Jesus said, “The times, they are a changin’” Okay, so that’s a loose paraphrase of what He really said, to the effect that the old categories (think of them as wineskins) no longer fit the new movements ( think wine, churning, fermenting, expanding).
Now think mission. (I use the singular because my interest is not so much in our missionS, i.e. in our trips, as it is in God’s one mission…singular). Our old categories are increasingly shrinking while we have been busy looking at our handbooks and guidelines. In recent years, well meaning mission/s strategists have sought to help local church mission committees apply their mission dollars more strategically. Their advice has been to (a) direct your funding to the 10/40 window of north Africa and the Middle East, or (b) support indigenous evangelists who are in the country and already know the language and, boy, did you know how cheap it is to support one of those guys?!, or (c) you fill in the next blank.
So let’s you and I go next summer to Somalia, squarely in the 10/40 window, with mostly unreached people groups. Hmmm, not such a good idea. Might not be able to get a flight in there. Even if we could, we might encounter an assault weapon within the first day. Okay, bad idea. let’s support a Somali national. Right, let’s find one. Let’s interview him so we know he is legit. And if I may get a bit more controversial, let’s tempt him to get greedy with access to the mighty dollar.
Well, I have a better idea. Here in my city of Seattle there are over 60,000 Somalis, all but a handful are Muslims. Many are desiring to learn English, so they can pass their citizenship. They are eager to learn to drive, to learn how to catch the right bus, to relocate to better housing. Doesn’t it rather appear that we have a big theme of God’s mission story happening right before our eyes?
“Yeah, but we can’t support that kind of mission work in American because our policy says our mission money is for global, not domestic, outreach.” Or as another mission pastor said, “We have worked hard to get __% of our budget going overseas.”
I guess you can tell that I am more than a bit frustrated to realize that the mission strategy of the past generation is now an impediment to one of the most amazing activities of God. (One of the observations of Systems Thinking is that yesterdays solutions are today’s problems!)
I wish I could say His new “wine” was cracking a few wine skins. Instead, I see the old wine skins are tied shut and the new wine is not being contained.
“Wow, Seattle is an amazing place then, eh? That many Muslims! I bet that’s about the only city other than NYC that is like that!” Friend, I would love to tell you the amazing mosaic God has been painting for decades, drawing color and culture from every tribe, tongue and nation. And His artistry is on display in a city near you.
Jonah resisted God’s call to the despised Iraqis because of his ethnocentrism. Bluntly, Jonah knew his people were the chosen, and all others were below them. I believe that ethnocentrism has crept into mission strategy today in a subtle form. Many today think that the USA is so richly blessed that, surely, every other country needs what we can give them. So let’s send our missionaries out of here, because the rest of the world is so much worse than we are. And since the number of American missionary candidates has been diminishing for years, let’s at least give the other commodity the rest of the world craves — our dollars.
I regret to say that, in my opinion, the Church in our country has already bought the lie that it doesn’t matter who gets the job done. Let me tell you, there are many hidden gains by sending and receiving people from our own churches. It does make a difference. Our churches ought to celebrate and encourage those, young or old, who feel called of God to cross cultures with intentionality, whether going by plane to another land or reaching out to immigrant neighbors here in our towns. To the degree we have already delegated our mission involvement to indigenous evangelists and to our pocketbooks, to that degree we have lost a share in the glory of God’s mission.
One of the fun sparkles about God’s new wine is the chance to do mission locally and discover a strategic part in an overseas vision. I just returned from my third annual trip to Ethiopia. I was not the American lone ranger cutting my own trail. No, our small team has gone at the invitation of an Ethiopian pastor who serves a church in Seattle and carries in his heart a vision to bring Biblical training to church leaders in his homeland who could never access Bible College. We just handed out over 100 diplomas to pastors, elders, women’s leaders and evangelists who, following two years of practical study, now feel more confident in their ministries. And we came alongside an Ethiopian brother in the USA and had the privilege of assisting him in His God-given vision.
What we need is a few decision-makers who sit around tables in board rooms to recapture the courage of Carey, Taylor and Paul. Let’s keep a priority on the unreached in restricted areas. And let’s flex to see that more and more are coming within reach.