Monday, January 14, 2008
Crossing the Sea
To be a missionary, you don't have to cross the sea, you simply need to see the cross. Leonard Ravenhill

That's the jest of the sermon I heard this past weekend. The speaker, a missionary himself, was trying to open our eyes to missions, beyond the stereotypical, 'off to Africa' stint. He had the difficult task of making us realize we are all missionaries in one way or another, or at least we should be. We also prayed for a young girl headed to Africa this coming summer. Crystal was in my small group during jr. high and high school, and even back then told me she had a 'heart for missions'. Back from college, with a degree in teaching, she's going to Kenya to teach English to native missionaries so they can make better use of the commentaries and other study materials that are not available in their own languages. After I got over the soft mushy feeling of seeing one of 'my girls' all grown up and headed out into the world to do what God's called her to do, I spent the rest of the weekend thinking over this quote.

It's all balled up in a much bigger question for me. Not just missions, but serving and giving and how much and who. Then when you get more specific, where does 'missions' start? The speaker went on to say something else that really struck me - "God puts burdens on hearts to accomplish his will in the world." So God has burdened Crystal with the needs of Africa, but what about me? It's not that I don't care about the other side of the world, I do. I applaud those who go there, heck I even do some supporting of them, and will certainly help support Crystal when she heads out. But for me, I've always been of that school that thinks, "no need to travel the whole world when there's so much to see here in the US of A." That travel / vacation thinking can cross over into serving and / or meeting needs - where do I serve? Where does our money go? So the sermon helped me hone in a bit. What burden has God put on MY heart? For me 'missions' begins right here at home. I don't have to cross the sea, I have to adjust my line of vision - see others as Christ saw them, then do something about it.

Years ago I took art classes at the local junior collge. The professor told us anyone can draw, it's teaching them to look that is the real trick. Really looking at a model and drawing her eyes rather than seeing eyes and automatically drawing as I remember them, as I've learned them, and ironically not drawing my own eyes because when I conjure up eyes in my mind, I come up with my own.

So missions is truly seeing others, with all the stereotypes and social boundaries removed, without putting an individual person into a group I can apply a name to, whether it's the 'unchurched', or the 'homeless', or those who may look a bit more cleaned up on the outside, but be just as empty and hurting inside, the 'not searching', the 'privileged' or just the 'different from me'. It's seeing one individual person who is struggling just like I am. I once heard a wonderful quote - it's stuck with me, "Be gentle to everyone you meet, they're fighting a battle too." It's seeing that person, whatever their outward circumstances, and while they may be working like crazy to hide it from the rest of the world, I can bet they are fighting a battle today. That battle might be financial, or substance abuse, or lack of purpose, or loneliness, or emptiness, or a wayward child or a struggling marriage, loss of career, loss of hope, loss of enough strength to get through whatever today throws at them.

If I start there, then who? When my oldest brother ended his life almost four years ago, he left a note telling us he feared homelessness. Someone standing on the outside would naturally wonder why his family, my family, did not reach out to him. We did. Many times. His life alone taught me not to judge purely from the outside, that each of us walks a path today made up of many steps, many decisions all linked together one day at a time, landing us where we are right now, for good or bad. Sometimes my own worst enemy is me. It was true of my brother, still I never think of him without feeling the weight of how hopeless he must have been. Life was just too much work to continue. So I've had a heart for the homeless for awhile now, and often when I see a man walking down the road with what is obviously everything he owns, and it's cold outside or brutally hot, I fight the urge to stop and help. I know better, but it doesn't make the yearning go away. Every year to commemorate my brother's death I've given to shelters, donated blankets, prayed, remembered and hurt, but I've never put a face on it. I've stayed back a safe distance.

So this weekend I realized just like the unsaved, the unloved of the world can only be reached one at a time. I cannot fix homelessness. I cannot keep everyone fed or warm or make sure they feel loved. But I can put one face on the problem, and that would be my next brother, who is bravely trying day to day to get by, to keep the place he lives in, to work when he can, to raise the son who is fighting him tooth and nail. I can help that one person fight off the threat of homelessness, not only with the support of finances, but by simply loving him enough to lend a listening ear, one that does not judge or offer solutions or turn away when the conversation makes me uncomfortable a bit, which it does sometimes. Our lives are very different, maybe as different as the lives Crystal will see when she travels to Kenya. Different languages, customs, culture. Stepping into his world sometimes feels a bit like traveling to another place not comfortable to me.

I'm called to give and not off the top, but rather sacrificially, til it costs me something. That may include writing a check, but it goes far beyond it. Having a mission, for me personally, does not include crossing the sea. Christ died for me while I was yet a sinner, knowing I would remain one. Seeing the cross - what it means to me, what it offers to others - and listening to the burden he has placed on my heart - that can change the world, one life at a time. God called Crystal to go across the world, I believe He called me to love those right here at home. Thank you Scott Boyd for helping me see that more clearly.


  posted at 8:40 AM

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