Mar

26

2012

Jason Johnson|10:00 PM CT

The Other Side of Global Missions

The call to take the gospel to all nations is clear and undeniable: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . . " (Matthew 28:16-20). The self-declared universal exaltation of God over all nations is certain and resolved: "I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!" (Psalm 46:10) This is the fuel and the finish line of global missions: the commission to proclaim the gospel to all races, all enthnicities, all languages, all dialects, all cultures, all nations, all countries, all states, all cities, all neighborhoods, and all households; and to do so with the absolute assurance that God will be exalted in all the earth! It is for this we passionately labor, to the ends of the earth.

God's heart for the nations extends from the oppressive poverty-stricken slums of East Africa to the anti-religion ideologies of the new Europe to the deeply indoctrinated Muslim nations of the Middle East. The spread of the gospel knows no geographical, sociological, economical or racial bounds. Jesus will be exalted among all nations, in all the earth!

Yet the mandate towards global missions is not a one-sided coin. It's nothing less than an outside influence parachuting into a foreign context with the good news of Jesus, resources to meet physical needs, and training to develop sustainable forms of living for the indiginous people of that culture. But it's so much more. Jesus calls us to take the gospel to the nations not just so we can change the nations, but so the nations can change us. That's the other side of global missions---whatever change we seek for others is often nominal in light of the change in our own lives. These two sides of the same coin are the essence of God's global mandate---make disciples of all peoples, and in doing so you yourself will be discipled.

Nothing Will Be the Same

For example, I'm convinced Jesus wants us to care for the poor of the world not just so we can change their circumstances, but so they can change our perspectives. It's nearly impossible to see and hear and smell extreme poverty and not be motivated to action. It's equally impossible to not be changed by it. The core of who you are is indelibly marked by it. You cannot go home the same. In however you choose to respond you might make a small dent in the global epidemic of extreme poverty, but only after having your entire worldview cratered by it. Nothing will ever be the same, yes for them, but even more so for you.

If we want to see the fabric of American evangelicalism aligned to the heart of God, we have to go to the nations. We have to step outside of our individualistic, ethno-centric cultural grid and have our value systems shocked to the core, our perspectives wildly flipped upside down and our little worlds of comfort deeply rattled by the discomforting reality of a world population that desperately needs of Jesus. It will forever shift our affections, realign our priorities, and catalyze us to relentlessly pursue the exaltation of God among all peoples, counting as joy whatever cost, whatever personal sacrifice, and whatever American dream that must die in us along the way. Your going there will forever change how you live here.

I recently stood in the home of an elderly, widowed grandmother living in an impoverished slum area outside a large city in Honduras. The joy in her smile and the passion in her prayers were overwhelming. Even more so were the words she spoke through our translator: "Money might control my living situation, but it does not control my soul."

It's in moments like these, moments of extreme contrast between the beauty of faith and joy and peace amid the backdrop of poverty's heinous ugliness, that your value system is dismantled and your perspective on what truly matters is forever changed.

Global missions is God's universal mandate to take the gospel there and his gracious provision for us to be forever changed here. Stand in the midst of East African poverty. Build a home in southern Mexico. Walk the hurricane ravaged streets of Haiti. Sit in agnostic-packed European university classes. Observe the afternoon prayers of Muslims in the Middle East. Your assumptions, perspectives, and ideologies will be forever shifted. You will never be the same. Your homes will never be the same. Your family, your job, your neighborhood, your church, and your city will never be the same. All this is a deep and profound expression of God's grace towards you.

Jason Johnson is the lead pastor at Woodlands Point Community Church in The Woodlands, Texas.

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  • Anar

    "our value systems shocked to the core, our perspectives wildly flipped upside down"

    Yet we must hold onto the essentials of the Word, Grace, Faith, and Christ; well, not "we must." The Holy Spirit is trustworthy to do this work in us.

    How much freedom is there to have our value systems shocked to the core and our perspectives wildly flipped upside down? Is this always a good thing? What is the 'baby' that shouldn't be thrown out with the bathwater?

  • http://www.trainingleadersinternational.org Darren

    Jason-

    I appreciate your passion for missions and your desire for people to serve the global church.

    However, I must disagree with the whole thrust of your article. A few reasons:

    Study after study has shown that traveling overseas has very little to no long-term impact on people (anything by Bob Priest comes to mind here). That is - people who have a worldview that is transformed by the gospel do not need to travel overseas to see poverty in order to be radically transformed.

    Second, it's interesting that when you talk about missions all of your examples are meeting social needs. Nothing wrong with that, but missions is not limited to these things. I know you can't mention all the ways to serve, but certainly evangelism must be mentioned?

    Third, I think you overstate too many things Two by example:

    "If we want to see the fabric of American evangelicalism aligned to the heart of God, we have to go to the nations"

    This just can't be true. If it was, then almost all Christians throughout church history would not be able to align their faith to the "heart of God." Can a believer in Bhutan with no access to any other country or nation not know the heart of God because they can't travel? Your view assumes you have to have money to empower people to travel to get to know God. I think in reality, though I live in the suburbs in the midwest, there is poverty and brokenness all around me. I don't need to go very far at all!

    "Global missions is God's universal mandate to take the gospel there and his gracious provision for us to be forever changed here"

    I'm not sure the second part of this is true.

    Fourth - I don't think there is such a thing as a finish line to missions. Having God's name proclaimed in all nations is not the end goal! Maybe it's better to say that conversion is not the end goal. Mt 28 is a command to make disciples. If everyone hears the gospel, Mt 28 is still relevant.

    Lastly, I personally believe that most of the short-term trips you mention are a waste of time. We don't need to build a house, but partner and help communities build homes. We don't need to send another team to Haiti! That situation is the best example of what not to do - $8.3 billion in aid and the country is 25% poorer!

    I appreciate that you want to see Jesus worshiped and adored among the nations. I just think the way you suggest is off based and ultimately harmful.

    • Emerson

      I agree with Darren.

    • http://www.covenantcaswell.org John Carpenter

      Excellent response Darren. Thank you for taking the time to write it.

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  • Kn

    "I'm convinced Jesus wants us to care for the poor of the world not just so we can change their circumstances, but so they can change our perspectives."

    I agree. Unfortunately, many of the missionaries we observe in Bolivia (I suppose I'd call myself evangelical aid/development worker) believe the same thing, but out of lip service to the "realization" that the gospel extends to the whole of creation, not just spiritual things. What happens then, is a whole lot of half-assed social programs poorly and unprofessionally executed that damage societies and do evil.

    And every time I hear, "it's worth it if just ONE soul is saved," I think, "no, it's surely not."

    God is very much at work in "the nations," whether American evangelicals are here or not. Evangelicals would do well to seek out where he's at work there and join him, rather than assume otherwise.

  • http://www.corinthtoday.org paul cummings

    I think that the push backs to this post are that we have seen a lot of foreign missions done with great passion, but no follow through...or great heart, but not much thought. Or arrogance about our "Brand of Christianity" that we're bringing to "save" people with...

    Churches in the US have certainly been guilty of "Christian Tourism" where we spend a tithe of time serving and the rest sight seeing, and we have also been the "Global Santa Claus" to an extent as well...where we show up, dump our bags of goodies and then leave never to be seen again.

    However, I do think that a new wave of much more well-informed and long term foreign missions are emerging (just as Jason is pointing towards) that are focused on relationships with communities and partnering with "What the Lord is already doing there", not assuming that we are coming to be the "Savior" with our Americanized Christian view. Personally I think that Food for the Hungry (FH.org) does an incredible job with this.

    thanks for your article Jason!

    • http://www.covenantcaswell.org John Carpenter

      You're right that missionaries need to partner with the local Christians. But that's not what mission trips do very well, which is apparently what this article is calling for. As Darren noted above, many mission trips are a waste of time and money.

      • http://www.corinthtoday.org paul cummings

        I totally agree my brother, there has to be more of an intentional "buy in" from an American church...which needs to involve questioning your motives and being ready to be in it for the long haul. Our church has entered into a Community to Community partnership through Food for the Hungry to focus on a single community in Guatemala and be a presence in that community all year long for 8 years...and not just giving them something and leaving but equipping them to help themselves. This means more time, more money and more accountability than just a "feel good trip".

        • http://www.covenantcaswell.org John Carpenter

          That sounds like an excellent program. I'm assuming and hoping there is evangelism involved in it too, partnering with local evangelical leaders.

          • http://www.corinthtoday.org paul cummings

            ;-) yes for sure! though their church service is so loud that we all wear earplugs...it's like a latino KISS concert!

  • Jason F.

    Great article!

    "Yet the mandate towards global missions is not a one-sided coin. It's nothing less than an outside influence parachuting into a foreign context with the good news of Jesus, resources to meet physical needs, and training to develop sustainable forms of living for the indiginous people of that culture. But it's so much more. Jesus calls us to take the gospel to the nations not just so we can change the nations, but so the nations can change us."

    I could not agree more.

  • http://www.covenantcaswell.org John Carpenter

    As someone who stood in "East African poverty", as the author describes it, having lived in Ethiopia for 2 years and started an out-reach there to street children (see http://www.strategicnetwork.org/index.php?loc=kb&view=v&id=16046&fto=532&), I disagree with this article on several fronts.

    First, the aim seems to be to encourage missions trips. These maybe useful for young people at crucial times in their life to broaden their perspective, but to do them regularly is a waste of time and money. For the thousands of dollars it costs an American to fly to Ethiopia to help do something for a week or two, we could adequately fund several local people to do the work for a year (or longer). I heard one man boast of how he doesn't get cable TV so he can afford to go to Ethiopia once a year. But with all the money he spends travelling to Ethiopia, he could fund Ethiopian ministers all year round, who know the language and culture fluently.

    Second, sadly it isn't true that people can see abject poverty and remain untouched. Some people simply hunker down and look after themselves, including some missionaries. In my own story, it was a local young woman who made the ministry to street children successful. Most of the other missionaries didn't help. However, the missions agency they were a part of tried to send a film crew to document it and use it as an example of their fund raising.

    And that leads us to point number three: If Christians in the US are not involved in some kind of out-reach where they are, they are unlikely to suddenly start reaching out simply because we send them overseas. One of the primary criteria we ought to use in selecting missionaries is whether they are actively reaching out where they are. Sadly, many missionaries spend years raising money, telling people about all they want to do when they get to their "target country" but when they get there, they are consumed in maintaining their standard of living and socializing with their fellow missionaries. In one case I encountered, I wanted to show the street kids the "Jesus Film" (in Amharic). But the missionaries refused to let the VCR be moved to a larger room so all the kids could see it. Apparently, protecting the VCR was their priority. There's no replacement for having a heart for ministry and people and we'll know if people have that by what they are doing here.

    • http://www.corinthtoday.org paul cummings

      The push backs I would have to your points John are two-fold...but I do appreciate your desire to "do the most good" and I think that is a very valid argument.
      1. Given that America is probably home to the wealthiest Evangelical Church in the world, it would be proper for us not only to send $$ but also people.
      2. As Platt talks about, there is no substitute for saying "you really do matter to us" like actually going in person. He would come at it from a very different viewpoint of Paul's missionary journeys going and strengthening the church in person, showing them through relationship.

      • http://www.covenantcaswell.org John Carpenter

        Hi,
        Sending people (such as high schoolers and college age) to do a specific project, like build a church or clinic, etc., can be very good for the people for whom the project is done (as they see a tangible example of love) and for the people who go (as they get a glimpse of the truly needy). To be effective, it has to be well planned and coordinated with the local need. However, if we think that American kids who don't speak a local language are really going to form meaningful relationships with local people, we're dreaming. Sadly, often not even long-term missionaries do that.

        Second, then let Platt send his people to the projects in Birmingham, Alabama. If they're doing that, great! Then they can perhaps go overseas and reach people. But the same people who talk idealistically about being "radical", standing in the midst of East African poverty, if they aren't doing anything where they are, are the one's who go to Addis Ababa and won't let the VCR be moved so the street kids can watch the "Jesus" film. And, even if they are the type to reach out to the local projects, to make a difference they're normally going to need to go long-term; a short term trip isn't normally going to result in "relationship" for many reasons, the first of which should be obvious: you can't speak their language!

  • http://www.corinthtoday.org paul cummings

    I agree, and I think you offer some very valid words of admonishment and caution.

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