I must confess something……….I sometimes have to bite my tongue. Yes, actually there are things I would want to say but don’t. Sometimes about my own brothers and sisters in Christ. For too many I suspect that “missions” is a trendy, feel-good thing some DO from time to time. Thankfully, though, for some it is something that is understood as a way of life to be embraced.
When Bill and I purchased a sad, dilapidating foreclosed home in our otherwise stable middle-class neighborhood to renovate and house women at the end of their selves and in dire need of new life, we met with a fair amount of resistance that got a bit nasty at times. We had researched state law and knew that we had solid ground for this all-volunteer ministry of life recovery through discipleship, mentoring and counseling right in our own neighborhood. There was quite a bit of work to be done and, thankfully, there were kind and servant-hearted people, and a few really missional souls, who joined us in the venture of renovating the home for these women, as well as some who joined us in the work of teaching and journeying alongside them in day- to- day life.
Over 30 women have resided there as our neighbors over the last two years. Some have done wonderfully well and considerably improved their spiritual, financial, legal, and relational lot in life. Others accomplished some but not all of their goals for fresh starts. Still others simply discovered that they were not ready or that what we offered was not what they were seeking. Even so, we have trusted that in coming, no matter how long they stayed, seeds were planted and God will have used their time here as a stepping stone to wherever and to whomever he is going to take them next.
The women and the ways in which Titus 2 serves are so diverse- ranging in age from 18 to mid-50s, 9th grade educations to some college or even an occasional degree, varied races and backgrounds, and an unbelievably diverse range of circumstances that bring them to us.
The variety of tasks include assisting in access to medical, dental, and mental health care, educational and vocational training resources, working dependency case plans, completing court ordered tasks like community service, payment of fines, reporting to probation, obtaining clothing, food, and toiletries, providing counseling, psychological education and group discussions, spiritual training and biblical literacy, life skills training, recreation, babysitting, purchasing bus tickets or trolley passes, assisting with purchase of vehicles, resume’ development, job skills development, application for benefits with various agencies, transitional housing, encouragement, networking, supportive community-building, and more. In short, living with, among, and alongside these women day in and day out. Sometimes for a few days, sometimes for a year and a half, and sometimes for the rest of our lives as friends, even like family.
Foreign missionaries have done that for centuries…lived among people, evangelized, taught, and ministered to them, served their needs, and loved them wherever called and sent. Having a missional heart is the same for all of us, wherever the Lord has called and equipped us to live it out. He’s called me to live it out in my community through being available to serve those he brings to me. Daily there are opportunities. Some take only a few minutes. Some will take months, years, or the rest of my life.
I am not annoyed with my brothers and sisters who haven’t yet been given missional hearts. I am, however, weary of the those who have and yet who look around at the world and feel that they and those like them alone are the only ones who are selfless enough in their giving of their resources. They alone are sensitive enough to the injustices of the past and present to understand the needs of the underprivileged among us and courageous enough to stand with those who have been victimized. They alone know the right way to transform culture. They alone know the right way to interpret the Gospel for a hungry and thirsting world.
Fifteen or so years ago, I and 1000 or so other Christians in a conference of close -by brothers and sisters were lectured and exhorted by a leader who came from a national group. She came with great pomp and individuality, which I enjoyed and celebrated with her. I delighted in the worship that she led with an ethnic flair. But as she talked, she used the same tired rhetoric that I’ve heard all my life, with thinly veiled chastisement of us, as mostly Southern white people, about how “you” don’t do enough overseas, for people with HIV, for people not like yourself. I knew many of the people in the conference. I knew their hearts. I knew the ministries they are involved in in urban, suburban, and rural areas and some who regularly go beyond their “Jerusalems” and “Judeas” to “Samarias” and even beyond. I knew their sacrifices, their losses, and their victories. I knew the modest means of many. I knew the ways some had stretched far out of comfort zones and found entirely new ways to grow and serve Christ. And I found myself beginning to ask, “Who are you to come to us and start lecturing us because our call and service isn’t just like yours?” Show us the needs that you see in the world, if you like, and show us how others are joyfully entering into the task of meeting those needs. Many will celebrate that with you and some will likely even be drawn in to see how they can join you. But don’t come telling us that because we aren’t all doing what you are doing, and what you think we should all be doing, that we aren’t doing enough, or even anything. Don’t make serving Christ all about racial inequality and “social justice”. Frankly, while I grew up in the Deep South, I long ago quite associating with people with racist attitudes and learned how to confront such attitudes and behavior when I encountered it. And, as a Wesleyan at heart, I am far more desirous that lives be lived out of “personal and social holiness” than through vain talk about “social justice,” as I am quite sure that faithful practice of the former will most assuredly lead to actually producing the latter.
I’m not really impressed with how many mission trips one has done overseas or how much an individual or his church gives to missions. I care whether or not one is friendly and kind to people who clean public buildings or pick up our trash, whether one engages with those sitting beside us on public transportation, whether one knows how to direct, or better yet, to take someone to get access to basic needs that come up in families’ lives, whether one understands the pain of someone feeling insecure about reading the Bible out loud in a group or praying for someone, whether one has enough empathy to recognize loneliness, and when you do, will you take the time to be a friend to the lonely? Will one encourage others toward simple pleasures by demonstrating her own joy in simple pleasures and toward becoming part of and being engaged with Christian brothers and sisters in community? Will one make time for people who are hard to love and even harder to live with or will we look away, with avoidant embarrassment and discomfort? Will we define hospitality in terms of how welcomed and valued we make people feel right where we find them and ourselves instead of only by when and whom we serve off of our best dinner china?
I’m weary of people who think they have cornered the market on bringing God to others instead of recognizing that God is already at work all around us and joining him in whatever ways he invites us to…..today. Everyday. Missions is a lifestyle, not a program or an event. And it doesn’t have to take us very far from where any one of us is right now. God has gifted each of us in unique ways. Respecting and valuing one another in the place and with the gifts we each bring to service honors God and celebrates our shared life in Christ.