I'm grateful to serve a network of churches that believes our calling is global as well as local. For many decades in my denomination, it was assumed that Associations were, well, local, and that regional and international evangelism and church planting were the exclusive purview of SBC agencies charged with those respective areas. But radical changes in transportation and communication over the past twenty years has made a truly "glocal" environment possible.
This is good for the church for two reasons. First, as our global awareness continues to increase, so should our conviction that our responsibility for the global spread of the Gospel can't be abdicated by churches to mission boards. Second, these shifts have resulted in the opening of missionary opportunity to people from every profession and walk of life. Last time I checked, the Great Commission wasn't limited to those with degrees in missiology!
Jesus' desire is to send the whole body of Christ, working within the area in which they are gifted.
About 12 years ago while teaching evangelism at a Baptist University, a young lady came to me in tears. After a moving chapel service that morning (it was "Missions Emphasis Week"), she was convinced that God had called her to be a missionary, but wrongly believed that this calling meant she had to give up on her love of children and teaching. Because of this assumption, she was asking me for help in transferring from the College of Education to the College of Christian Studies.
Let me tell this story another way: A young lady in a major that would allow her to virtually write her own ticket and go anywhere in the world, believed that to "answer the call to missions" she would need to switch to a major that would likely cause her to be refused admission to a host of places around the world--places most in need of the Gospel! After helping her realize that her love for teaching and love for missions need not be mutually exclusive, I only had one question. Twelve years later, I still have no answer to this question: "How on earth did we in the church arrive at such a myopic view of what missions is?"
I don't know where these assumptions came from, but this spring I'll be writing a book (due out this fall) that confronts such nonsense head on! More on this later in the year.
Sometimes, I get questions from pastors and others in our Association about why we are at work in so many places around the world. "It seems like most of what you guys do is just take mission trips all the time." I get it. And if "taking trips" was actually all we did, I'd be as skeptical about what we do as they seem to be when they ask the questions. But we don't just "take trips." Five years of "trips" to East Asia as resulted in a number of house churches that have introduced hundreds to Jesus. Many "trips" to New York since Hurricane Sandy bore down on the eastern seaboard has helped deploy the body of Christ from the areas of construction, transportation, and health care to a place where these services are desperately needed. And when they bring these things in the name of Jesus, more people follow Jesus! Pastors and missionaries can't do this by themselves. If we try, we sin against the people we presume to lead, and encourage them to disobey the Great Commission by omission!
So for the past several years, Mid-Maryland Association has continually emphasized sending the whole body of Christ. Though we are at work on every inhabited continent, I can think of only one place where we are at work that is led by pastors. In every other effort, its a federal government security specialist, a teacher, an HVAC technician, a sports apparel salesman, or a retired grandmother leading the way, and the effect of their service is reciprocal!
One example of this is below. Recently, our Association partnered with one of our local churches on an exploratory trip to west Africa. One young lady (she is in her early 20s), who also happens to be a teacher, wrote a summary of her experiences, and has given me permission to share those experiences with readers here. Those experiences weren't all fun, and they weren't all pleasant. But God used them all to move in her, and through her, to make Jesus known in a very dark place. This is one of the best examples I've seen of how Jesus changes the world, and changes us, when we obey His command to send the whole church.
This trip has been such an incredible blessing in so many ways. What I've learned in the past few years is that blessings aren't always received in happy circumstances. Sometimes God teaches us through the hard times and that is no less of a blessing than those borne in happy times. I've learned a lot about myself, both good and bad things. I've gained a new "family" in my mission team and have shared experiences with them that probably shouldn't ever be repeated! :)
I've been to a part of the world that few people from the west have ever set foot on. I've seen how people can struggle every day, but I've also seen how much joy a group of people--who we would consider destitute--can have.
I've had such a privileged life. I wake up every morning knowing I will get to eat, drink clean water, and bathe. I didn't have to worry about taking care of my younger siblings instead of going to school. I didn't have to work in a field instead of play. I was allowed a carefree, happy childhood, which I am incredibly grateful for.
I don't have to worry constantly about my safety or health. We live in a society where a proactive approach to health is possible. Eating healthy foods, exercising, and maintaining sanitary conditions are all possible for me. I can afford a gym membership, fresh produce and meats, and can clean my hands in water that isn't contaminated. I've taken all of this for granted my whole life.
I'm so thankful that God sent me on this trip. I came in expecting that my role was to help other people. While I do think I did some of that, I also believe that God's plan for me in west Africa involved the people who live there helping me. I believe God wanted me to learn from them, about them. I think I was meant to learn about myself--especially the areas of myself that I need to work on. I am a selfish, fearful, and spoiled person. Through this trip, I've seen these parts of myself in a very clear way. This is not meant to be self-deprecating. These are parts of myself (And if we are all honest, parts of all of us) that need work.
In short, this trip was amazing in so many different ways, and for so many different reasons. I am so blessed to be able to experience these things, especially at my age.
To those of you who wonder why we do what we do, the words above illustrate but one of the many reasons why. And if you have been "on the fence" for a while wondering if God can use you, let the words above sink deeply into your soul. YES, He can use you! And He will also radically change you for the better in the process!
Explore opportunities to change the world while God changes YOUR world at the "news and events" section here.