Before I even get started with this rant, let me clearly state that I do not have all the answers. Chances are good that really, I don't have any of the answers ... at least none worth hammering out and installing as policy. (Praise the Lord, because the last thing the modern church needs is one more policy.) What I do have is a Bible, a love for the church of Jesus Christ, and a passion for spreading the gospel.
Which, as it turns out, doesn't get you very far in today's missions culture.
If I sound cynical, please know that I am praying against a hardened heart in this area. But frankly, it's getting more and more difficult to keep biting my tongue and moving forward. Since founding a religious nonprofit in 2005, my family has been actively working to bring the Good News into unreached areas. Areas where you can walk for hours, stumble upon a village, and be the very first person in the history of the world to say the name of Jesus Christ. That kind of "unreached areas." You'd think that the logistics of raising up leaders would be the hardest part, wouldn't you? Or maybe even traveling to such remote places?
You'd be wrong. The hardest part about penetrating the 10/40 window is convincing your fellow Christians that the work is important enough to support in the first place.
Now, I am well aware that not everyone is called to the same passions of faith. I know and love people whose hearts are all for the inner city, urban areas of the US. I know and love people who are clearly called to the specific task of reaching out to those who have been hurt by the church. I know others who feel that it's all about their family serving through hospitality in their own communities, or who have some other specific, clearly God-led manner in which they are taking Christ into Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth.
And that's o.k. That's good, and that's right, and that's part of how God wants to build His Kingdom.
But somehow along the way, amidst the good work of Women's Teas and Vacation Bible School and Building Campaigns ... somehow, international missions got shoved into a corner, slapped with a label, and forgotten.
Oh, alright. Not totally forgotten. International missions are trotted out once a year on Missions Sunday, and again sometime during the AWANA season when a child needs a book signed. Oh, and there's the ubiquitous penny/book/backpack drive, and the shoeboxes. There's always the shoeboxes. You fill up a couple of those babies, and you're gold!
My point here is this: missions are a hard sell in today's church climate. Go ahead and tell me how much your church body allocates to the act of spreading the gospel into unreached places. How about for Bible translation? Tell me where your church focuses its efforts. How many missionaries are in the budget, and what percentage of the annual budget does that represent? Who's on your church's missions committee? How does the committee decide who to fund?
Don't feel bad if you don't know the answers to these questions. I've learned that by and large, even the most die-hard, never-miss-a-Sunday Christians have no clue as to how they're being represented in the race (and yes, it is a race--ask me about Islam in Nepal if you want to be convinced of that) to bring the Word of God into unreached areas.
Did you catch that? "How they're being represented." Because folks, that's what it is. When a church supports a missionary, it is doing so on behalf of each and every member of that body. Just as a man wearing the uniform of the US Marines in Afghanistan stands in proxy of every citizen of the United States, every missionary that your church funds acts on your behalf as he or she or they labor to harvest for Christ.
Sobering, isn't it?
But the fact is, we don't think of missions that way at all, do we? We drop our tithe or offering into the collection plate on Sunday, and we fail to truly grasp what that means. We may remember that Women's Bible Study is hiring paid childcare workers, and recognize that we're footing the bill. We may hear that the heating system needs an upgrade, and stick another $20 in the pot. We may even know that the crisis pregnancy center is getting a piece of the pie, and feel good for helping.
But rare is the family that knows that X cents of each dollar goes into reaching new believers on the other side of the world. Even more unusual is the family that can tell you that their church supports twenty missionary projects, meaning that each group gets half a cent of each dollar.
This isn't a post about money. It's a post about priorities. In the six years that my family has been supporting nationals, training pastors, bringing supplies to believers, and supporting children, I have become disillusioned, I admit, when it comes to the value that Christians place on the Gospel. I could rail against the churches we have asked for support, the ones who tell us that they are cutting missions funding because they want to hire a second youth pastor. Or the ones who tell us that they are too small a congregation to give even $10 toward saving souls in other countries. Or the ones who hold our work up to a complicated series of "giving matrix" and score it, then decide that we don't meet with their standards.
As someone passionate about what they do, that's hard to swallow sometimes. Because when we ask for support, I don't picture the dollar signs in a wire transfer of funds--I picture the pile of vegetables that the kids in Nepal will get with their lentils. I picture the new believer being given a Bible in his own language. I picture the face of the woman who no longer feels she has to abandon her baby to appease the gods. I see these things, and the "no" hurts.
But the problem isn't the churches. They are simply listening to their congregants and reacting to the "needs" and "wants" that filter up. The problem is the Christians in the churches. But no, wait ... even that's not quite right.
The problem really and truthfully is on the general abdication of missions into the realm of "professionals." Because folks, that's what it's become. I am shocked--shocked!-- at how many people really believe that you have to have a 4 year degree to save someone's soul in a place you need a passport to reach. I am utterly stunned at the number of people who really think that the church is better equipped to decide who is capable of spreading the Gospel, and where it should go, and how it should happen.
I'm pretty sure that this isn't what Jesus had in mind. I'm pretty sure that He was speaking familiarly, in love, to those whom He knew intimately, when He issued His Great Commission. I'm pretty sure that He didn't set up a committee, organize a barbecue, and write up a list of detailed interview questions, then ask for a furlough visit every two years.
I'm pretty sure that He just wanted people to hear about what He did for them.
But hey ... what do I know? As I said, I'm just a woman with a Bible who has found freedom and meaning in the blood of Christ. I'm just part of a family that lives to serve Him wherever He calls.
I'm probably wrong.