We need to be more missions-minded... This phrase, oft-repeated by a long-time friend, has always grated on my nerves. Perhaps because of the sanctimonious way in which it is invariably delivered, I immediately dismiss it with an inward eye-roll. It could be that this gut response is a holdover from my childhood, where I was very content to not think about other people, especially if they were different from me. A voracious reader, I had zero interest in books about people of other cultures, even the Cherokee Indians who had once inhabited my hometown. Similarly, I shunned Roman and Greek mythology because it was just so dumb. Where did those people even get those ideas?
But at church, through regular involvement in Sunbeams (forerunner to Mission Friends) and GA’s, I was forced to learn a lot about people who were very different from me, who lived in other countries. I read about Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong, strong leaders in Baptist missions who are about as close to saints as a Baptist can get. I was secretly horrified by Lottie Moon’s call to China. Why would anyone in her right mind voluntarily exchange her comfortable life for a miserable existence in China? For years, my biggest fear was fueled by my Sunbeams teacher, who was fond of saying, “Who knows, maybe God will call one of you to serve him in a foreign land!” What if God did indeed plan to send me to some cesspool far away from my parents, where I would have to subsist on gross things like fish and beans until I succumbed to a premature and tragic death without ever returning to the land of my birth? No thanks, God. You can just take my name right off that list.
As an adolescent, I did heed God’s call -- not to China, but to decidedly un-exotic places like Oklahoma and West Virginia and inner city Chattanooga, where I did mission work with my church youth group. Perhaps our most memorable trip took us to a small town in rural Pennsylvania, where we spent a week in July leading backyard Bible clubs and constructing a church. I learned that the only thing worse than having your parents along on a mission trip was performing puppet shows in the sweltering parking lot of a strip mall. Lame puppet shows notwithstanding, we were energized by the work we did that week, the people we met, the children we taught, and we were excited about giving our home church a full account of our activities when we returned. But nothing prepared us for the news we received when we got back home. Nine hours after we left that small town, a tornado touched down and scattered our partially-constructed church across four counties. A week’s labor of blood sweat and tears was reduced to splinters in a matter of seconds. It was difficult to put into words the devastation and loss we felt for the people we’d grown to love in the brief time we’d been together.
There have been other trips since then, both domestic and foreign. As I’ve reflected on my mission experiences, and on those of my husband and children, it seems to me there are a couple of common denominators: discomfort and connection.
Regardless of our destination, when we embark on a mission trip we leave the familiar and, more often than not, the comfortable. Thrust into strange surroundings, we see how other people live, how they dress, what they eat, where they work, what they like to do. We begin to see life through their eyes. They are no longer abstract, no longer just someone we may have heard about on the news, because they are right there in front of us, flesh and blood just like we are. We are reminded that we are all people, broken people whom God loves and with whom He longs to have a relationship.
So what if my friend is actually onto something when she talks about being “mission-minded”? Missions really is a mindset, isn’t it? If we love Jesus, if we celebrate a resurrected Savior, our daily mission is to do His business. Maybe it is in the form of an organized trip to another city, or state, or country. First Baptist has always taken the Great Commission seriously, and our history is rich in preparing and sending people to minister in all sorts of places. In just a couple of months, we will commission a group to serve in Canada.
Or maybe, and much more often, mission opportunities arise when you’re just living your life, doing the mundane. Going to work. Buying groceries. Mowing the lawn. Taking children to soccer practice and piano lessons.
A few miles from my neighborhood there is a church that issues a thoughtful reminder to its parishioners whenever they exit its parking lot. Just before they pull onto the road, there is a large stop sign, with a smaller sign below it that reads, “You are now entering the mission field.”
The mission field is everywhere we go, everywhere we look. When we “do” missions, God uses us to change the little piece of the world we touch. And in so doing, He also changes us.
Breathe on me, Breath of God, Fill me with life anew, That I may love what thou dost love, And do what thou wouldst do. -Edwin Hatch