I think I was 19 years old when it happened.
I was up at a Christian Camp in the mountains, with my soon to be wife and hundreds of my closest friends. The place was packed because that particular year, we had someone speaking to us who was unlike anyone else we had ever heard way back in 1978.
His name was Tony Campolo and he was to become a larger than life figure for me.
Throughout the weekend Tony weaved a call to serve the poor with Jesus call on our lives, admonishing us to do something great for God with our lives.
I remember one person shared with him that she wanted to be a doctor in the nice suburban area where she had grown up. Tony looked right at her and asked why she would want to do that when she could serve the poor and make a real difference. "There will always be plenty of doctors to serve the haves" he said, "why not help those who can't get to a doctor?"
She was devastated by his challenge.
I was stunned.
For the first time in my young life, the Gospel made practical sense and I made the decision that weekend to give my life to missions and serving the poor.
Almost 15 years later, in 1992, along with a friend, I founded Adventures in Life Ministry to do mission work in Mexico. Add another 20 years on that, and today, the majority of our work in Mexico is centered in the state of Oaxaca, the second poorest state in the country.
There is no other way to say this... I am a missionary because God used Tony that weekend and over the years to touch and call me in ways I never expected.
At the end of that conference where I first met Tony, he shared his now famous "It's Friday, but Sunday's Comin'" sermon.
I think it's appropriate today on Good Friday to take a listen and reflect...
Friday, March 29, 2013
Saturday, March 23, 2013
Recently the question "What's in your wallet?" has become known as the advertising slogan Capital One and their multitude of charge cards. This got me to thinking...
Over the years missions work and by extension missionaries have changed.
Years ago when a missionary for Jesus left the shores of his or her home country, the friends, family and church of that person held a wake or funeral. Because of the difficulty of travel, likelihood of disease or danger striking, and short life spans in general, everyone knew it was not see you later, but goodbye.
When that person landed in his new land he set out to make new friends, build or find a house and put down roots. His first task was to become part of the community he was sent to serve. Locals saw a commitment to be part of them and this was a major step in the advancement of the Gospel around the globe.
For whatever other shortcomings we can now trace to bad missions work, the emphasis that we had on becoming part of the community we were serving was and is not one of them.
Sadly, we are quickly leaving this attitude behind, and it is not just in the short-term world.
Recently I was in Mexico City and was greeted by a US Missionary. Like me, he has been serving in Mexico for 20 years. He married a beautiful Mexican woman, his kids were born in Mexico and he helps pastor a church in a small colonia of about 4000 people hidden among 22 million other inhabitants.
He also lives where Mexicans live. His house is typical for his area, his neighbors are all Mexican, and he is not dreaming of the day he will be coming back to the states. Clearly he has given his heart to Mexico and her people.
Too bad my experiences with Rod, whose blog you can read here, are not typical.
I asked a good friend years ago why he was serving in Kenya. Was there a specific call or experience that led him there? "No" he answered, "there was just an opening." When I asked him where he lived, he said he lived where the other missionaries lived... in a small gated community.
I have regularly sat and listened as US based missionaries on home leave make jokes and mock the country where they are serving. It breaks my heart because if the people who our churches send to be "like Jesus" cannot be counted on to be an advocate for the country they are serving, who can?
I wonder if our desire to commit our lives, and indeed our hearts, to another country is just another relic of a bygone age. I wonder if if our inability, or unwillingness to give our lives wholeheartedly to another country and people is hurting our missionary focus.
Short-term mission is here to stay. As surely as the monarch butterfly migrates each year and the swallows return to Capistrano, thousands of people will annually leave the shores of the US to serve in other countries. They will go through the rituals of getting prepared, making sure their to do list is all covered.
And then they will make one final switch sometime before they arrive on site. They will take their US money out of their wallet and replace it with the currency of the country they are going to serve.
That's the reality.
I just wish we could switch our hearts as easily to that country.
A few years back I asked my wife out to dinner. I was pretty embarrassed when the check came. But it wasn't because I had no money. It was because I had the wrong money. I was loaded with Mexican pesos. My wife wasn't surprised, having learned long ago that Mexico had become my adopted country.
When Alec Baldwin asks in that Capital One commercial what's in your wallet, he isn't even aware of how profound that question is.
When I think about a new generation of missionaries traveling around the globe to replace the fossils of the current missionary age like me, I hope and pray that their answer to Alec's question is not Capital One or dollars.
I want to hear dinar, pesos, yen, cuna, quetzal and rupees.
Because the first step in joining the community you are going to serve in knowing where your heart is. That's why when Tim Dearborn, author of Beyond Duty, asked a Haitian Pastor what someone must do to be a good missionary to Haiti, the simple answer he received was "Love Haitians!"
Missions is about heart.
What's in your wallet?
Monday, March 18, 2013
It was early in the history of my ministry, Adventures in Life and we were getting ready to start on our first project in northern Mexico.
We had been asked to help a small community of people, living in the village of Santa Rosa, on the free road to Ensenada, build a church. But before we could begin, we told the locals that their part was to get land for this new church.
When I received the call from Pastor Jorge that they had the land, we headed south for a chance to see the site and pray with the leaders of this new church.
We went out in the evening, saw the site and soon it was dark. In an area with no electricity, when it gets dark, it gets really dark. I talking you couldn’t see your face dark. I was thinking it was time to leave, particularly since I couldn’t see anything, but Pastor Jorge and his team were having none of that.
We went there to pray, and we were going to pray. So we circled up on the land where the church would be built. Along with Pastor Jorge were a few members of his church in El Sauzal, the first believers from Santa Rosa and, standing next to me, a man who was to become the pastor of this new church, Carlos Rios.
There we stood in the darkness beseeching God to bless this new work, asking for his guidance, mercy, provision and will to be done. And then somewhere in the middle of all this praying, Carlos Rios leaned over to give me what I expected to be a personal word of encouragement.
“Hermano David” he said in his broken English... “You’re standing in crap!” I was thinking that yes, our ministry was indeed in crap because we really had no idea how to build a church and everuone there was counting on us. But Carlos wasn’t talking about our ability to build a church... he had another concern.
There in the middle of the village of Santa Rosa, on the free road to Ensenada, with a group of Christian leaders praying to God to guide this new ministry that I was soon to be helping with Adventures in Life, I was standing in crap!
I still did not understand until my not so finely tuned city nose got the message and I looked down and realized what had happened. I had stepped in a giant fresh pile of cow crap, had broken the crust and in addition to what was all over my shoes, the smell was now killing our prayer time.
Despite the smell and the jokes that followed, that night literally launched Adventures in Life Ministry. Within a few months we had a church built there for the 100 residents of that small village.
And with that experience, we have gone on to help churches all over Mexico realize their dreams of a place to freely worship Jesus.
Sometimes in ministry, to be effective, you need to step in crap. And that, I fear is what is happening to me again.
In May, I will be heading into the Sierra Mixteca, an area two hours north of Oaxaca City. I am going because AIL Ministry has been asked by local community and political leaders to help their people get fish farms so they can have food on their tables.
My partner Chablé and I are trying to build, through helping meet the very real needs of people in this region, authentic Christian relationships that will enable us to share one day about the love of Jesus.
In this area, in order not to split communities and pit families against each other, we must work with people most Christian missionaries shun. One local Christian missionary from the US was recently given the opportunity to serve alongside Chablé in this very area. He decided that he couldn’t, because, to sum it up, the people with whom he would have to spend his time were real big sinners, not interested in Jesus.
Jesus understood a little about this type of attitude. Jesus was a man who stepped in a lot of crap to connect with people.
Sitting alongside a Samaritan woman at the well? Pile of crap.
Welcoming and eating with sinners and tax collectors? Another pile of crap.
Take a close look at this picture.
Pastor Chablé is using my computer, with a picture of our fish farm, to explain the idea to people in San Juan Escutia Coquilla. These are the men who are asking for our help and who know we are evangelicals trying to share about Jesus.
Unfortunately, what you are also seeing are piles of crap all over the table with the name Victoria... bottles of beer.
To me, this is a great picture. Evangelical Christians, meeting with leaders, on their turf, to discuss how to save lives and connect with people. We are, in Young Life lingo, earning the right to be heard later on the question of Jesus.
Unfortunately, with the beer in the picture, many people will be critical of us. They’ll look disapprovingly on the picture and decide against helping simply because there was beer on the table.
Many will see this picture and decide there is no way we are even Christians because we did not condemn the Oaxacan people with us because of the beer.
Ministry is messy.
Especially so when we are crossing cultural and linguistic barriers. My fear is that in our zeal to be pure, or very Christian, we are choosing to avoid the piles cows leave behind. And that is compromising our message.
We are in effect, sending the subtle message, well understood by those not like us, that we are better than they are. Is that what Christ intended? What was he really saying when he ate with sinners and sat down with the woman at the well?
Sometimes to be effective in ministry we don’t need to do much. We just need to step in the proverbial pile of crap.
What about you... have you stepped in it lately?