Friday, July 27, 2007

Why I am NOT a Missionary

dome two
This article has been submitted anonymously by a believer who grew up as an MK from a traditional sending agency. In adulthood she has served as a teacher and field representative in a closed country. In an attempt to open the door for entry into areas of little access, she returned to the US to obtain a secular degree from a non-religious university. Although employed in a university in a large US City, she is returning to the field as a teacher in a secular educational institution in a closed country.

In the nineteenth century, some Chinese leaders were suspicious of missionaries, believing they were involved in the opium trade. Whether fact or fiction, this perception led to the doors of China slamming shut. Today, although the government has allowed churches to be reopened and 40 million Bibles to be published, it still denies entrance to those who call themselves missionaries.

The mission movement made great strides in 19th and 20th century, laying the groundwork for Scripture to be translated into many tongues and for a movement of the Spirit to transform peoples of many cultures. Health conditions improved. Living conditions improved. People from every continent embraced the Living Word. Unfortunately, in many places, Western culture was not clearly differentiated from Christianity. Because of this, along with the rise of patriotism, nationalism and a desire to assert their own cultural identity, many governments see missionaries as a threat to the survival of their cultures and deny entrance to those who call themselves missionaries.

In the latter part of the last century, governments began to oppose missionaries at the very core of who they are. Some of these governments made proselytizing illegal, especially for Christians, regardless of their citizenship. Other governments oppose missionaries precisely because their identity in Christ. Thus, a large proportion of governments across Asia deny entrance to those who call themselves missionaries.

Christ's directive to the Church is clear: "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation" (Mark 16:15, NASB). Some mission organizations have countered the edicts of non-sympathetic governments by changing the words they used. They refer to their personnel in much the same way that international business agencies refer to their employees: agents, representatives, or field personnel. Since the government was not opposed to educators, medical personnel, or relief workers helping the country, some organizations sent teachers, doctors, nurses, and engineers to the field.

To some extent, these measures were successful. Christian doctors, nurses, teachers, businessmen, engineers, and other field personnel were allowed entrance into countries that denied entrance to missionaries. However, in order to protect such field personnel, the sending organizations had to cover any paper trails that would financially connect them with those on the field. They purge their names from the media (devotionals, newspapers, and the internet) that reminded supporters of the organization to pray for them. If a disgruntled official in any of the host countries discovered the Christian worker was tied to a mission organization, the Christian would be expelled.

What if there were no paper trail? If Christian workers were hired and fully supported by institutions or businesses in the host country, there would be no financial connections to discover. If friends and ministers, sensitive to the laws of the host country, upheld their responsibility to encourage and pray for each other as Christian workers do, could a disgruntled official oppose anything more than their Christian integrity? Though Christ's directive is often the focal passage in commissioning services organized by missionary sending agencies, mission agencies and the missionaries they send do not have exclusive rights to the verse. The directive was first addressed to the eleven disciples. Carrying out the commission to "preach the gospel to all creation" is the right and responsibility of all those who believe Jesus' message.

In carrying out Christ's commission of all disciples, it does not really matter whether we are called field representative, teacher, doctor, engineer, or even tourist. It does not matter that we give up being called missionary; after all, it is not a biblical title. The important point is (and this is quite biblical as it is the root meaning of ekklesia, the Greek word for church) we are called.

Reflections from Southern California

cwiles Hammond Albert's 1972 hit song has been rolling around in my sub-conscious thought throughout the last month, surfacing occasionally for a brief vocal expression - seems it never rains in southern California... After six years as pastor of First Baptist Church of Arlington, my husband was eligible for a sabbatical leave of absence. We could have spent that time anywhere in the world. But Dennis had a strong inclination from God that we were to spend it in Southern California. I, on the other hand, only six months into the development of GCPN, left Arlington like Lot's wife. It took me the first ten days to stop looking eastward, chill out and finally decide that God had placed me in Southern California for a reason and I should perhaps figure out what that reason might be.

What I expected to be a test of endurance for me soon turned into an amazing journey of exploration and discovery. In the midst of the desert, I have experienced many God-ordained encounters that will forever shape my life. I feel like I've been attempting to drink from a fire hydrant of God's abundant resources. I fully expect these encounters to be a shaping force in the development of the glocal ministries of First Baptist Church of Arlington and emerge as formative ideas for the church network of GCPN.

I'm a person put off by trends and fads. Perhaps that's why I came to Southern California expecting a desert experience. I'm not inclined to walk into an emergent church, a Mosaic or a Saddleback and think, Wow! This is what I want to implement in my own church! God speaks to each church and its leadership in a unique way depending upon the context of the church. I'm not likely to listen to a lecture at the U.S. Center for World Mission and decide there is no way the church could possibly pull off the mission challenge without a sending agency. God speaks to each church in unique ways depending upon the context and constituency of the church. One lunch meeting with Neal Cole is not going to convince me to start Life Transformation Groups so that I can say my church is reproducing organically (although it's a great idea and I hope we are accomplishing the same goals in our own unique way in our own context.) But what I did encounter in the last month is a diverse array of missional thinkers on both the local and global levels who are addressing the needs of a lost world in a myriad of ways (Neal Cole being one of my favorites!) I'd like to share with you a few of the bits of wisdom I've gained from Southern California.

  • Church Meets World - any value I have previously held for monastic isolation has been shattered by the sacrificial lifestyles of pastors, missionaries and cross-cultural workers of all types who do whatever it takes to encounter lost people with the truth and love of Christ. Every church I have attended, every meeting I've dropped in on, every conversation I've been apart of is built upon the unquestionable belief that Christ is returning, the time is now and the cost is not to be measured. People of abandon have inspired me to faithfully reach the lost world while there is yet time.
  • Preparation is Essential - In my personal journal entitled, Confessions of a Non-Academian Who Knows How to Get Stuff Done, I am afraid I will have to reveal a new entry that reads something like this: Today God has impressed me that the preparation for cross-cultural ministry in this century is a balance of spiritual formation, academic preparedness, hands-on application and a sensitivity to the Spirit of God that requires great intentionality. The beauty of the church is that it possesses all these elements which can be shared within the Kingdom. I'm sure you already knew this, but sometimes it's good to be reminded.
  • Partnerships are an Expression of Divine Wisdom - It only makes sense. God created men and women for relationship with Himself and with each other. Adam received a help-mate and Paul received multiple missionary partners. God created us as creatures of community. As Baptists, we have viewed ourselves historically as a family that is independent, self-sufficient, missionally efficient and self-contained. Our partnerships are often more akin to inbreeding than to alliance. But today we are being challenged to work in harmony with the full body of Christ. Our partnerships have less to do with allegiance and more to do with achieving the goals that Christ has set before us. I am amazed by the God-web. . .that Kingdom interconnectedness where God reveals to us those we need to know and shows us ways to help one another accomplish His goals.
  • It is the responsibility of church leadership to see that the body is equipped for works of service and outreach. The truth is no one else is going to do this for you. As church leaders, we must be intentional about the essentials of missionality: authentic worship, spiritual formation, world awareness and a commitment to embrace the covenant call. Whatever it takes.
  • The world has come to our doorstep - want to reach Hindus in India? Try starting with the ones in your local college community. These upper caste young adults will likely return to India sometime in the future as professionals and leaders among a caste you could rarely penetrate as a missionary on the field. There are areas of the DFW Metroplex where people groups live and function every day in their native language. How will you reach the UPG's on your own doorstep? It's not always about going. Usually it's about being Christ incarnate in your own community.
  • The Church is Sufficient - It is sufficient because by virtue of the fact that it is the church, it has been equipped by God through the Holy Spirit to do everything He has called it to do. We've been misled (with the best of intentions) to believe that the church is not equipped to accomplish the Great Commission task. We've been led to believe that the task of taking the Gospel to the world is only for professionals and vocational servants who are sponsored by boards, agencies and denominational entities. I have great admiration for the professional missionary and the vocational servants (I happen to be married to one.) But God has reminded me over and over again in recent days that the gospel preceded Paul to Rome and that churches like Antioch were the result of a scattered persecuted church. Every believer who possesses the Spirit of God is equipped to share the Gospel in any place he/she is planted - whether it's Irving or Nepal. Perhaps as church leaders we simply need to spend some time unearthing the treasures buried within the lives of our congregations. Many believers do not understand the potential of the power and gifts they possess. The church is sufficient - to love, to grace, to share, to proclaim, to restore and to reach the lost for Christ.
  • Jesus is the only Way. Lest you ever allow other deceiving voices to gain volume in your heart, read and re-read the Gospel of John. That has been my spiritual journey in the last month. If the rest of Scripture were extracted from the only Bible you possessed, the I am statements of Jesus as recorded by his beloved disciple are sufficient motivation for missional living. The heart of a loving, gracious and forgiving Father God is as clear as the first piercing light of creation. God loved the world so much He sent His only Son. Now that is worth living for. It's also worth dying for.

Seems it never rains in Southern California
Seems I've often heard that kind of talk before
It never rains in California
But girl, don't they warn ya
It pours man it pours.

I praise God for pouring out His abundant living waters on me.

I look forward to hearing from you.