get me wrong; there are aspects of our life that are quite challenging. And would be even more so, if we were living in areas resistant or hostile to the Gospel, where physical safety and that of national brothers and sisters in Christ is in jeopardy. I am not downplaying our decision to leave the safety and familiarity of one's home, the loving arms of family, the financial security of a paying job. But I would like it to be said, out loud, from a missionary, that we don't think we are the only ones in this fight. And any sentiment to the contrary is an insult to the faithful followers of Jesus in our home of North America, and anywhere around the world.
We were blessed to be in an English speaking, culturally familiar church this week in Nairobi, and heard a guest speaker from Scotland. He preached on Jesus' response to the crucifixion, basically whether He was a victim or whether He was acting as the omnipotent God of the Universe, in complete control of the situation. He shared that his country, the birthplace of countless missionaries, theologians, preachers, and authors, great ones of our faith, is so secularized that conservative estimates put evangelicals at less than 1%. How did this happen? Not sure, but we can see it happening in North America as well.
Patrick and I began talking about what it will mean for our children to be defenders of the faith, Jesus-followers even to the hard places, in their adult lives. It may not be Africa, or similar traditional mission fields. Don’t mean to be controversial, there are still millions of truly unreached people out there. International missions will still be around for awhile, hopefully always partnered with the local church; but we need to stop thinking that people who go are somehow more actively engaged in Kingdom work than those who stay. The litmus test of following Jesus is not necessarily how far geographically you go, or how dramatic pictures you can post to FB. Just because our church has a squatty potty does not make us good missionaries, or good Christians. There is no inherently spiritual quality to choosing a difficult life. Way to go, pat on the back for living in the bush. And there is no inherently selfish quality to staying in a comfortable middle class American home with good schools and grandparents down the road.
We will not be pushing our children to go into "ministry", even with 2 generations in the family. What we want to model for them is commitment to a few things, the things we think are much, much more important than being in full time ministry
- understand the whole purpose of our lives is to know and love God so we can bring Him glory
- know the truth, stand up for truth, even in antagonistic circumstances
- actively (key word there) pursue those still living in spiritual darkness and be intentional about vocalizing the peace and freedom we have found in Jesus
- actively find the hurting, the lonely, the sad, the struggling around us, and love them practically, being the hands and feet of Jesus
- seek to be leaders in whatever circle of influence or community they end up, with wisdom, ethics, and a commitment to something greater than their own gain.
It is so easy for all of us to be complacent. Don't let yourself off the hook that you are not that important to the Cause because you are not a missionary or a pastor. Our world desperately needs committed, intentional, vocal followers of Jesus, and they need them in all facets of society. Dare I say even more so than they need more international missionaries? (Blasphemy! AIM recruiting will probably censor my post ;-) But seriously, the global South is really rising up to take more responsibility with the Church, as they should. Its their church. They don't need us as much as we might like to think. We need to embrace a much wider scope, as we look at our role as Christ-followers in this rapidly changing world.
Perhaps that does mean changes. Moving to a less palatable area. Taking a job that gives you less pay, but more time for our other job, Kingdom work. Choosing to start your own small group instead of the warm, comfortable one you've been a part of for years. Serving in the community, not just waiting for those "other folks" to make it to church. Being available for God to use you not just in the church, but outside of the church. I am so humbled by the every day people I know who are not just doing their day job and mowing their lawn. They are secret super heroes, modern day heroes of the faith: foster parents, committed evangelists, Christian teachers, volunteers with immigrant ministries, professionals using their place in the community as a platform. These are the ones we should be putting on pedestals.
Our job is to support the work of evangelism and church planting among unreached peoples of Africa. My, doesn't that sound dramatic. You know what, though? Although my evangelism story may look more exciting because the person I am sharing with is clothed in a wrap and lives in a straw hut, it isn't any different to God. The heart of your neighbour is just as important to him as the heart of my neighbour! I could love and feed a hurting child in Kibera, one of the biggest slums in Africa, or Kakuma, one of the biggest refugee camps in Africa. Again, dramatic, right? A picture with one of those dirty, raggedy children looks great on a newsletter, gets lots of likes and encouraging comments on FB. You know what? The hurting heart of that orphan child breaks the heart of our loving Father just the same as a lonely, neglected child in the foster system back home.
We are in this together, folks. If I get a chance to talk to you, yes, I would love the opportunity to share how we see God moving here. But then be prepared for me to ask the same of you. And please, please, don't tell me your life is boring compared to mine. We each struggle to raise our eyes up out of the tyranny of the urgent in our own lives; but oh when we do, God is waiting to use us to be His hands, feet, and voice of truth. Wherever the name of Jesus is not being lifted up in worship, we need to go. We identify as "goers", and most of you would call yourselves "stayers." But we all have places to go. Things to do. People to love. Wherever you are, you are needed. If you can't find a place to be needed, then go some where else. But you don't have to come to Africa to do that. Please don't separate our role too much from you, the Church at home, on this. Looking forward to sharing our stories together!