This is a guest article by Ben Schroering.
Something truly incredible is taking place. Unevangelized people groups from hard to reach places are moving to the States. Pew Research Center did a study showing that 15% percent of people living in the U.S. are foreign born, and if current trends continue that number will rise to 18% by the year 2065. That’s nearly one in five. Because of this influx of people from other countries and the children they are having, it is currently expected that white people will no longer make up the majority of the U.S. population by the year 2055. The size of this migration into the U.S is fairly unique globally and is reflected by the fact that 20% of immigrants in the world live in the U.S. Even though these numbers might seem surprising they don’t even encompass the full picture. Things like the war in Syria or the collapse of Somalia are factors which defy predictability and can have massive impact on the amount of people shifting around the globe.
So why aren’t we responding in kind? With this great inpouring of people from all over the world, why isn’t there an equally great outpouring from the local church trying to reach them? As is always the case when asking questions of this scale, there are many answers because there are many contributing factors. There is one issue, however, which speaks to my personal experience, which if it weren’t undercut by sadness might seem comical. Reaching immigrants and refugees just isn’t very cool.
Ever since I was sixteen and took a Perspectives class at a local church, I felt called away from a materialistic Western mindset and called to missions. I loved reading about contextualization and church planting movements. I imagined myself becoming immersed in another culture and persevering through all the hardships. I daydreamed about working with a team of likeminded believers all racing towards the finish line in joyful anticipation of the words: “Well done good and faithful servant!” It was all very beautiful, very romantic. I wanted so much of that so badly.
Eventually I had an opportunity to take an extended trip and I began to look at my options. As I looked through all the possibilities, I had to wrestle with the fact that I didn’t feel the call to a particular people. That being the case, I found a trip that was a bit of a sampler of the world where the participants would go to eleven countries in eleven months. There were colorful high quality promotional videos of people talking about how life changing the trip was intermingled with footage of them helping impoverished nationals. The videos even challenged the nine-to-five status quo. I fell in love with the trip, started the application process, and contacted my pastors.
A week or two later I got a call from one of my pastors. He told me that he had discussed what I was doing with the other pastors at the church and they had thought they had a better idea. There was an organization affiliated with our church which was trying to create a group of people who would live together in a rough part of town where a lot of internationals lived. The idea was that it would simulate foreign missions by making people work together as a team to reach the internationals who lived around them. My pastor was excited. But when we got off the phone I was so crestfallen that I almost cried. It was like I was being asked to participate in missions without all the parts I was really excited about.
False Attractions for Overseas Missions
The truth is our attraction to missions can be more cultural than biblical. Aspects of doing missions overseas overlap with our society’s multicultural sensibilities. Travelers’ tales fascinate us. Cultural immersion sounds respectable. If you’re able to reminisce about the time you saw the sun rise over a grove of coffee trees in Ethiopia or how you fought against caste oppression in India, you’re pretty much the most interesting person in the room.
There are also dubious reasons someone would want to be known as a missionary inside the church. It’s no secret that missionaries are often viewed as being on an entirely different spiritual level than other people serving in the church. With all the inspiring books about the success stories of missions pioneers, it's easy to see how people can get that impression. Because of the perfect world often described by missions literature, the church rallies around the people they send overseas. As one of these people you think you’ll end up getting a lot of attention from people you both like and respect. But if all you’re doing is moving across town and living in a place where most of your friends don’t want to go, you may get little notice.
Discerning the Heart’s Desire
For me, the impact of this realization was a massive heart check. If all the things which are personally gratifying and personally glorifying get stripped away would I still want to live on mission? How much of what I’m seeking is from a heart for God and his glory, and how much of it is from a heart for me and my glory? I’m not saying that overseas missionaries are selfish and ignoring God. That would be ridiculous. However, as someone who romanticized overseas missions, I can’t help but wonder how many other people need to answer that question before they go.
People from all over the world are flooding into our backyard where we can efficiently share the gospel with them and meet them in their times of need. This is amazing because of all the biblical commands this fulfills. Not only are we reaching the nations, but because we are doing it where we live we are reaching the foreigners among us. Not only are we reaching the foreigner among us, but because they now reside where we do we are helping the poor. All of these things even overlap with our call to build our community and make it prosper. Perhaps we are so used to a traditional view of missions being overseas that it is impeding us from pouncing on this opportunity. My personal journey has shown me that it has a lot to do with our hearts.
Ben is a member and intern of Sojourn Community Church in New Albany, Indiana. As an intern at Refuge Louisville, Ben has spent the last year living in the south end of Louisville doing outreach and ministry to refugees and internationals in his community.
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