My friend just returned from India.
As I listened intently to his stories of ministries to victims of sex trafficking, sharing meals with families thousands of miles away, and how he climbed to the top of the garbage mountain hand-in-hand with the “untouchable” children, I hung on every word. His 2 weeks away from home with a team from his church undoubtedly has changed the course of his life and vision. He’s not a hero. He’s not a saint. He possesses no extraordinary skills or secret calling. He is simply a pastor of a very young church plant, a father, and a friend.
As I write this current post, I have friends who have just returned from, or are still in, India, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guatemala, Honduras, China, undisclosed locations in the Middle East, Germany, Uganda and Mexico. And I’m not referring to “long-term missionaries”. LTMs were always my heros. They were the ones I read about growing up as a child, mesmerized by tales of incredible bravery, the ones who sold everything they had and ventured off into unknown territories, their very lives at risk of capture or even death. LTMs still exist, are still critically needed, and are still among my greatest heroes.
But the friends I am referring to are not just LTMs. They are not the trained, brave-to-the-core, locust-eating, hard core pioneers who have worked and planned their whole lives to sell it all and set out to disappear in a jungle somewhere, only to reappear for the occasional slideshow at a local church or fundraiser. These friends are ordinary. Really, really ordinary. Some are pastors, perhaps, but many are business men and women, teachers, lawyers, nurses, photographers, dentists, artists, students, stay-at-home parents, and just….well….regular people. That’s not to say they aren’t brave, they certainly are. And it’s not to say they are not skilled, of course they are. But to say they fit the typical understanding of what we have always assumed was a “missionary”…..well, they just don’t. Most of them have regular jobs, many have spouses and children, many of them paid for their trips and the charitable projects out of their own pockets or raised the money through friends.
And that is where today’s conversation with one of my “ordinary” friends led. The world of “missions”, what it means to be a “missionary”, and how we view and participate in cross-cultural ministry is undergoing a massive paradigm shift. Not long ago, I was in a conference where a speaker was bemoaning the evils of the massive waves of “ordinary” missionaries flooding the cultural boundaries of the world. While I certainly agreed with many of his points of concern and have enormous respect for those who have lived and worked in the trenches for decades, my point to him was simply this: You can’t STOP it, you can’t even stem the tide. The boundaries are down, the obstacles have been removed and they WILL come. So there is not much point in arguing IF it is going to happen or if it SHOULD happen. It’s time to instead spend our efforts on best practices and how this massive shift in our understanding of what and who a missionary is can perhaps breathe fresh air and life into cross-cultural relationships and interactions.
These are my new heroes. Alongside the ones I have admired for years because of their seeming super-human bravery, I now watch in awe as my new friends draw pictures alongside children rescued from being child soldiers to help their hearts heal. I now listen in wonder as stay-at-home parents leave their own young children to go hold and love on children who have no parents thousands of miles away, even if it is only for a week. I hold back tears as my friends who are no braver than I (and that’s not saying much) climb aboard crammed chicken buses or less-than-sturdy motorbikes and traverse rough and dirty roads to carry supplies and love to remote villages too poor to have even a single clinic.
And I feel as though I am standing outside my own body, watching myself and can hardly understand how someone as ordinary as me, someone as full of fear and self-doubt, can fly kites at the foothills of the volcanoes of a foreign country, surrounded by complete strangers who do not speak my language….or traipse through dirty, narrow alleys that surround giant garbage dumps where people actually dig every day to find something off of which to live….or travel alone thousands of miles from home, lonely and scared, just to hold for a moment a child I do not even know and tell them someone loves them. Who is this person? It cannot possibly be me. I am simply too ordinary. I am too scared. I am not skilled, or qualified, or brave, or superhuman or in any tiny way a hero.
If you are perceptive, you can feel it….almost reach out and touch it. The world is shifting. You don’t have to be a hero anymore. Just be ordinary. You don’t have to FEEL brave. Just go anyway. This is a massive wave you don’t want to miss. You may or may not actually change the world. But I can promise it will change YOUR world.
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior
Travel with Healing Projects
Next teams leave:
Guatemala: December 7-14
China: March 2014
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