take-home lessons from Honduras (pt. 3): devotion to street kids

Street boys at the Peter Project in La Ceiba, Honduras

“Street boys” at the Peter Project in La Ceiba, Honduras

In the last two posts (this one and this one) I described what I learned in Honduras about who missionaries are, how they think, and one of the most important things they do, which is hospitality. This final post has more to do with what I learned about how missionaries feel.

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

As we think about this together, ask yourself where your own mission field is or could be, and who the target people group in your life is or could be to which you want to devote yourself as a missionary.

Paul said to the people in one of his mission fields,

My little children, I am in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! Galatians 4:19

Dedication to a people group or mission field–such as the streets we live on–always starts with prayer: prayer in the Spirit, in the will of God, for those people, like the prayers of the apostles for their churches and Jesus for his disciples.

…we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of [God’s] will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding… Colossians 1:9

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your heart enlightened… Ephesians 1:16-17

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment. Philippians 1:9

What begins to happen as missionaries pray for the spiritual enlightenment and redemption of their people groups is miraculous. The deepest longing of their hearts becomes to see those people see the beauty and desirability of Jesus Christ, and to be transformed by the vision. Like Paul in the “anguish of childbirth,” missionary devotion becomes deep and dedicated. Their devotion becomes so sharply powerful that they can begin to lose themselves in an endless search for the perfect program, strategy, curriculum, or ministry model that will finally open the “eyes of their heart” and bring true change to their people group.

One of two things follows: emotional “burn-out,” or a re-centering of each missionary’s life and ministry around Christ’s gospel. The truth is that the beautiful paradox of Christ on the cross is the only persuasion strong enough to melt a stony heart, and the only argument cogent enough to convince a skeptical one. Wise missionaries realize eventually that their only task, ultimately, is to display and explain Jesus Christ, and to affirm and sharpen the vague but universal sense we all have that everything is wrong and that we need a Savior. In other words, it is to tell people to “repent and believe,” making sure they know what that means.

In Honduras, I learned a lot about “street kids” and children (and grown-up children) from abusive homes. If they get rescued from their environments and are put in loving and healthy settings, they tend to follow a pattern. They get the “itch” to run away from home, usually back to Mom, as if to check if anything has changed with the people supposed to love them. Usually, nothing has. Then, they run back to the streets, too ashamed to face their caretakers or adoptive parents, until street life becomes so unbearable that they sheepishly come back home and repeat the cycle.

Every missionary is persuading spiritual street kids and prostitutes to come home, be loved, sleep in real beds (as it were), and not run back to their natural father, the Father of lies, only to discover again that he only binds and steals from them. We are persuading them, and our own selves, that our adoptive Father really will meet us, running to us, with open arms, again. The lies in street kids’ minds about love and God go very deep–as they do in every human heart.

Praise God, because transformation really happens. It is not a myth, though it is usually undramatic. People slowly begin to think about what God wants when they make decisions. They start learning to appreciate the beauty of Scripture. They are moved to prayer by the story about Jesus dying. They feel hope from the story about him resurrecting. They run away from home less often. They start praying for other runaways. They talk about grace and are startled to find, after a while, that they too have become devoted. They are missionaries.

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take-home lessons from Honduras (pt. 2): hospitality

The hospitality of Abraham

The hospitality of Abraham

In the last post I outlined what I learned in Honduras about who missionaries are, and how they think. This post is about hospitality, because hospitality is what missionaries (read: Christians) do.

Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 1 Peter 4:9

Hospitality means including people, especially lonely people, in your life. That is the best definition I can invent, anyway. In the passage containing the “least obeyed command of Christ,” Jesus shows us what hospitality really looks like:

[Jesus] said to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” Luke 14:12-14

Hospitality means being family to the family-less, and friends to the friendless, and giving homes to those without any place to go for love and unconditional welcome. It includes spending money on those whom you do not expect to return the favor. Acts 4:34-35 describes the effects of the early church’s hospitality, explaining that “there was not a needy person among them.” Imagine if we practiced that again!

Our modern American lives are deeply isolated from each other, with our family members, co-workers, social contacts, church friends, and neighbors typically occupying entirely separate aspects of our lives and rarely interacting. The following quote, though referring specifically to singleness as a marital status, describes this phenomenon:

“‘Singleness’ as we conceive of it in our culture is not the will of God at all. It is representative of a deeply fragmented society. Singleness in America typically means a lack of kinship connectedness. This was not the case…with Jesus who was not married. He never lived alone. He went from the family home to a group of twelve close friends who shared daily life with him until he died…. In contrast, singleness in America often refers to a person who lives alone or in non-permanent, non-kinship relationships.” –Karen Keen

Spectrum of individualistic vs. collectivistic cultures

Spectrum of individualistic vs. collectivistic cultures

Such isolation–the logical end of our bizarrely individualistic society–is totally foreign to the depth of community experienced by Jesus and his disciples and the early Church. Hospitality cuts away at our isolation, involves us in each other’s worlds, and brings “the [physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually] poor, crippled, lame, and blind” to a place where trust and restoration become possible, perhaps for the first time. Hospitality introduces the lost and lonely to the God who welcomes them into his family.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. 1 John 3:1

We are communal by nature. Being in other people’s environments and routines naturally involves us in their lives and takes us to where their hearts are. In your context, I see you as yourself: as another human remarkably similar to me, with needs just like mine. The artificial barriers we can keep up in public come down in our places of comfort and habit, and that is the only way significant relational connection and communication happen.

It is not complicated. It is taking people along with you in your life, and “hanging out” without any kind of agenda. It is creating environments where people can be who they are and be satisfied to be with one another.

In Honduras, where hospitality is a cultural cornerstone and people sit all day in their hammocks and are happy to talk about nothing, or not talk at all, as long as they are together, hospitality as a ministry model was easy and made sense culturally. In America, with our fragmented social groups, frantically busy schedules, and intolerance for silence or stillness, sharing even our external lives with one another is difficult, much less our hearts and souls. Here, hospitality still makes sense as the best ministry model–the best way to imitate the Incarnation of Christ–though it may take more logistical effort.

It works, though, and Jesus left us with a pattern to follow. He was and is the very best host.

Blessed are those servants who the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, [the master] will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. Luke 12:37

May the God of endurance and encouragement of the Scriptures grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. Romans 15:5-7

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