I grew in Sully, Iowa, in the 1960’s. Every year my parents would take us to Mission Fest at Market Square in Pella. I thought of missionaries as rather exotic creatures who travelled to far off lands. They showed slides that could have been borrowed from the files of National Geographic.
My grandkids are growing up in a very different world. Traveling internationally has now almost become routine. But more than that, the world has become our next door neighbor. The homogeneous Dutch community in which I was raised is now an endangered species. Most of us have the privilege of savoring the cultural richness of Latin American, Eastern European, Asian, or African neighbors, if not next door, then within a fifteen minute drive.
Not only has the world changed, but the church has changed. Today the majority of the body of Christ in the world is composed of people of color. The undocumented immigrant from Central America may be more likely to be my brother or sister in Christ than my suburban neighbor. I know Nicaraguan Christians who have been called to missions in Romania, Bangladesh, and Indonesia.
All of this makes it even more important that we understand how ministry “WITH” people is different from ministry “TO” or “FOR” people. When we do ministry “TO” or “FOR” people we are the ones defining the problem and prescribing the solution. When we do ministry “WITH” people we begin by listening and learning. We lead with relationships and not with programs. We value and seek to enhance the gifts God has already given the people with whom we have been placed in relationship.
Frankly, many of our young adults grasp this much better than does my generation. The writings of people like Shane Claiborne have challenged them to live as servants among the least, last and lost. How can we listen to, encourage, and learn from these young people? How would our approach to missions change if we made ministry “WITH” one of our governing values?
I have a dream. The dream is that the worldwide church would be one big discipleship network. I imagine North American Christians sitting at the feet of their Latin American brothers and sisters, who have soaked in the wisdom of African believers, who have in turn gleaned important lessons from Christians in Asia. And I imagine especially the young adults of our church playing a vital role in all of this.
So what is holding us back? What changes do we need to make to tap into this tremendous opportunity God is giving his worldwide body? What practical steps should we be taking to make opportunities available, especially for our young adults?