take-home lessons from Honduras (pt. 1): who missionaries are

Abuelita

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us… John 1:14

Jesus the divine Son of God, the logical principle which governs the universe, broke into our dimension, entered a womb, was born, lived, and died as a man. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The Incarnation was the longest missionary journey ever undertaken, the most extreme cross-cultural interaction ever experienced. It is the lifestyle model for all missionaries, and all Christians.

“Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter.”Charles Spurgeon

For me, I’m “home”–back in the town I grew up in, anyway–after spending 10 months as a missionary in Honduras. God taught me there about missionary life, and about the paradigm for life that the Incarnation creates.

He taught me that this is a missionary’s heart:

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews… To those under the law I became as one under the law… To those outside the law I became as one outside the law… To the weak I became weak… I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

He taught me that missionaries are lots of things, especially foreigners, students, advocates, and prophets.

They are foreigners. Naturally, they do not share all the thought patterns, habits, interests, or customs of their target “people group.” Since they are coming in from the outside, many things do not captivate them in the same way as they do for those from the foreign culture around them. That is what Paul meant in 1 Corinthians 9 when he said he was “free from all.” Because Christ’s gospel defined Paul’s fundamental sense of himself, he found himself completely spiritually free from every sub-culture with which he interacted. Jews under the law, pagans outside it, rich and poor, weak and strong–being none of them in any fundamental sense, he could be each of them fully, while maintaining an underlying detachment from all the groups in their particularity. He remembered what Peter called all Christians:

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles… 1 Peter 2:11

Missionaries are students, by necessity. They are learners of new languages, cultures, societal systems, lifestyles, mindsets. Good ones never stop trying to understand their people groups better, by studying them. Better understanding, better parroting, makes for better communication, and missionaries know they are communicators of a foreign message–not from another nation but from another Kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven. Missionaries experience their host culture not as passive consumers but as active students. They analyze everything that comes at them: automatically, because everything is different, but also studiously, so that they can be “all things to all people.”

Missionaries are advocates for the overall well-being of their people group. They resemble Levitical priests, bringing people before God and God before people. Sometimes they defend the well-being of their people group to oppressors or to people in power, and sometimes to the people themselves. They advocate for justice on behalf of their people even when those people do not know what that means, being devoted to a God himself profoundly passionate about justice. They pray like priests, interceding for the people, and they think like prophets, strategizing for the renewal of every aspect of their people’s life.

Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. Proverbs 31:8-9

Finally, they are prophets. That is, they are voices of God’s truth–and praise be to God, the truth about God is that he is full of grace. God told Jeremiah the prophet, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth,’ for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak… Behold, I have put my words in your mouth” (Jeremiah 1:7, 9). God equips missionaries in the same way. They are vehicles of communication for heaven’s proclamations. They are otherworldly message-bearers. Paul said in the New Testament, “We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20). And what is “God’s appeal”? The next verse tells us: “Be reconciled to God!” That is the essential prophetic message missionaries communicate with their lives and voices.

Consider these things. Jesus sends all of us out–to our campuses, workplaces, neighborhoods, cities, and to all the nations and tribes of the world–just as his Father sent him.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” John 20:21

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Malnutritioned Heart

To the many hurting children I know, love, dream about, and long to see again in Honduras.
El Día Del Niño, 2013.

I’d rustle you up a hot plate of the food you love

that fills you up to bursting

if you would just come over for a bit.

I’d print you a hundred photos of how wonderful the world is

enough to spend all afternoon examining

if you would stop tearing them up.

I would treat all the wounds on your small sinewed body

with gentleness and comforting laughter

if you would pull up your sleeve and point to where it hurts.

If you would whisper to me your nightmares

without lying about how your sun rose

I would whisper to you how beautiful the moon was in your window.

Dear one, child with a malnutritioned heart,

I tell you about love and forgiveness at every chance I get

and you pfff and pshh, not quite at me, but at the thought

of being pardoned,

of being full.

visiting a widow

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1:27

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I met her on Sunday. Mike, Ashley, and I were walking through the streets of La Fe, the village-community within La Ceiba, Honduras in which we work as missionaries. We took a picture of every family in front of their home, printed it, and gave the picture along with a Bible to each family as a Christmas gift. When we came to her house, she stood out to me because she was the oldest person I had yet seen in La Fe. She was seated in a plastic chair outside her home, slightly hunched with age, doing nothing but sitting and watching.

We took her picture and returned a few minutes later with the printed copy and the Bible. She admitted that she could not read, but assured me that she would give the Bible to one of her family members who would be able to use it. I encouraged her to do so, told her “God bless you,” and continued on to the next house.

On Tuesday, I looked for her again. At first, I found her house, but not her. Her son told me she was sick and in the house of his brother, a few streets over. When I found the house, I discovered her laying on a small couch, curled up, and clearly in pain. My heart felt heavy to see her suffering. I bid “good afternoon” to the house and gently explained to the young woman who came to greet me that I had met the “abuelita” two days earlier, had given her a Bible, had found out she could not read, and was wondering if perhaps she would like for me to read some scripture to her. They welcomed me inside and handed me a Bible.

I had not prepared a thing. I simply turned to some familiar passages and read them with reverence: Isaiah 25, John 10, Psalm 23, and Romans 5. A man and another woman soon came in from the back room and sat with us to listen in. The five of us listened to the beautiful words of God together and shared a few moments of peace in the midst of a crazy world. God blessed me with the words I needed to get the point across, in Spanish: God takes care of us when we feel helpless, like a shepherd guarding his sheep. Our hope in this life of suffering and death comes from knowing that Jesus suffered in our place on the cross. Without him, we have nothing at all. With him, we lack nothing at all.

The old woman said nothing during all of this, except to express her agreement when one of the other women stated her gratitude to me and to God for my unexpected arrival. I replied that God is a good Father, who gives good gifts at the very moment we think we cannot do any more. His word of promise is our hope in this life. After we prayed together, I offered to return in two days to read some more scripture aloud for them all, and they welcomed me back.

God’s mercy to us is profound. He came to us clothed in weakness: a child, a humble man. He spoke our language. He wore our clothes. He entered our homes. He visited us in the middle of our despair, called us back to the Father, and gave his body to us. The greatest gift he gave was his own self.

For us now, it is the same. God only approves of religion that is characterized by Christ-like mercy and Christ-like purity. When we enter one another’s homes, speak one another’s languages, and give ourselves to one another, with the Word of God, we find that making disciples is a reality within reach, as is joy. It is joy of which the principles and the gods of this world know nothing whatsoever.

There are many widows and orphans who need family, and many wandering souls who need to be called back to the Father. The best gift you can give them is yourself.

Receive from Jesus, give him away. Receive from Jesus, give him away. Receive from Jesus, give him away…

[Jesus said,] “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” John 6:51

[Jesus said,] “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:36