by Jason Carter
Thinking of missionary service? Maybe you should. It’s not as farfetched as you think. So, you have a spouse and kids? Moving to the other side of the globe is a not a manned-mission to Mars. People still breathe oxygen in Mongolia, Mozambique and Malaysia – and actually everywhere in between.
I know, I know all this comes with enormous caveats: “You can serve God anywhere.” “Moving overseas doesn’t make you a missionary.” “Your missionary field is right next door.” If you’ve attended a missions conference at a local church, speakers nowadays usually go out of their way not to lay a big guilt trip on the whole congregation for not moving to Timbuktu.
Would that be so bad? Maybe we don’t need a guilt trip, but how about a challenge?
Yes, Jesus did say: “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem” (Acts 1:8). But he didn’t stop there. He proceeded to wildly expand the geographic vision of these Israel-centric young-buck disciples: “and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”.
The message: “Be my witness in downtown Chicago (where you work) and in your suburban Chicago neighborhood (where you live)” is a truncated message. Jesus came to save more than suburban soccer moms and urban hipsters. The North American church is dangerously close to making provincial what Jesus meant to be global.
I think it started with good enough intentions. We’re all called to be participate in Christ’s mission. (Yes, we are.) You can serve Christ right where you are. (Yes, you can.) Over and over, Christians are being told that their mission field is right where they are. That’s true. But only partially so.
Let’s not gloss or oversimplify the Great Commission into a metaphor for “going across the street” or “being bold for Jesus at the water cooler.” It’s so much more than that. It’s a global clarion call for disciples to take the gospel to the ends of the earth and to make disciples of all nations.
In our good intentions to help people serve right where they are locally, let’s not stamp out the few remaining embers of fire in the local church for global missions.
There are dangers in making “the mission field” a provincial little place to mean “wherever you happen to be now.” This kind of thinking, if left unchecked, has the potential to cripple the cause of global missions by reducing the global message of Jesus to your circle of acquaintances.
Yes, your “mission field” is, in one sense, right where you are. But it doesn’t have to be. You could move! Your mission field could be at-risk children in the favelas of São Paulo. Your mission field could be a network of HIV/AIDS support groups in sub-Saharan Africa. Your mission field could be a people group in Southeast Asia with no access to the gospel. Your mission field could be training indigenous leaders for ministries of the gospel. (I am especially fond of this last one.)
Churches who continuously indoctrinate their people with “your mission field is right where you are” without simultaneously challenging the congregation to follow Christ into cross-culture missionary service are effectively splashing an ice-bucket challenge on the global, ethnē-centered words of the Great Commission. The cross-cultural response of “O Lord, send me” is silenced in the local church when the cross-cultural question is never seriously considered.
A house payment and having kids settled in a good school need not be IRS ironclad exemptions from participating in global missions. Don’t assume that college-aged kids have a monopoly on obedience to the Great Commission. Jesus called Simon Peter and his business partners James and John to drop everything at the least opportune time – on the verge of becoming a regional powerhouse in the first-century fishing industry (Luke 5:1-11).
You should consider that global missions is a real vocational possibility. But not from a place of guilt nor to muster up some radical desire to “really” follow Christ like some modern-day desert father or medieval monk. It’s a possibility because Christ has already commanded us to “go and make disciples of all nations.” And as we “go” and step out in obedience, Jesus promises to be with us always, even to the end of the age (Mt. 28:20).
Mission is not just about you and where you happen to be at this particular moment. It’s about the Lordship of Christ. He’s King. And not just of your neighborhood or office suite. But of the whole earth.
Global missions? Don’t take it out of the realm of possibility.
Don’t exclude the possibility that God might want to call….you.