What do we think we’re doing, going to Mexico, as if we have something to offer? And, what’s the point of missions if it means passing by our neighbors – the people closest to us?
Jay and I were sitting on the front porch, looking out at kids playing in our front yard. The questions kept coming.
“What if this is it? What if this is what it means to be a Christian, to be a missionary? If we can’t live it out here, can we live it out at all?”
The next day, Jay called our mission organization, Christ For the City International (CFCI) to nervously explain we were no longer able to follow the plan of going to Mexico as missionaries. We didn’t know where that would leave us, but we knew we couldn’t go. CFCI graciously and whole-heartedly supported our decision to stay. Their willingness to give us freedom to develop this ministry however God led was vital; they’ve been a blessing to us.
And so we stayed as CFCI missionaries, not to Mexico, but to an unknown, rural town in northwest Iowa known for its diversity and meat-processing plants. That decision, as painful as it was, proved foundational for our next steps – because, as those who had already accepted the mentality of being missionaries in Mexico, we simply swung our gaze and approached our community with the same mindset.
Bridge-builders live on mission, intentional about engaging their communities with tangible expressions of the Gospel.
And that sounds good in theory. But, what we came to realize is that the Church and other well-meaning folks often understand the concept of missions and living on mission in the context of over there.
But the exact same approach, when applied here, presents a large learning curve.
As we discovered, there is an over there missions world and a right here church world in terms of Christian activity.
And bridge-builders need to figure out how to reflect missions strategies in a churched, post-Christian society, integrating the over there with the right here in order to live on mission.
For example, it’s an acceptable missions activity of American churches to help build houses and meet physical needs – over there. But here? Here, we tend to get tripped up by discussions of work ethic and entitlement.
What if as many Christians who travel to build houses, run programs, and care for the disadvantaged also applied that passion to the forsaken places in their communities here?
We, the Church, love caring for orphans and feeding kids – over there. But here? We tend to look the other way rather than embrace the opportunities to love children in foster care or broken places or to adopt.
What if as many Christians who “loved on” kids over there chose to also care for kids in the exact same situation here? Friends, I’m a mom in social circles with many Christians but bringing home our foster child (who eventually became our daughter) was utter loneliness. That season was a long, dark tunnel, and the only flickers of lights were our therapist, DHS workers, and a couple friends. My world stopped for over 6 months, and I existed with a 3 year-old, severely traumatized girl strapped to me in a baby carrier – and I wondered where all the baby-loving, orphan-advocating Christians were. How we needed them.
We’re supportive of missionaries contextualizing the Gospel – over there. But here? Here, we wonder if ministries aren’t a bit too “social justice-y” and not Christ-centered enough.
What if as many Christians who willingly go through cultural orientations and change their behaviors, dress codes, and lingo in prep for mission work over there would be just as willing to adjust here in order to meet this society where it is?
We’re willing to overlook the minors and partner for the sake of the Gospel – over there. But here? We wonder if compromise isn’t a bad word and that maybe unity is for Heaven alone.
What if as many Christians who eagerly partner with mission agencies and churches and missionary hosts there chose to erase some lines in the sand here and build some partnerships in their own communities for Jesus’ sake?
So, maybe we call it bridge-building. Or we can call it discipleship. Or we can call it living on mission. Or we can call it following Jesus. Or we can call it missional. Or we can call it being Christians.
If it takes applying new words to an old concept to bring a better understanding, then we can do that. But, the bottom line is this: let’s live as if there is no disconnect between the here and there.
Because, going there is not wrong, but it is incomplete if we are not living on mission here.
For more reading about living on mission, read this post from January 2015:
Once upon a time, this privileged white kid sat in a sparkly church van and rolled through the poverty of a Mexican border town on a work team, trying to snap pictures inconspicuously. My world was rocked. I exclaimed with the rest of the team over the sights outside my window. But mostly, I just gripped my friend’s hand as our van swerved around in what seemed to be the most disastrous, chaotic traffic this Iowa girl had ever experienced. (Passing tractors during planting and harvesting season just didn’t compare.)
After multiple mission trip experiences, my husband and I were making arrangements to head back to Mexico, this time to live as missionaries. But, we couldn’t get past our neighborhood, much less out of our country.
Over time we realized that God set us on a path of living missions here in the USA. Through struggle and holy fumbling, we found the short-term experience to be wonderful and powerful but drastically different than living this thing out day after day after day after day after day. Because, while I had come to function happily (even expertly) in the world of short-term trips, I felt like a clueless stranger dropped into the world of everyday surrender.
But “doing missions” was never meant to be a compartmentalized Christian activity in the life of a disciple.
Mission organizations were never meant to function as Christian travel agencies. Mission trips were never meant to take on their own identity and outshine the call to daily obedience.
Truth is, when we divorce “mission” from everyday living and only affirm it in occasional trips and events, the body of Christ is left with an awkward, inconsistent model of living out our faith, one that lacks real discipleship. We excuse our routinely busy schedules, hoping to clear them once or twice a year for missions. We may be willing to sacrifice over there but live in self-indulgence here. We may act like Christians there but sling mud here. We may see a certain project or effort valid there yet unnecessary right in our backyards. We send off missionaries to far off lands but justify numerous reasons to not live in certain parts of the city. We sign up and pay thousands to travel far away where it is far easier to love unknown faces for a week, but fail to consistently love the family of God or our neighbors here. We talk about justice and poverty over there but have no real relationships with anyone disadvantaged or living in poverty here.
But, can we strike a balance, where short-term mission trips and projects remain worthwhile and valid, as does living on mission in our everyday lives?
Can we passionately embrace an integrated, all-consuming approach to living out our faith while here?
If so, then maybe it wouldn’t seem like such a big deal to pick up and go to another country to serve. Maybe it would be a natural step, a gentle flowing from one place to another, but with the same purpose, heart, and vision.
We wouldn’t talk then as much about our lives were dramatically changed or our worlds rocked on that one amazing trip.
And, maybe it wouldn’t have been such an emotional experience of contrasts for me to visit that border town years ago.
But, truth is, this missional living has fewer spotlights and less applause, and it doesn’t come easily for those of us who have been teething on short-term mission trips. It’s less about projects and photo opps or sweet debriefing times and energetic teammates. It’s more about dying daily. It’s more about persevering and steadfastness and choosing love when no warm feelings abound. It claims our everything, demanding both the here and the over there, be fully surrendered and united.
In conclusion, friends, please don’t just do missions; live missions in your everydays. Surrender to it. Let it break your heart and rearrange your schedule. Involve your family. Put your feet in it and walk in the opportunities God gives you here. Live sacrificially. Give fearlessly. Open your door. Choose to see your community as a mission field. Pray for the average people you see every day. Get some sore knees over it. Cry a little and lose some sleep over it. Take your place in your church family. Love generously. Speak up for the voiceless. Live passionately, bearing the Gospel message here as well as there.
And, by all means, take advantage of opportunities to travel and minister in other places, as God directs. May your doing over there be the natural overflow of intentional living as His disciple here.
This month’s series is on being a bridge-builder. In short, it’s about how to be like certain individuals who let God show up in their words and deeds and forever changed our little family. But, it’s not a series about our story; it’s as series about how Redemption made our story useful, even valuable, in a greater story.
If Jay and I know anything about being a bridge-builder, it’s because we were the ones stuck on an island. If we understand anything about the power of meeting people where they are and standing in the gap, it’s because that’s how we were rescued – by God, through average people.