There have been some great thoughts and discussion on the idea of Overseas Missions coming from Valerie and Lane. Seeing as how I have a Master’s in World Missions and am currently employed by the United Methodist Church as an actual-for-real Missionary (that’s my official title), its seems appropriate that I post my own blog of thoughts on overseas missions. Even though 98% of the time I still don’t feel qualified.
When I started writing this post, I realized, I actually have a lot of thoughts on this. (Who knew?) So I’ve decided to break it up into a series post. This will now officially become: Part Isa (we’re gonna count in Tagalog, just to keep me on task to my language lessons!)
Last summer, I joined with 16 other young adults in the Mission Intern and US2 program for a three week training in New York. We talked about issues ranging from poverty to church politics. The underlying, understood, overstated theme was, “We are not working FOR, we are working WITH.” It was important to remember that we were not bringing in anything that the receiving community didn’t already have. Rather, we were going to join in the work that was already being done – to help expand the Church Universal by joining in the struggles in various communities around the world. For some communities, the struggle is in finding identity, finding one’s voice in this world. For others, the struggle is hunger, or fresh water or fighting for a liveable wage. Whatever the struggle, whatever the journey, it is important to know that there are communities around the world, bound together through the Church.
In one of our sessions during training, we sat through a session with self-proclaimed “Meth-o-geek” Rev. Dr. John Nuessle. Dr. Nuessle talked about how Mission should start from the Universal Church and move out to the local church. “The notion that the local church is what is most important, is what is killing the Church Universal. The Church, Scripturally speaking, is connectional.” And that is something that I am discovering more and more every day. I am incredibly blessed to come from a loving and supportive church family in Florida. I grew up in the same church as my father; and while it can be hard for a young girl to find her identity in the midst of tight community, I wouldn’t trade it in for the world. Since arriving in Hong Kong, I have been flooded with emails, cards and even the occasional pound cake from my church back home. And I am always asked the same question, “What can we do here, for your community there?” Prayers, money, manpower and food items have been sent to the shelter here not just from my church, but churches in Sweden, Korea, the Philippines, even Arkansas! The work that is being done here isn’t done by a single, self-enclosed community. The struggle for justice would not be possible without the support of the Church Universal. THAT, to me, is Missions. Working together, for the common good, in all communities. Not just our own.
We see in Acts great growth in the Church. The disciples are constantly on the move. They are growing up new communities everywhere, not just in their hometown. “Then Peter replied, ‘I see very clearly that God doesn’t show partiality. In every nation He accepts those who honor Him and does what is right.'” (Acts 10:34-35) The amazing thing to me through Acts is the way the Church stays connected, even in midst of exponential growth. There is joy when new communities are formed. (Acts 8:14, 11:18, 11:23, 14:27 to name a few) When there is struggle, everyone pitches in. When there is a famine in Judea, other communities sent relief (Acts 11:27-30). When someone was imprisoned, people gathered quickly to pray and work for their release. There are so many examples of the Church growing together, helping one another, praying for each other. When Barnabas and Saul are commissioned, it is with the blessing of the Church, knowing that they were going out to build new communities. They were entrusted with relief supplies for those struggling. Never do we find one church standing alone. Never do we find one missionary taking all of the glory.
Personally, I like the idea of a global community. Of going to new and strange lands, to find God already present. It takes a lot of the pressure off. It is a beautiful feeling to know that, even when I am sleeping, my fellow missionaries in Tennessee and Colorado are working hard in the middle of the day. That when I am getting off from work in the afternoon, I have friends in Germany and Israel struggling for peace in their own ways. When I am waking in the morning, there are friends in Grenada and Chili who are ending their day of work in communities where they both stand out and blend in at the same time. At the risk of re-appropriating a beautiful sentiment shared by a fellow MI, there are times that in our own personal moments of struggle, our little community has surrounded us, singing and marching alongside of us in solidarity and love. And I know that it expands beyond the 17 young adults who merged together for three weeks in New York. It extends to my community here in Hong Kong, to the communities I’ve left behind in Florida, Alabama and Kentucky. When we send missionaries out overseas we are in essence extending the arms of the Church. We are making connections from one foreign land to another.
In the words of the great Meth-o-geek himself, “There is no such thing as foreign mission – all mission is local mission. Where you work is someone’s local community. Mission may be functionally or geographically different; but mission is mission is mission.”