I was a church kid in the Bible Belt.
It meant that I had a True Love Waits ring, that I owned more than one Michael W. Smith CD, and that I was very familiar with the plea to serve in foreign missions. The plea went something like this: missionaries would be dressed like the people they’d been sent to serve, combined with a slide show of exotic-looking people while perfectly coordinated music pulled on the hearts strings, and a pastor would bring it all home with a reminder that those on the slide show would not hear unless someone was sent to preach.
No one actually said it, but the Great Commission was presented as if Jesus had been standing right here in Texas when He gave it. “Go into all the world” was always a mandate to leave America with the gospel. And, well, it worked. I went.
It was a great privilege to be given the opportunity to leverage part of my life and career for people on the other side of the planet. I’ve frequently described it as a remedial faith class. While the prevailing attitude of some of my fellow American church attenders is that missionary service is a level of commitment that they don’t begin to aspire to, my experience is that the Lord called me to a foreign land because there were things about Himself that He wanted to teach me that I just wasn’t going to learn in Texas. It was a deficit in my faith that caused Him to ask me to go. And I’m so glad that I did.
But Jesus wasn’t standing here when He said “go.”
I have a vivid memory from August, 2005. Being from the Gulf Coast, the news of Hurricane Katrina had garnered my attention. I’d lived through big storms during my childhood in Houston, but this one was different. Besides physically being close to a completely different ocean, I’d had another experience with a natural disaster since my last hurricane. The previous December some friends and I had escaped Nairobi and headed out to the beach for a few days of fun right after Christmas. I’d stood on sand at the Indian Ocean after dark on December 26th and strained to hear the waves. The soothing rhythm that seemed so faithful was nowhere to be heard. The water had gone to the other side of the ocean that day in the form of a tsunami that hit India, Thailand and other parts of Asia. Thousands were dead. And now, months later, a similar wave of water was hitting closer to home.
I watched the news coverage on CNN International from a treadmill one morning while listening to some worship music. “How Great Is Our God” played as images of those stranded and others who had been killed rolled on the television. I remember thinking that it all looked so similar – New Orleans and Phuket. There were people in both places who’d had little or no access to the gospel, and who, without the means to evacuate or the foreknowledge of what was coming, had been caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. It was the beginning of an understanding that I’ve only recently been able to articulate.
I am so glad that I got to serve the Kingdom on another continent and there is no doubt that God calls some of us to leave our homes and cultures and to use our passports in the spread of the gospel. Those who are obedient to go should be loved and prayed for and supported (emotionally and financially). But Jesus wasn’t standing here when He asked us to make disciples. And we’ve got plenty of evidence that what was once, maybe, a Christian culture is no longer. All the while my fellow church-goers are still thinking that what is being done for the kingdom in other time zones is somehow more important, more spiritual than what we’ve each been asked to do. Which is to make disciples. Right here.
The Novum Institute says it this way. In His plan for redemption, God gathers a people to Himself, He renews His relationship with them and with one another, and He sends them out. Sent to the accounting firm. Called by God to the carpool line. Commissioned for the spreading of the Good News at the ball field and the grocery store and the big law firm.
I’m excited about what Novum is doing. Equipping the saints for the work of the Kingdom is something that I’ve worked on for big chunks of my career. This time though, I can picture groups in the American church being gathered together, having their relationships renewed with God and one another, being sent out to whatever context they find themselves in – and the harvest is right here at home.