Monday, September 27, 2010
I am part of a church I genuinely love. It is a large body of believers, comprised of people from every walk of life. There are those with great material wealth and those with very little. There are ministries to meet the needs of nearly everyone- single parents, the homeless, students, young professionals, young parents, children and the aged. There are groups for the sick, the addicted, the grieving and the uncertain. There are people who give of their time and their money and their energies consistently, who pour out themselves as an offering to the body. There are also those who take and never quite get to the point of giving back. It is not a place of perfect health. In fact, we suffer from the same problems the world at large suffers from. We are pressing toward the goal of being transformed, one day at a time, to the image of our Savior, but, we are in process.
As a body of believers, we have grown in our commitment to world missions. Instead of having summer camps for our kids, we've recently encouraged them instead to take part in short term missions trips, primarily to third world countries. This past summer alone, we've sent out groups to Africa, China, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Nepal, Nicaragua and more. We take seriously Jesus command to "go into all the world" preaching the gospel, sharing the love of Christ in tangible ways, whether by building water wells or creating jobs to divert young women away from prostitution. I believe these to be important efforts and that God wants us to continue.
My concern is, that we often romanticize and emphasize these journeys too much, and ascribe too little value to the mission field outside our own back doors. Frankly, in many ways, going to a third world country and interacting with the people there for a couple weeks is a lot easier than living out our faith day by day in our own spheres of influence with the people we see everyday and who may fray our nerves with regularity.
I serve in a ministry geared toward mostly 20-somethings: some students, some young professionals and some still trying to figure out which direction they're headed. Many of them grew up in the church and have had a lifetime to grow in their faith. Others are new to the idea of Christianity as a living, breathing way of life. Some aren't sure what they believe but are just looking for a place they can fit in. All are on the cusp of life as full fledged adults, making decisions that will impact the course their lives will take from here on. And, by virtue of the fact that they are showing up, I believe all are looking for a deeper understanding of God and a sense that their lives have meaning and value.
I've grown in relationship with some of these kids and have come to love them so much. I have been astonished by the things they've overcome, how they persevere, how they endure through great difficulty and how they maintain their focus, with little bitterness or anger, though they have every reason to exhibit both. They don't always fit in. There families aren't the Huxtables or the Cleavers. Sometimes they laugh too loud and try too hard. Sometimes their feelings are hurt too easily. They can't take a joke. Often, they don't ask for help when they desperately need it because they've learned that they cannot depend on anyone when the going gets tough, or they don't want to have someone give up on them because they're asking for too much. So they stay on the fringes, outsiders, surrounded by the insiders.
They are the invisible, the unacknowledged, the unforgiven, the overlooked, the misunderstood, in our midst. They are the walking wounded, the ones who get on our nerves and who bring us to the end of our proverbial ropes. They are the messy ones that we, who pretend to have it all together, don't want to deal with. So we wash our hands and say, they aren't like us, they're "too much," they don't fit in. We don't really want to be bothered. We have our circles and these square pegs just don't fit in them. Let someone else reach out...we're done.
Tragically, we don't know the whole story. We haven't time to find out the gory details. We do not know. The brokenness beneath the showy veneer; the loneliness behind the too loud laugh; the longing to belong when others flock together; the desperate desire to believe that someone loves them despite their brokenness, despite their all too visible flaws. We don't know because we can't be bothered. We're too busy and we don't have an affinity for them. We're sorry, but, we're done.
Short term missions trips are important. They're useful and worthwhile and have eternal value. I will not dispute that. I honor those who go and serve, often at great personal sacrifices of time and money to do so. What I'm trying to say, is this: I wish we'd be equally committed to our long term missions. Our neighbors. The folks who don't fit in. The people we have difficulty relating to. The ones we not only aren't loving , but the ones we don't even feign liking. What about them? The same Jesus who said "go into all the world" didn't just mean the down and out in third world countries. In fact, according to my bible, Jesus spent his first three decades at home, honing the art of sharing the good news, right in his own back yard by living among them, serving in his own little town. Could that be a model for us all? Doesn't it make sense that maybe we should learn to love the people at home first? Be compassionate with our neighbors? Our families? The person sitting next to you at church? Then, perhaps it's time to go beyond our borders-consider the rest of the world.
Isn't it time? I'm just ...sayin'