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.

in him

Once at the beginning of Revelation, once partway through, and once at the end, God and Christ make parallel statements about their nature. First in chapter 1 verse 8:

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Then in chapter 21 verse 6:

And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”

And finally in chapter 22 verse 13:

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. Revelation 22:13

Alpha () and Omega () are the A and Z of the Greek alphabet. Together they form the frame of the other letters. Every other element of the Greek language is ordered between them. The analogy is to how we must envision God in relation to his creation: he encircles it, frames it, contains it, and binds it. All life is “in” God. Paul says of God,

Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “In him we live and move and have our being.” Acts 17:27-28

And of Christ,

And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:17

Only the Bible’s God can be truly described as “outside” and “above” creation. Every other version of the divine is in one way or another interlaced with the world we see. Every other god is made in the image of man.

So creation is “within” God, and he “surrounds” creation. He is its frame. Scripture uses similar terminology to speak of Christians. They are “in Christ.”

…in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him… Philippians 3:8-9

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing… in him we have received redemption through his blood… in him we have obtained an inheritance… in him you also… were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit… Ephesians 1:3, 7, 11, 13

In him, in him, in him. I imagine myself as a child, or a baby, clutched close to the chest of Jesus and enveloped by his arms. Paul makes the imagery even more dramatic when he says that Christians are in Christ in that they are members of his body:

For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and all were made to drink of one Spirit… Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 1 Corinthians 12:12, 27

Also in 1 Corinthians, earlier in the letter, Paul says one of the most startling things in scripture:

But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 1 Corinthians 6:17

The intimacy of the union between the church and her husband is so profound that the apostle can speak of her being “in him,” “members of his body,” and “one spirit with him.” From this union comes our salvation (Romans 6:5). Mentally and spiritually, this concept is deep waters–as Paul says, “this mystery is profound” (Ephesians 5:32)–and certainly worth contemplation for its own sake. It also implies certain things about our life as Christ’s church, individually and as an entity.

Firstly, we are not at liberty to sin, but only to honor God. Paul says, “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:12-13). He uses this line of thought to condemn the sexual union of Christians and prostitutes in 1 Corinthians 6 verse 15: “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute?” Note well the intense obligation, as well as the overwhelming grace, conveyed by that verse.

Secondly, we must patiently expect to enter all the sufferings and all the glories of Jesus–all his death and all his resurrection–since we are one in body and spirit with him.

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him also suffer for his sake… Philippians 1:29

For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 2 Corinthians 1:5

…we are children of God, and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified in him. Romans 8:16-17

Jesus himself said,

Remember the word that I said to you: “A servant is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. John 15:20

The death and the new life of Christ are ours by faith in him: death to sin, to the world, to the accusing finger of the law; new life to God, to love, to hope, to glory.

Thirdly, the simple and gentle truth is that we are never alone. The typical language is that we are “in” Christ, and Christ’s Holy Spirit is “in” us. The presence of the Lord surrounds us on all sides, regardless of our feelings or the little hells in which we find ourselves. “Abide in me,” he tenderly calls to us, his children, his bride. Our sole struggle in this world is simply that.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:4-5