Friday, June 8, 2012

Mission Culture

One of the things I'm most excited about at Central Lutheran Church these days is what some people call a "mission culture."  More and more we see people who are passionate about reaching beyond their own context to help their neighbors who live on the other side of the world.  We have had teams travel to Tanzania, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, the Philippines, Jamaica, Haiti, and more.  Last night my family had the privilege of meeting with the Honduras team.  We're anticipating a January trip to that country to work with the Manuelito Project, a residential program for street kids who have been rescued from homelessness and worse on the streets of Tegucigalpa.  This will be the third time a team from Central has gone to Honduras.

Ten years ago Central had just one mission team that traveled to Mazatlan, Mexico.  In the decade since, mission trips have exploded.  Dozens of people have experienced the adventure and excitement and discomfort and heartbreak and joy of short term missions.  I thought, looking around the room last night, how exciting it is to see people who are established in their lives here -- they have houses, children, mortgages, car payments, jobs, lawns, soccer practice, and all kinds of other obligations -- and they make it a priority to save or raise money and cordon off time so they can give a week or two to a mission.  

One of the exciting dimensions of this transformation is that I see people starting to understand the Bible in new ways.  When Jesus says, "Go make disciples ..." these people have a deeper understanding of what he's talking about.  When Paul writes, "I became all things to all people, so that I might by all means save some," veterans of mission trips have an inkling what he meant.

At the same time, I wonder (as I often do), "What is the next step deeper?"  One of the reasons I wonder about this is that my daughter Erica is in Honduras right now.  She'll be coming home late in July.  She'll have been away from home at that point almost six months.  Her first four months away, she was part of a study abroad program for college.  Now she is spending two months at the Manuelito Project as a volunteer.  People who have gone on a one or two week mission trip deal with lots of issues.  What I see Erica dealing with is a whole lot deeper.  I think over the next couple months she will begin to understand passages like this one, from Mark 10: 

"23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” 28 Peter began to say to him, “See,we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
Where does this mission culture grow from here?  One of the realities for us to grapple with is that people my age are often too rooted, too established, to respond to a call to go deeper.  Certainly there are people who have deep roots who sense God's call to uproot, sell the house and the minivan and go into missions long-term, and I affirm and applaud that.  They are a challenge and an inspiration to the rest of the church.  I am meeting more and more people who anticipate doing some kind of mission work in the next decade or two, as they pay off debts, get kids out of the house, and come to a place where they can do the stewardship work in order to become free.  "Free" in this case probably has more to do with getting rid of stuff rather than being financially independent.  But the reality is that relatively few established people will divest themselves and jump in the deep end of Jesus' call to go into all the world.

Another possibility is that the next generation will see new opportunities, and before they are up to their necks in time payments, they will seize the opportunity to leave home to follow Jesus cross-culturally.  These children have watched their parents go overseas for a week or two, and they in turn will think about going for a year.  They have seen their role models go without a new car or a vacation home or a vanilla latte in order to pay for a mission, or to fund someone else's mission -- and they will choose to keep their needs simple and do without many things in order to live among the poor long term.  They have watched adults transformed in a life-changing encounter with Jesus, and they will go to the ends of the earth to help people know Jesus in his life-changing fullness.

As they go, they will learn the hard lessons.  They will learn what it means to leave everything behind to follow Jesus.  They will experience the wrenching holiness of homesickness and the spiritual purification that comes with chronic diarrhea.  They will learn firsthand that when God's Spirit uses your body to do his life-transforming work, it is rough on your body.  They will know exhaustion, and fear, and loss.

At the same time they will experience a fullness, an utter dependence on Jesus, that shatters their thirst for every shiny object this world has to offer.  When they come "home" -- and that word will change for them, because home is where the heart is and it will not be purely in the landscapes of Minnesota any longer -- they will be uncomfortable and restless.  When they give their lives away at this level, they will begin to know what it means to have their "citizenship in heaven" as Paul writes in Philippians, and they will understand passages like this one from Hebrews 11:

"14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them."

We do not work and plan and change purely for our own sakes; rather, the work God's Spirit does in our lives carries his impact down into the generations.  

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