Who is called to mission work?

Lately I’ve noticed that young people fear “missing out,” be it socially or spiritually. There is a fear that something great is going to happen and I’m not going to be a part of it. This fear should neither keep you from nor lead you to the mission field.

 

The truth is, God is everywhere doing things in peoples lives all around the globe at every moment. To miss out on what God is doing has absolutely nothing to do with travel plans or passports – it has to do with awareness and involvement.

 

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Awareness. We must be conscious of what it is that God is doing in our world. If we our busy building our “kingdom” we will struggle to see the ways that God is building His Kingdom. Once we open our minds and hearts to God’s eternal mission, we will begin to see the many ways that God is touching hearts and changing lives all around the globe.

 

Involvement. God has generously made us co-laborers with Him in the redemption of all creation. This means that, whether we know it or not, God is transforming and healing our world. We can choose to be a part of that healing through seeking first His Kingdom and His justice (Matthew 6:33) or we can go about our lives as we see fit.

 

One of the greatest privileges of the Gospel is not only to benefit from the Good News of Jesus Christ but also to be a part of His ministry here on earth. We should pray along with Jesus, “your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10) and seek out ways that this can be made a reality through our lives.

 

Henri Nouwen understood the truth about God’s calling. He wrote: “God calls everyone who is listening; there is no individual or group for whom God’s call is reserved.” Let’s not miss out on God’s call to be a part of His divine plan to bless all nations of the earth through Jesus. Our travel plans, whether our answer to this call requires a passport or not, must be secondary to our commitment to Christ’s call.

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Walk With Us

When we think about doing mission work, we often ask ourselves, “What do I have to give?” Or possible, “What can I teach?” The more we reflect on Jesus’ ministry and how we continue His ministry here on earth, we begin to discover mutuality in ministry. That is, we discover that first, we must be open to learn and to receive before we can give.

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Amazonas, Venezuela – 2006.   Photo credit: Michelle Goff

The following words were written by a majority-world bishop for missionaries who would later come to serve in Latin America. Henri Nouwen cites these words in his journal, ¡Gracias!

Walk with Us in Our Search

Help us discover our own riches; don’t judge us poor because we lack what you have.

Help us discover our chains; don’t judge us slaves by the type of shackles you wear.

Be patient with us as a people; don’t judge us backward simply because we don’t follow your stride.

Be patient with our pace; don’t judge us lazy simply because we can’t follow your tempo.

Be patient with our symbols; don’t judge us ignorant because we can’t read your signs.

Be with us and proclaim the richness of your life which you can share with us.

Be with us and be open to what we can give.

Be with us as a companion who walks with us – neither behind nor in front – in our search for life and ultimately for God!

Henri Nouwen. ¡Gracias! in The Spiritual Life: Eight Essential Titles. (New York: Harper One, 2016), 288-89.

 

Third World Experience

Are you looking for a third world experience? Is serving in a third world country on your bucket list? Many young people today look to have a series of formative experiences for their personal development as well as to increase the breadth of their résumé. If these are your primary reasons or motivations for a third world experience, let me recommend you travel as a tourist, not a missionary.

 

Let’s be honest. It’s not entirely your fault. You’ve heard stories or possibly read books about romantic missionary adventures – serving in African orphanages, sharing Christ in the Amazon or building houses in Central America. You want to have a certain set of experiences that mirror the excitement you’ve read or heard about. You would like to come back a different person, changed or even transformed with a greater purpose in life.

 

Yet, statistics and life experience tells us another story. Most people who return from serving in orphanages in Africa do not adopt orphans in their home countries. Most people who share Christ in the Amazon do not share Christ with their families and co-workers when they return. And most people who build houses for the poor in Central America do not serve the poor in the city where they live when they’re not doing short-term mission work.

 

Why is this? Why is there so little transformation in the short-term mission workers? It all begins with your motivation. Why do you want to have a third world experience?

 

What would happen if you went to another country as a student, a genuine learner? What if you went to learn from others, Christians and non-Christians? If you could travel for two months to Africa or Latin America and not be allowed to give or serve but only to learn, would you go?

 

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My learning community, the Redeemer Church of Christ in Buenos Aires, Argentina

 

You see, God has been in Latin America and Africa long before you were born. He’s been living and active in these places touching hearts, changing lives and making a name for Himself long before you knew these places existed. He has followers of His Way there doing amazing things. Would you be willing to go and learn from them?

 

If we could understand that our greatest obligation on the mission field is to learn and then secondly, to serve we would make much better missionaries. Those who go as learners are more likely to be transformed and greater equipped for lifelong service in God’s Kingdom than those who participate in frivolous missionary tourism.

 

Once you realize that the third world does not need your help – you are not their savior, you can begin to make a difference starting with yourself.

Meaningful Cross-Cultural Experiences

Is it possible to go to another country that speaks another language and not have a cross-cultural experience? I believe it is. And while all cross-cultural interaction is not avoidable, I believe most many foreigners lived isolated from the local culture.

 

So, if your goal is linguistic and cultural immersion, what is the best way of going about it? I would like to suggest that the church is the best way to experience another culture.

 

While brothers and sisters in Christ from all over the world share a common faith and Lord, their expression of the Gospel is unique in their culture. Being fully involved in a community of faith does not only mean making friends with the locals, but learning to love and serve them all the while you are known, served and loved.

 

I have been traveling around South America for the past thirteen years and I am convinced that, in the majority of cases, missionaries are much more a part of the local culture than others who come for business or pleasure.

 

If you participate in the Latin American Missions Studies Program you will be part of the Redeemer Church of Christ in the barrio of Palermo. We are a small and growing Christ-centered community that strives to proclaim God’s Word, live and community and be a part of God’s mission in Buenos Aires and in the rest of the world.

 

Iglesia de Cristo Redentor

Iglesia de Cristo Redentor

 

Want to get a real taste for Argentina and for Latin America? Commit to growing in faith alongside other dedicated Christians . . . in Spanish over mate.

 

Visit our church’s website: www.idcredentor.org.

Transformative Experiences

For so many of us today, the culture of consumerism and the senseless accumulation of material goods are no longer satisfying. Instead of turning to God, the Creator of all things, we have found another alternative that promises to fill the void in our hearts: experience.

 

A quick review of the most liked posts on Facebook and Instagram show just how important experience has become for people today. The posts and images encourage people to not buy, to not accumulate things but to travel. In many ways, they are right! Experience is much more fulfilling than the accumulation of things.

 

But we must ask ourselves: what kind of experience can truly lead us to fulfillment?

 

There can be not fulfillment without full participation in the life, ministry and body of Christ. If this participation is not practiced on a regular basis where we live, it is likely that we will not enjoy a Christ-centered, Spirit-empowered, transformative experience in another country.

 

Many people return from a mission trip with a desire to travel, to learn a new language and possibly a new Facebook profile picture. It is my desire that people would return from the Latin American Missions Studies Program with a bigger view of the world, a greater compassion for the marginalized and the oppressed and a greater commitment to life in Christ and His body.

 

If our cross-cultural experiences do not take us deeper into the heart of Jesus and face to face with those He died to save, let’s call it vacation not mission work.

 

 

Cross-cultural mission work can be a mountain top experience for Christians. Nevertheless, if we are not in constant communion with God and active in service in our local churches where we live most of the year, we will mostly likely be longing for an ideal experience instead of the kind of humble service to which we are called in Christ.

The Holistic Formation of Missionaries

“Crosscultural service is a crucible that tests one’s character, probes one’s spirituality and stretches one’s ministry skills, while also demanding a wide range of background knowledge.”

Antonio Berni (Rosario, 1905 - Buenos Aires, 1981)

Antonio Berni (Rosario, 1905 – Buenos Aires, 1981)

The Latin American Missions Studies Program focuses on three areas of vital formation of the students and aspiring missionaries: knowing, being and doing.

To know: Knowledge is an important part of preparing missionaries for service. We must ask questions like: Who am I serving? What are their deep beliefs and convictions? How do they understand the world? How do they understand themselves? What do they think about Jesus?

To be: Theology is not only a conversation about God – it is a path to also discover who we are in Christ. Along with prayer, meditation on God’s Word and meaningful participation in Christ’s body, students will be encouraged to understand themselves and their mission in the light of who Jesus is today.

To do: Ministry flows out of the person and work of Jesus Christ. We cannot share the Good News of Jesus Christ in a way that denies the internal logic of that message. We will explore what it means to share the Good News of God’s redemptive work in Jesus in Latin America.

LAMSP emphasizes these three important areas of formation because a holistic comprehension of mission work is what foments a strong witness to the truth of the Gospel. Steve Hoke highlights the importance of an integral spirituality:

“Ministry (doing) flows out of being. Crosscultural servanthood arises out of your very identity in Christ. . . . The critical factor will always be a vibrant spirituality empowered by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. No matter how well a missionary may be trained, if the presence of the Holy Spirit is not in that person’s life, she or he will just be going through the motions.”

Will you consider exploring with us what it means to serve God and others in Latin America?

Steve Hoke, “The Missionary Needed Today”., in Steve Hoke and Bill Taylor., Global mission Handbook: A Guide for Crosscultural Service. (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Books., 2009)., 39-40.

Latin American Missions Study Program

The Latin American Missions Study Program was born out of a desire to better equip North American and European Christians who desire to serve the people of Latin America in the name of Jesus.

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Some aspiring missionaries excel in theological reflection while others excel in practical ministry experience. An effective missionary is one who does theology while his or her hands and feet are serving others.

How beautiful on the mountains
    are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
    who bring good tidings,
    who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
    “Your God reigns!”
– Isaiah 52:7 NIV

While theological education is readily available in North America and Europe, theological reflection done in a local context is of even greater value. Clemens Sedmak in his book, Doing Local Theology, suggests that theology must be done in the village, that is, in a specific place.

At the roots of Christianity there is a village. Humility is the art of living in a village, the art of being down to earth, close to the ground. Doing local theology is a service, like washing feet. You have to be closer to the ground to do that.

Reading the Bible in another language, in our case Spanish or Portuguese can open up our eyes to Jesus and His ministry in ways which our native language cannot. As we open our eyes to read, we open our hearts in order to see what the Christ-life looks like on the streets of Buenos Aires or in rural Bolivia.

Will two months in Buenos Aires teach you everything you need to know about being a missionary in Latin America? Of course not! But it is my hope that this experience will whet your appetite and point you to resources for further growth.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

In His service,

Jonathan Hanegan

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Clemens Sedmak, Doing Local Theology: A Guide for Artisans of a New Humanity. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2002.