Rethinking Our Perspective: When the Marginalized Move to the Center

The following is a guest article by Josh Baylor.

I’ve always considered reaching the rest of the world through the highly-resourced church in the context of a wealthy state as the optimal situation for mission. The stability and capacity of the socio-economic first-world is quite something. Having this supposed “dream team” combo seems limitless in its reach for the sake of gospel mission. A church with countless resources, developed leadership, and multiple pathways operating within the structural soundness of an economic force of nations certainly has great potential to carry the message further than a lone ranger missionary or church plant.

The Unexpected Path of Jesus

There’s a reason, however, the story of Jesus and his rugged crew and the start of the church are so compelling. First, who doesn’t like a good underdog story? It’s inspiring. They didn’t stand a chance, but 2 Corinthians 4 explains it. We’re powerless, and he’s powerful. Where we are weak, he is strong. Power is not found in what can be seen, wealth and resources, but the unseen, the eternal; “death is at work in us, but life in you” (verse 12). The gospel spreads by denying ourselves (resources, wealth, abilities, capabilities), taking our cross (identifying with the person and work of Jesus), and following Jesus (probably not the direction we’d naturally choose). Therefore, death leads to life because death was defeated, and life reigns in Jesus. What an incontestable and uncanny reversal.

Second, the story of Jesus reveals the God of mission throughout all eternity. The former reason gains interest, and the latter shows inevitability.  And that’s where I want to rest my laurels, namely, on the eternally perfect and fulfilling promise of God’s plan. He makes good on all his promises through Jesus by the Spirit in and through his people. And this is the wonder—that he carries out his plan succinctly through a chronological succession of misfits and the marginalized. Throughout the pages of the Bible and over the course of church history, God’s kingdom grows by wave after wave of the broken and outcast pounding the shores of indifference grown fat with individualism.

When We place trust in typical Means

Front and center in the public square preaches, but poor and marginalized reaches. And it challenges me to reconsider wherein my trust lies (Psalm 21:7). Am I trusting in my circumstances and experience? Am I trusting in my origin story or the fame of my church or country? Some do, and they collapse and fall from the weight of the world, which no one can bear no matter how many chariots and horses one has. Ask Pharaoh. Or we could trust in the Lord our God, who makes seemingly impossible pathways open up (e.g. The Red Sea). He makes a way for the destitute to rise and stand upright (e.g. Lazarus).

I mean, here I am, sent out by a leading church in my denomination and resourced by a leading missions agency to a country that leads much of Europe in the way of economic stability and ideological progressiveness. I even live in a world-ranking city, Düsseldorf, known for its security, wealthy economy, and stable infrastructure. One could say I am one degree away from any number of highly resourceful believers and churches. In actuality, I’m not.

I’m surrounded by gross contradictions. My neighbors and friends, the parents from our local school, and the average resident in our city have everything they need. This could mean they have everything to give. But individualism hinders it. Lately, many new neighbors have moved in, who have very little. Most of them are the multitudes of refugees that have poured into our safe and secure city and state. So what’re we, as privileged, first-world sent ones, going to do?

At first glance, we’re going to build a strong, sturdy church of stable nationals, who in turn, will have the breadth and depth to reach countless other nationals, foreigners, and refugees.

One More Uncanny Reversal

Take a second look. Who’s reaching who? The refugees know their need. They know desperation. They know the importance of family. They understand identity in a different way than most people. They’re already on the go. Write the message of the riches of God’s grace, the hostility-crushing power of the cross, and the already-not-yet dream of a world of peace and hope on their hearts. Stuff it in the envelope. Signed by Jesus. Stamped by the Spirit. Now that has the makings of the world’s most effective mail campaign ever.

Every week our missional community gets together with other caring neighbors for coffee and cake with about 20-30 refugees (mostly from Syria). At times, there are as many neighbors there to serve as there are refugees. And sometimes, the refugees turn the tables and serve. We have good conversations even though spotty because of the language barrier. My daughter had fun playing a game with Mo, who, to her surprise, could enjoy his coffee and cake and play Uno as well as her—only he had nubs instead of hands. His village was wiped off the face of the earth, and he lives. Amal can use her Arabic to minister to him and others with love and share the message of the gospel. As we continue this effort, our group also has the opportunity to minister God’s grace to the other neighbors, who are serving. Through the needs of the refugees, the real need of truth and grace in the lives of all, including the wealthy neighbors, is exposed. We show up and serve and grace all of them with the hope that we have.

It’s simple, really. Those, who have hope, can give it to the needy, and the needy receive it with open arms and extend it with open hands in open lands. The marginalized and the hopeful go well together. They don’t see it and have no hope. The church has hope; we’re full of it. The way of Jesus is a continual giving and receiving that leads to life. The church, full of a marginalized people, bursts with hope, and mission becomes irreversible and uncontainable in its location and direction. Concerning who God might use to reach the world, it’s not an either/or; it’s a both/and. And it’s surely by God’s plan. Perhaps, for today, the gospel-infused refugee will reach the affluent people in this country and beyond for God’s kingdom and his glory.

Josh Baylor serves as a church planting catalyst sent out by Sojourn Community Church (Louisville, Kentucky) for the IMB in Germany. He and his wife, Meghan, live in Düsseldorf with their two sons and two daughters. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshBaylor.