Thursday, May 5, 2016

American Christians, You Might Need to Start Living Like Missionaries


"I'm moving to Canada."

Personally, Canada would be way too cold for me, but I get the sentiment.  However, instead of fleeing for the hills, maybe it's time for American Christians to start living like missionaries in their own country.

Before you get offended, let me assure you that I am in no way belittling the millions of American Christians who are already living out gospel-centered lives in their communities.  As you learned in Sunday School when you were five, we all are missionaries.

But I'm not talking about living as a proclaimer of the gospel, I'm talking about living as if America is not your country.  As outsiders.  Exiles.  As if you are living in a country that is not your own.  

This is my life.

I live in a country that is not mine.  But I am living in Tanzania as a long-term resident, so I care about what happens here.  I prayed during the election.  I follow the news.  I rejoice with their successes and hurt for their losses.  But this is not my country.   I don't expect that my political opinion matters much.  I am not surprised if I experience animosity.  I don't expect to have many rights.  I do expect to feel like an outsider.  

It means that if I see things happening in Tanzania that I don't like, I'm not going to be angry that my rights have been violated.  This country has never existed for my sake.  I might be sad, or frustrated, or I might be angry at the injustice others are experiencing.  But this country doesn't owe me anything.

This means that I am here as a learner.  It doesn't mean that I am going to agree with everything I see in this culture, but it does mean that I am going to do everything I can do understand it.  I want to understand the worldview.  I'm going to filter what I see in this culture through the lens of Scripture.  I'm not going to assume that my way of doing things, or my way of thinking about something, is the best.  If something bothers me, I will wait to make a judgment until I have considered what the Bible says about it.  

I'm not going to hole up in a little community that believes everything the same way I do.  I don't sequester my children from people with different values or religions.  My children might end up exposed to things that distress me, but I must trust God's sovereignty with that.  The alternative is to lose our ability to be light in our community.

I'm not looking for what I can get out of this country; I am looking for what I can give.  I don't expect businesses and government agencies to value the same things I do.  I might be limited in the kind of work I can do here because my values are different.  But that's okay, because my goal isn't to get rich, or to be safe, or to build my career.  My goal is to further the gospel.

I expect that I am not going to be comfortable all the time.  I will have to make sacrifices of comfort and convenience for the sake of God's work.  I realize that I will never be able to own a house here, and I know that there's always a possibility that I will have to leave with the shirt on my back.  I try hard to loosen my grip on my possessions, knowing that my stay here is temporary.

Above all else, I am going to do my best to love the people around me.  That doesn't mean that I unconditionally accept, or approve of, everything they are doing.  Love and acceptance are not always synonymous.  However, love is patient, kind, humble, generous, and long-suffering.  I can love people in the way I spend my time, in the way I spend my money, in the way I engage discussion, and in the attitude I take towards culture.  Even if people disagree with what I think, I want my reputation to always be as someone who loves.

All these people were still living by faith when they died.  They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.....Instead, they were longing for a better country--a heavenly one.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.  (Hebrews 11)

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