Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Picture Perfect Mission
Picture perfect. That is what the glossy magazines and slick videos show at church when it comes to mission. Happy people, surrounded by little kids who are all smiling broadly while hugging new found friends, or if they are not smiling, it is a reflection of their grim story which is told in stark words beneath the photo. Mission trips and organizations encourage picture perfect mission to reflect the shiny, prosperous generosity and the little commitment necessary to "make a difference" in the world. A week or two weeks in a new exciting surrounding, with loving, sweet little children to steal your heart. Building projects or medical missions bring hope and relief to people who have so little. Money is magically worth much more in other countries and is easy to throw around to the awe of the impoverished hosts. Its heady and exhilarating, and takes at least two weeks or a month to recover from and come back down to the ground after arriving back home. Then the world is back to normal, and the culture shock is blurred once again by the everydayness of surroundings so familiar.
I suspect that is not the whole truth to the meaning, reason, and design the word mission should invoke when spoken or discussed. I suspect there is much more to it than modern Americans are willing to even think about or discover for themselves. And I was content to accept this picture perfect version of mission until this summer. I was not only content, but sure there was no other way to view it.
Several weeks into my "living in mission" project, I was becoming increasingly frustrated and irritated that my version of mission and my preconceived ideas of what it should look like was not happening. I was sure I was just wasting my time because nothing seemed to be visibly happening because I was there. The ideas of what I thought I would doing were not happening at all, and I was stuck with a task that while interesting, was not what I considered "mission" enough. I was becoming discontented and disillusioned quickly and complained about it until someone asked me a question that stopped me in my tracks. "What is mission?" At first I wanted to retort a quick cliche, but saw that the pat answer was not going to work. There had to be more to it than the usual light remarks about making the world a better place and helping those in need.
I had to really wrestle with and search for the meaning behind mission for myself. I was caught up in the perfect picture meaning of it, and caught up in my expectations of what I thought it would look like or be. I pictured myself being benevolent and accomplishing something so everyone could measure and see for themselves how wonderful my work was, and how much I was able to do to change many lives and make them all live better, like the prosperous Americans I know and am around.
What is mission? Why do it? There are plenty of books out there to discuss the topic, but I had access to none of them. All I had was my Bible and a journal to write through the thoughts and questions that were flooding my mind.
So I visited the "great commission" first. Matthew 28:19. Go and make disciples it said, baptizing them and teaching them to observe all things Jesus had told the disciples. A verse often quoted, it is true. But this time I noticed something. It didn't say go and build buildings, or go and hold week long VBSs or go and give gifts. It said go and make disciples.
Make disciples. So how does that look in my life? How does that translate to mission?
It struck me that while I was busy in my job while living overseas, I had the perfect and golden opportunity to make disciples. I had two or three people already asking me for direction or guidance about serious problems, and I nearly missed the mission work right before me. Making disciples can include building buildings and holding VBSs, it is true. But I think it means building relationships and sharing lives and holding each other's hands through difficult times. I think mission means using my heart and mind to bring another into a better knowledge and awareness of the saving presence of Christ and His love. Bringing another alongside and sharing the bumps and working together to gain a better understanding of how the Kingdom should work.
I'm taking time to think through what I learned and what I think about mission. My time overseas has definitely changed me and my ideas in a lot of unexpected ways. I'm excited about what I am learning and recognizing, and excited about what the future might hold. Picture perfect or otherwise.