Why is the Church involved in Mission Work?
Well, first off, it’s essential to remember that *all* work and ministry done for God is mission work. Our mission, as Christians, is to live into the Kingdom. Jesus seemed to always be saying, “The kingdom of God is like…” In the Lord’s prayer, we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as in heaven.” Some call it a kin-dom: a reality where everyone sees everyone else, and all creation, as kin. We experience God’s kin-dom whenever we are surprised by goodness: when someone chooses to be merciful, when one forgives their enemy, when generosity has more power than fear. We cannot grasp God’s kingdom – but we can catch glimpses that give us the desire/will/strength/joy to go on working for that kingdom. Christians serve others, give of themselves, study Scripture, connect with other believers, and reach out in God’s love because these are ways that we live into the kingdom.
And so, mission work is any work done to show others God’s deep, abiding, surprising love. Every Christian is a missionary to their friends, family, co-workers, congregation, neighbourhood, and all with whom they have the opportunity to connect. I often talk about our family as “the kind of missionaries that have plane tickets” – yes, we have travelled to exotic and foreign destinations to serve God and Church, but I have been a missionary all my life. From my earliest days, being loved and learning to share that love with others, I have been wanting others to come to know God – a God so full of grace and welcome that I can’t stand by until all around me have had a chance to witness this God who is life-saving and life-changing.
So the question I often ask myself is: why did I feel the need to come to the other side of the world in order to witness to the good news (gospel) of Jesus’ kingdom? I could certainly have kept serving in the U.S.A., where I had far better use of language, culture, and history. Why go when I could have stayed?
One of our seminary professors, Dr. Mark Allen Powell (author of one of the best books ever, Loving Jesus) loved to test students on their knowledge of the Great Commission from the gospel of Matthew, chapter 28. He said that there are two parts of it that people often forget when they quote it. The verse is this: “Go, therefore, into all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey my commandments. And lo, I am with you to the end of the age.” It is called the Great Commission because it is a mission that we undertake with (com-) Jesus – a commission. The parts people often forget are the Go (go out of your comfort zone) and the teaching. In other words, go meet people who might change you, and don’t just baptize them and move on; teach them what it means to be Christian and to follow Jesus. Sit with them. Listen to them so that your teaching connects with their need.
It is no surprise that Eric and I have come here on a teaching mission. Teaching matters to us. Eric is a lifelong learner – the best reason to become a professor. He got his Ph.D because he couldn’t stop learning! The need here in Sabah and neighboring countries is for seminary professors who can share Lutheran identity – why we are not only Christian, but go further to find meaning in Lutheran theology. Students come here to become pastors, so that they can go back to their villages, longhouses, and towns, here on Borneo and even in mainland Malaysia and other countries, and be teachers of the faith. Many of the students are Lutheran, but know little of what it means to be Lutheran. It is an opportunity to witness to the blessings of being Lutheran.
And what are those blessings? First and foremost, an understanding of grace – God’s gift that we do not have to earn. We are loved, saved, and empowered to serve not because we are wonderful, but because God is wonderful. And God’s gifts are given to all: pastors are no more holy than others who share their gifts with their community – teachers, healers, office workers, salespeople, homemakers, and so many other professions. Everyone can share their gifts. Everyone can open God’s word and be touched by it. Everyone can call on God with shouts of praise or tears of need. The Lutheran faith is one of the most responsive to those in need – for Martin Luther the way we come to know God is not through pondering God’s majesty. Instead we meet God precisely in the things that we do not equal with the glory of God: in the weakness, rejection, and suffering of Jesus on the cross. This means that when we are weak and in need, we find that God in Christ is already there with us.
Jonah kind of missionaries:
When we were first deciding whether to join Global Mission and come to Malaysia, Caedmon was 3 years old, and his favorite Bible story was Jonah. We had to read it to him every night, this story of how God helped someone to say “Yes” to a pretty big adventure. But the Jonah story is 4 chapters long, and only chapters 1-2 deal with getting Jonah to say yes. Chapter 3 is my favorite: where Jonah goes into the city of Ninevah, a city so big it is 3 days walk across. It should take Jonah 1.5 days to get to the middle, where he can start preaching. But when he has walked only one day, as soon as Jonah opened his mouth, the people repented and turned back towards God.
This story doesn’t tell us what a great preacher Jonah is. It tells us that God had prepared the hearts of that whole city. The people were looking, were ready, for God to hear them and forgive them. Jonah hardly did anything – but God did amazing, amazing works.
To me, we are like Jonah – this missionary gig isn’t about how great we are, but it is about God preparing hearts and doing wonderful things. When we get to sit with the local people here, in seminary or congregation or village, we see their great faith. We are able to bring some unique resources, but it is God who tends to the Church and believers here. We are in awe of God’s love. The gift we receive is that, though we came as witnesses, we here witness new and wonderful signs of faith, hope, and love.