Friday, September 20, 2013

Gospel, Mission and American Exceptionalism... can they co-exist?

Whenever I am around people talking about mission, my mind gets moving.  This week I am at STAND, the North American Mission Leaders event sponsored by Missio Nexus in Dallas, Texas.

Yesterday I was listening to Paul Borthwick, long a strong advocate for Christian mission and engagement in the world, particularly short-term mission.  One of the things he stressed was the need for missionaries, when we are working and serving in other countries to stop, listen to and accept the leadership of the national leaders.  But he went further, challenging us to not only listen to leaders, but to hear the words of the poor and the least of these when we go.

Over the last week or so, the concept of American Exceptionalism has been in the news a lot.  Ever since Russian President Vladimir Putin wrote an Op-Ed peice in the New York Times saying Americans are not exceptional, people have been talking.  His peice even stirred Senator John McCain to fire off a response extolling the virtues of both America and our exceptionalism.

Exceptionalism is this belief that America, and by extension our citizenry, are unusually “different” from others countries and peoples.  In practice it gets interpreted as we are better than anyone else.  It's as if because of our history, our formation, our struggles and our values, we have a leg up on everyone else in the world.

This belief is rooted in the American Revolution, our support of Europe, and the sacrifices we made in helping win World War II.  It can perhaps best be expressed in what is known as our “can do” attitude.  It is a badge of honor many Americans, my self included frequently wear with pride.

And therein may lie the problem.

How can missionaries from America, long steeped in the tradition of American Exceptionism, set aside that pride, be it for a week, or years in the case of long-term missionaries, and really listen to leaders from other countries?

How can we, when we intrinsically believe at our core that we are better or know more, set those beliefs aside and become learner servants, seeking to hear God’s voice from others?

If we believe that we have the best program, the best building methods, the best access to mission philosophy, the best evangelism methods and materials, isn’t it going to be hard to listen to nationals from another country?

It is almost as if Borthwick is asking us to do something that we cannot do.  And you know what?  Apart from God, maybe he is.

The Apostle Paul in his great letter to the church of Philippi shows us the way. 

We read in one of the greatest calls to humility in the bible to be Christlike at an amazing level.  We are called to obedience, the cross, humility and love of others at such an incredible level it is hard to comprehend.

It is summed up best when Paul says we are to consider others better than ourselves.  Take that in for a moment.  Paul is saying to consider that not only is the guy with more education better than you, but to consider the same for the farmer, or the immigrant, the man living in a shack or the shaman in the village half way around the world. 

Paul, the jew of jews in the eyes of many...

“Circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.”

Faultless.  Let that word sink in.  Without fault.  Perfect.  Righteous.  Justified.  That’s exceptionalism.

And Paul was willing to set it all aside for the sake of the Gospel, counting it all as loss in comparison to the Gospel. 

Borthwick was essentially challenging us, as North American Mission Leaders, and there are more than 1200 here in Dallas representing every facet of mission work, to set what we believe to be our exceptionalism aside and be like the Apostle when we go.

But you know what?  He stopped short.  I’ve seen Paul Borthwick speak many times and I admire him greatly, but he stopped short yesterday.  He stopped short because he only challenged us to live that call when we go “over there.”

One of the most frequent criticisms I hear about Christians in the US is that we believe we are better and have it all figured out.  What if we not only “considered others better than ourselves” when we are in another country, but here in our own country as well?

Would it be hard?  Of course it would.  But maybe that is why Paul in closing his Epistle chose this verse... “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”

Imagine the offering that we would be to God if we as a people,
in a country that sees itself as exceptional, set that belief aside for the sake of the Kingdom, became nothing, took the very nature of a servant, and nailed our exceptionalism and pride obediently on the cross.

That would indeed be a witness that just might say something about Jesus to the nations.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Wheelchairs, Love and an Essential Gospel in Mexico City

Pastor Chable, Dave and Rod Fry together in Mexico City with a wheelchair for someone in need

I’d like the introduce Rod Fry to the Adventures in Life family.  I’ve known of Rod for years since he has been a tremendous friend and mentor to frequent AIL Ministry participant, Brigam Ziehm.

In May I was privileged to be part of a conference that Rod and his circle of churches in Mexico City organized to encourage their people to respond to God’s missional call on our lives.  One practical blessing that came out of that conference was a stronger connection between the ministries of Adventures in Life and those of Rod through his sponsoring organization, Camino Global.

It is this relationship that is enabling AIL Ministry partner Pastor Chable to provide wheelchairs where we are working in Oaxaca, and it is these wheelchairs that are the inspiration for Rod’s post this week in our Monday Mission Moment.

The Essential Ingredient by Rod Fry

I found myself talking for a long while about all sorts of very good stuff yesterday, in a home I had only been to once before. My doctor friend was interested in helping distribute free wheelchairs to his neighborhood. I immediately understood one of his motivations the first time I visited his house. His sister-in-law, who suffers from cerebral palsy, was lying alone in the bottom of a bunk bed, covered with blankets. She smiled at me, waving her free hand as best she could. I greeted her with pleasure. The least of these always deserve special treatment.

I went back yesterday, loading up 4 more wheelchairs still in their boxes, bringing the total to 7 chairs now waiting at my doctor friend's house. His wife was there yesterday, and after the normal awkwardness of "what in the world is a gringo doing in my house," she opened up, and we talked about everything from the fact that Christians (the evangelical sort) don't believe in the Pope, and do not follow Catholic church doctrine that has been passed down through the centuries. "I don't confess to the priest," she confessed to me, "he's just a man. I talk straight to God."  Yes, He is our High Priest. No need for another mediator.

I was in a home, way up against the back side of the canal de la Compañía, the canal that, fortunately for my new friends, has always ruptured on the south side, the other side. Otherwise their house would have been completely covered with water. I gained entrance to their home, and in a remarkably rapid fashion, by doing such a simple thing...providing wheelchairs to needy people.

I do not mean to make church planting or evangelism sound too easy, but sometimes I think we make it too hard. I bet, I just bet that when I present a simple, gospel story tomorrow, people will be wide open to receiving it. And I can only imagine that if I would offer to teach a Bible study at that house every week, people would come to it. And people will come to the Savior.

In this case it was wheelchairs...what else can it be? A warm, apple pie, technical advice for one's computer, clean water, soccer equipment, English classes, homework help, construction or mechanical assistance, a strategically given financial gift, a hug, a hospital visit, an ongoing care visit, mowing someone's lawn. And the list goes on and on.

Paradoxically the methods that are perhaps the most effective in today's world do not fall into any religious category, no "churchiness" here. Just people, normal people with something increasingly rare and abnormal...and that special ingredient is LOVE. 

Rod's Blog...