Saturday, June 14, 2008

This Time It's Personal

I grew up reading missionary biographies (as well as a lot of other things, but they're not immediately relevant here). These people were amazing followers of Christ who gave up things that were really hard to give up, so that they could tell a bunch of people they had never met before that Jesus loves them. I found these stories daunting and inspiring, and knew I wanted to "be a missionary when I grew up." So I did, for a while, although I never felt like I was quite giving up as much as I should have been.

For example, in the 1800's, this dude Henry Martyn broke up with his fiancee so he could go to Asia Minor and translate the Bible and make the Gospel known. He did, and people who would otherwise not have heard about the truth of Jesus, actually did, even though Martyn himself ended up dying very young. I think I always thought eventually I'd go overseas and get martyred or something dramatic, too.

If God actually called me to be a missionary, shouldn't I be doing something like that? So what am I doing at Starbucks? Particularly when, in the course of the last year and a half, I've hardly had the opportunity to share the Gospel with anyone?

Then I got to know the Milk Guy.

Someone said to me recently, "If you were once a missionary, I would find it very unlikely that you would date a non-Christian." I considered this, and thought that actually, in some ways it might make perfect sense, because a missionary (or an evangelist, or anyone like that) ideally already loves the people who haven't met Jesus yet--that's why they tell them about Him. If there's already that initial caring present, and then some sort of "chemistry" is added to the mix, there's nothing very surprising . . .

I suppose some would say that, whether surprising or not, my actually deciding to consider a non-Christian "romantically" is out-and-out disobedience to the Gospel. I guess I think it's a little more open to debate, but I certainly don't want to be disobedient. Which is why my brain is getting all mixed up about this "just one person" concept. I know that we are called to put Jesus above all other loves. I truly want to do this. But if I have a missionary call, does it mean I should start investigating international options again, and clear myself out of here? Or would that, in this case, be like running away, and am I being called to reach out with Jesus' love to this "just one person" who happens to be in the place Jesus most recently brought me?

Either way requires a sort of sacrifice, and I don't know for sure which is the one Jesus is requiring of me. I don't know what the end result will be. According to the law of averages, I'd be better off going and doing "official" missions again, because I'd have a broader base of people to share Jesus with than "just one person." Also, shouldn't I be going someplace where people have less access to the Gospel? On the other hand, as I said to Jeff in the comments previously, I'm not sure God's all that concerned with the law of averages, even though He created it. And who am I to say who God should send to, say, the Turks, and who He should send to the Milk Guy.

Meanwhile, oddly enough, since I've been seeing the Milk Guy, suddenly I'm having all these other Jesus-conversations, too--at Starbucks, where I hadn't had one in ages.

Photo by jennw2ns: Sheep by water, Dingle, Ireland. 2008.


Rhonda said...

I'm thinking we may need to
re-define what "missionary" means...
this post comes at such a good time for me as I've been actually contemplating many of these same things...
For me, I think I'm re-thinking what it means to be a Christ follower. For one, I need to keep Him out of the "box".

Thanks for sharing your helps me sort out some of mine.

jasdye said...


missionary dating? i've heard the term used pejoratively.

sorry. i'm not trying to judge (although some strong emotions did pop into my head upon reading this...). maybe missional dating is more accurate.


Jeff said...

I had the amazing privilige/terror to speak at church a few months back.
I'm the small groups director and Marty went through a series where he highlighted each of our small groups four values. We decided that I'd speak on one of them. It ended up being outward reaching.
(For anybody who cares, the other three values are authenticity, transparency, and mutliplication... all together the 4 values spell out the word "Atom"... If anybody further cares theirs an MP3 of the sermon online somewhere that I'll post a link to if anybody'd actually be interested in listening.)

Anyway, as I was getting ready to speak on the topic of being outward reaching, I looked and studied and prayed about how Jesus sent the disciples out and why he did.
What I found dovetailed nicely in answering some questions I'd had about missional thinking.
Specifially, the whole missionairy thing struck me as quite bizarre:
In Jesus day and age, it made some sense that the only way you're going to spread truth is by sending a person to a foreign land to share the truth him (or her) self.
In our day and age, it seems wierd. I get it that there are people and places that no one knows about Christianity. It makes sense that we might be called to these places.
The wierd thing to me used to be the idea that somebody would leave one state and go to another, within the U.S. for example. I almost imagined missionaires passing each other in an airport... I'm leaving my home in Massachusetts to evangelize in say, Nevada. Meanwhile, somebody is leaving Nevada to witness to folks in Massachusetts. At the time, it seemed to me we'd be wisest to just save the gas: why don't we all just stay at home and witness to our own communities?

The thing that struck me, though, as I studied and prepared to share that message, was the idea of how Jesus told his disciples to go out. They had to leave everything behind: no extra shoes, no money, nothing.
God creates this amazing interdependence. The disciple, we disciples, (if we follow this aspect of the biblical model) have truth... but nothing else.
They got right in the middle of the lives of the people they were witnessing to. They recieved from them. They weren't so much as teachers, dispensing wisdom, but they were community members, creating relationships.

On some levels, I think that your relationship with the milk guy is much more in line with the biblical model than some contemporary "missionary" work is. I have amazing respect and appreciation for people who relocate their lives for the gospel. I'm certainly intending no disrespect to those who do this.

I know that some missionary work adresses the humanity of the lost. But I think other times we call it missionairy work when it's really just cultural imperialism, when it's really just assauging our own insecurity by creating converts, treating the unsaved like a product, like an object.

Hope I didn't wander completely off track here...

Jenn said...

Rhonda--I, too, have been re-thinking. (Obviously.) I'm glad this somehow helped your own re-thinking, even though mine feels clear as mud!

Jasdye--yeah, I'm pretty sure I've USED it perjoratively. Just goes to show how one sometimes has to eat one's words. Or something. Thanks for being honest (yet restrained ;) in admitting to the "strong emotions;" I think I was afraid I'd post something like this and people would be so freaked out they wouldn't respond at all. When really, I just want to discuss.

Jeff--as always, I'm grateful for your perspective. I confess that, while I get kind of defensive about people who denigrate "staying home" to witness to people where they're from, I also get defensive about people who are skeptical about "going" somewhere to witness to people they don't know yet. I think Jesus kind of modeled both (and had His disciples model both), and I still feel pretty passionately that the Gospel needs to go out all over the world.

I also think that some people are gifted at interacting cross-culturally or internationally (I think I might be, which is one of the things I struggle with about staying here). I FURTHER think that sometimes it takes relocating to open the witness's eyes to what needs to be communicated, and to open the listener's ears to what's being said. (Sometimes we're so entrenched in our own cultures we can't get outside of them enough to say anything redeeming.)

On the other hand, there often is some sort of imperialism going on, and I think there might need to be a shift in how missions (or missional) work (either here or abroad) is done, and this is part of what I'm wrestling with--and have been since I left London.

Christianne said...

hey jenn,

i didn't have many thoughts to add when i originally read this post, but reading through jeff's comment reminded me of something that came up in a meeting i was in at church a few weeks ago. it had to do with acts 1:8: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

the guy in the meeting was sharing how the jerusalem, judea, and samaria examples form concentric circles from where the disciples actually were at that point in time. kind of like jesus was saying, start here, then go outward, then go further outward, until you reach the end of the earth. or maybe it's not a linear progression; maybe it's just an affirmation that we are to be his witnesses in all parts of the earth, near and far.

Jenn said...

Christianne--I think I was interacting with the "concentric circles" idea of the Great Commission in the previous post where I wondered about whether it could ever work "backwards"--whether you could start in the outer circle and work in, or if that's just unbiblical . . .