We moved to TN when I was 4.5yrs old, and my parents still live in the same house I grew up in. As a pastor’s kid, I was well versed in prayer, bible drill, and always putting on my “Sunday’s best” anytime we were around people from church. There is not a time in I can recall not knowing the name of Jesus, who he was, and the fact that he should have some kind of importance in my life. As I grew in wisdom and stature (much like Jesus), I became keenly aware of two things: I am a sinner and I need Jesus. For me, at least to my best recollection, the Gospel centered on Jesus, but secondly it centered on my personal relationship with Him. While I realize the intent of shaping Sunday School lessons, Vacation Bible School, and Sunday night youth sermons on having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, I feel I missed the whole part about the Kingdom of God coming on earth as it is in heaven. When I heard the word “missions,” several things came to mind: poor people with few clothes on, starving children with swollen bellies, grass huts, Annie Armstrong, foreign people, and Gospel tracts. While many images came to mind concerning missions, each one pointed me toward the main goal of anything the church did; evangelism. From everything my young self could gather, the goal of anything we did, as a body of believers, was to get more people to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.
Skipping forward a few years, when I was a junior at Carson Newman College, the opportunity came for me to go live in Cagayan de Oro, Philippines to partner with local organizations ministering in the city. This was the first opportunity for me to travel outside of the United States, and the Lord began a work within me I wouldn’t fully realize until 6 years later. The Philippines opportunity fell through the cracks at the last minute, but a passion had developed within me to know the Lord’s work around the world. While my definition of “missions” had evolved since my early years, my worldview was still pretty small. Over the next several years this passion grew as I traveled to Mexico, Nicaragua, Canada, and Kenya. In the summer of 2006, the word “missions” began to take on a fuller meaning for me as I spent 3.5weeks in Kenya among some of the poorest of the poor and several women who were infected or affected by HIV/AIDS.
I learned in college that you cannot tell people about Jesus without helping meet their physical, emotional, or social needs, but I still felt like everyone I knew saw “missions” as the opportunity to go, give, tell, serve, and leave. On the trip to Kenya, I began asking better questions, and I began listening to the people of God much more than I shared. It was in listening to people from another culture and language that I first began to understand when Jesus prays “your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” involves much more than simply a decision to “accept Christ into your heart.” As Corbett and Fikkert put it in When Helping Hurts: “Yes, Jesus died for our souls, but He also died to reconcile--that is, to put into right relationship--all that He created.”
“Missions” is not about taking God into places where he seems not to be, nor is it simply about sharing the Gospel with everyone you encounter. “Missions” requires an acute listening to the voice of God and how he is already working in the places we find ourselves.
UBC took our first mission trip to Batey 50, Dominican Republic this past May, and we were able to see firsthand how God is working among the people there. In preparation for the trip, our team intently sought to listen to the voice of God through one another, and to prepare ourselves to listen to the voice God in the people we would encounter. Our brothers and sisters in Batey 50 taught us much over the course of our time there, but there was nothing more powerful than the time we shared a meal together our last day. On the last day, after the Sunday service, our team provided money to have a meal catered for the entire batey. This gave our group a chance to not only serve a meal to the people, but also a chance to sit around a common table and break bread together. While the food was being set-up, the people of Batey 50 organized themselves into a few groups. When the line opened for service, the people of Batey 50 made sure all the children of the village received their food first. Next, the people led those in the village who were blind and/or crippled through the line to receive their food. Next in line were the elders of the village, then mother’s with babies, and finally those who had not yet received food came through the line. As we watched and served the people, they lived out the Gospel in front of our eyes. The people were unselfish, they made sure to take care of those who could not take care of themselves, and they did all of these things with the joy of the Lord. When we debriefed this moment later in the day, there was an unspoken challenge that had been given to all on the team: Do we understand how we saw Christ in action today, and are we willing to live as self-sacrificially?
Traveling to the DR we sought to understand, rather than to be understood. Being in the DR we sought to listen, rather than to tell. And leaving the DR we were challenged to remember how God is moving among our brothers and sisters in Batey 50, so that we will not fall back into the routine of self-centeredness. Yes, part of the Gospel is about having a relationship with Jesus Christ, but the good news is that God is reconciling the world to himself in Christ, all of it. The Kingdom of God is much bigger than we can imagine, and I am thankful we were able to see a small glimpse of the Kingdom in action in Batey 50. May we always seek to understand before being understood, may we learn to listen well to the voice of God in others, and may we embrace beauty in all things.