I am going to convince some 40 youth that missions is cool. Before that I am also going to convince my family to do the house cleaning for me. I am not sure which challenge is bigger. It is possible that I will wake up tomorrow feeling like both my undertakings failed.
In preparing to talk to the youth I have asked myself what I think about mission myself. I was once a missionary, you know. So I better know what it is and why it is important. The first important thing to realize is that the Bible actually doesn’t say anything about mission or missionary.
The second thing to understand is that the meaning of mission or missionary is not to go to another country and tell the people there that they will go to hell unless they change their religion, their culture, their diet and their friends. There are many definitions of the word mission in the dictionary, the one closest to what I think we think about when we think mission is: the vocation or calling of a religious organization, esp. a Christian one, to go out into the world and spread its faith. Makes sense, right?
But what does it mean to spread our faith, and why does it even matter?
This is what I am going to have to explain to the teens. And to myself.
I often feel ashamed of being a Christian. Not because of what the Bible tells me to believe and do. I am ashamed of being associated with so many knuckle heads. Sorry to say it, but I am.
I am ashamed of being associated with the TV evangelists who, in my mind, are just one step above absolute clowns. I am ashamed of being associated with the conservative and judgmental Christians who have nothing better to do than to point fingers at everybody but themselves. I am ashamed of being associated with the people who are not able to love the gays, the homeless, the single mothers and the anarchists, the socialists, the rock stars, the ones with the tattoos and the ones who smoke pot. I don’t want to be one of those people. And I don’t want one of them to be empowered and justified in going around the world sharing their faith either. Because that kind of faith is not the faith I have received. It is not a faith I have found in the Bible.
So when I talk about missions, I need to be able to articulate what that means. To me personally, but also what I believe the Bible wants us to think about missions.
I was reading a special kind of Bible as I was preparing for the lesson I am going to teach. It is a Bible called the Poverty and Justice Bible.Fear not, the words are the same. The difference is that every verse that mentions poverty or justice in the Bible is highlighted. And you know how many verses that is? More than 2000.
It is clear to me that the mission of Christians is not to go out and condemn people for their tastes in clothes, music or even love life. Our mission is to care for the poor and the oppressed. Just to figure out if 2000 verses mentioning poverty and justice was a lot, I compared it to some other words that you might think are important in the Christian faith. Sin for example. It was mentioned 400 times. Approximately. And prayer. Just about the same.
So, yes, when we are talking about missions, we need to talk about Jesus and who he is. But it seems to me that equally important is the fact that Jesus cares about the weakest, the poorest, the most unlovely, the most unwanted, the most oppressed, the ugliest, the smelliest, the hungriest, the coldest, the dirtiest. And if he cares, so should we. Why does he care, and why should we care? Because he knows that behind each of our masks is a jewel. And it is that jewel he cares about. And it is the uniqueness of each person we are called to see and love. And it is that each person is loved for who they are that is our mission.
This is what I am going to try to make 40 teens understand. This is what I need to understand too.