|Rubbish burning in Sierra Leone|
A couple of years ago I spent a day cleaning a year's worth of rabbit dung in Sierra Leone. Let me tell you, it ranks up there as kind of ... well ... rank! But I consider that a walk in the park compared to the misunderstandings, misperceptions, and mountains I've had to climb as a missionary.
|Cleaning the rabbit cages|
But I am content to be counted among those crazy, foolish scum of the earth--the refuse upon which the church is built. The apostles of Jesus, those entrusted to pass on the message of Jesus Christ, the very men upon whom the church was first built, those upon whose shoulders every Christian stands, were considered the scum of the earth too:
If a short, bald guy with bowed legs who wasn't a stellar speaker showed up at our churches to preach and ask for money for his mission work, would we turn him away? That was the apostle Paul. Perhaps little has changed in two millenniums. We seem to have forgotten that the very first apostles, along with Jesus' brothers, were also missionaries just as Paul was (1 Corinthians 9:5). They were fishers of men. The word "apostle" and the word "missionary" both mean "one who is sent." Missionaries are sent with the gospel message--a message which runs counter to this world. Thus, the missionary is often rejected and misunderstood.For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world. (1 Corinthians 4:9-13)
One of the liberating things about being refuse is that you are liberated from what other people think about you. If you are thought ill of already, you might as well speak your mind!
In the words of Brian Regan, I don't mean to step on anybody's toes but here we go ... When I look around at our churches, I am disheartened at our meager missionary efforts. I know many of you reading this are doing some great mission work. Good! Do more! But on the whole we in the church seem more concerned with beautiful buildings than with straying souls. We care more about having perfect pitch in our music than having crushing poverty crushed. God loves the foreigner; we merely tolerate them (Leviticus 19:34). In May I met wonderful, mature Christian African American woman who has been a missionary in Uganda for the past 15 years. When asked what the number one obstacle in her mission work was she replied, "Self-centered Christians in America." We care more about how large-a-crowd we can gather inside the church than how many missionaries we can send outside of it. Why? Large crowds boost our ego. Sending missionaries isn't sexy enough. Bad ROI. Hard to measure the spiritual benefit thousands of miles away in another culture upon people whom we have never met. Too difficult. Too costly. Not quick enough. I wonder what the cost/benefit analysis was like when God thought to send Christ to die for our sins? Our method seems to be that of effectiveness rather than faithfulness. We're more concerned to do things right than to do the right things.
Let me be blunt: By-and-large the church in America today does not care about mission work. We say we believe in mission work, but this is just lip service. Our professors do not teach about it; our pastors do not preach about it; and our churches do not fund it. We believe in building our brand and bolstering our borders, but we don't believe in mission work. Yes, there are missionaries here and there. Yes, we send teams on short-term mission trips. But I have found that missionaries are tolerated rather than celebrated. If the church in the West put half as much effort into mission work in the most needed places around the world as it does into prettying up our churches here, the world would be turned up-side-down (or right-side-up if you like)! It's not just a matter of money; it's a matter of motive. If we do not care about lost souls, perhaps we have lost our own souls? If we believe in the gospel, then we believe in mission work. If we are not engaged in mission work, then what do we really believe in? Have we lost our faith in the gospel? Is Jesus' mission to make disciples of all nations no longer relevant in the 21st century?
Over this past year we have been pruned, we are on fire, and we have seen God do the miraculous. Report on miracles to follow.