As a kid, I thought of a cross-cultural missionary as a church planter or community developer sent by a denominational agency to some remote country of Latin America, Asia or Africa. Frankly, that definition left most of us comfortably outside of any of the possible lines of responsibility.
As I grew older I realized that my childhood image was not all that Biblical. The Bible seems to be quite clear that we all have been selected (elected) for a mission, not just some of us. And this mission seems to be as wide and diverse as God’s good creation. Thus, a business person is as much called to be a missionary as a pastor or community developer.
But there is also another sense in which my childhood image has altered with the passage of time. No longer does one need to be sent as a church planter or community developer to rub shoulders with people from other culture. Whether our mission is business, or being a student, or even just being a tourist, most of us will frequently come into contact with people from other cultures — if not in other countries, then next door. So that the hog farmer from Iowa who hires immigrants from Central America may be as much called to cross-cultural missions as are my wife Jeannie and I.
As we move from the idea that only a select few of us are missionaries to the more Biblical understanding that God has called each of us to a mission there are questions we must ask:
- How do we disciple each other to do cross-cultural missions “WITH” and not “TO” or “FOR” other people?
- How do we harvest for all of our benefits the wealth of experience our denominational agencies have gained (most often through the school of hard knocks!), in doing mission in a way that empowers others rather than makes them dependent?
Yesterday I talked with people at Third CRC in Lynden, Washington, who are making mission “WITH” rather than “TO” or “FOR” part of the DNA of their church. Phrases like “grace flows to the lowest places” and ministry to the “least, last and lost” in the “hard places” weave naturally into their conversations. They attribute this to vision trips they have taken to Guatemala under the leadership of Joel Van Dyke, a CRWM missionary supported by their church.
Joel Van Dyke distinguishes vision trips from mission trips. The purpose of a mission trip is to do. The purpose of a vision trip is to see. A vision trip is an invitation for an outsider to come and see what God is doing through local, grassroots leaders who are serving their own people in hard places.
But it is not that vision trips are all seeing and no doing. It is that the doing takes places when the visitors go back home. The whole vision trip is a challenge to each participant to re-imagine and broaden their own personal understanding of life and mission.
My new friends at Third Lynden told me how they had begun to identify the hard places in their own community — many of which they had not even noticed before. They excitedly shared how they had begun to develop deep relationships with residents of a trailer park and how skateboarding was providing a bridge to at-risk youth.
And I wondered if I had seen part of the answer to my questions.