Quick role-play. Let’s say you, your spouse, your kids—you’re all headed back to the Western world from some distant land. You’ve been missionaries somewhere; Africa, maybe. (You pick.) You’ve been helping people gain clean water, maybe, or teaching refugees, or advocating for orphans of AIDS.
How would you live in your home country?
This is actually my personal, particular predicament. My family and I have been living and working in the developing world for five years now, and are now headed to suburban America. I’m asking a question that perhaps many of you are already asking: What does it look like to be missionaries…who stay?
Of all the pros and cons, on the pro side, I have the weird-but-true phenomenon of feeling disconnected in many ways from my home culture. That whole “foreigners and aliens” thing? That’s me. Rather than feeling homogenous, I already feel like another City is my home (Hebrews 11:10).
Here’s the thing. No matter my zip code, I’m still sent. (You, too.)
What I know about North America: Just because money can alleviate many basic needs, the brokenness is still profound. It is deep and wide. As my sister remarked to me on my last trip back: There are people who need Jesus wherever you go.
My husband will still be a “professional missionary;” we’ll be on staff with a ministry. But whether we’ve got it on paper or not, here’s how I read my job description—yours, too:
[Jesus] died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised…God…gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. (1 Corinthians 5:15, 18-20)
I wonder if I’d see it differently if it was on paper…?
Job Description for [insert name]
- To not live for yourself. To live for the One who paid for you.
- To reconcile people to God, others, themselves, and Creation as stipulated in God’s Word.
- To distribute message of reconciliation.
- To vicariously make God’s appeal to those within your sphere of influence.
Honestly—this is a life-upending way to live. Perhaps it seems small to others. But Scientist Jared Diamond’s quote keeps turning over in my mind, like a red shirt in the dryer:
I have heard many anecdotal stories, among my own friends, of children who were raised by difficult parents but who nevertheless became socially and cognitively competent adults, and who told me that what had saved their sanity was regular contact with a supportive adult other than their parents, even if that adult was just a piano teacher whom they saw once a week for a piano lesson. (The World until Yesterday, p.190)
Translation, as far as I’m thinking: Loving well right where we are—radically, faithfully, quietly, loudly—this is the slow discipleship process that changes lives, families, communities, countries. It changes lives because of the Holy Spirit; because we serve the God who breathes life. It matters, matters vitally, that we live missionally—live “sent”—wherever God plunks us down.
What comes to mind is 1 Peter 5: shepherd the flock of God that is among you.
I’m starting with two simple questions that I hope will fling open the doors for radical change in my community:
- Who’s my “among you” group? I’m thinking widely: relatives. Neighbors. Coworkers. People I rub shoulders with because of special interests. Friends.
- If I were to fulfill my job description—the debt that’s always outstanding—what would it look like to love them well? How can I be my brother’s keeper?
At any rate, this is not simply “normal life with a twist.” In the words of South African pastor Frank Retief: “people without Christ go to hell—if you really believe that you’ve got to take risks, take a chance, and be prepared to fail.” Beginning this month, may we pray into existence lives that bleed for our community, as Jesus has bled for them.
Radical obedience to Christ is not easy…
It’s not comfort, not health, not wealth, and not prosperity in this world.
Radical obedience to Christ risks losing all these things.
But in the end, such risk finds its reward in Christ. And he is more than enough for us.
-David Platt, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream
 Timmis, Stephen. Multiplying Churches. (Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2000), p. 97. As quoted in Keller, Timothy. Gospel in Life: Grace Changes Everything (2010), p. 87.