In This Issue: Carl Medearis on on the identity dilemmas of living in “both/and” land
- Identity Dilemmas and Living in Both/And Land
- Drawing for a Free Book
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Carl Medearis, my friend and hero, writes a guest column for us this month. He wrestles with questions of role and identity in sharing the blessings of God with Muslims. Plus he shares a cool new way he’s living out the role God has given him. Enjoy.
Identity Dilemmas and Living in Both/And Land
I was speaking at The Veritas Forum in Boston, where Ahmed, a grad student from Harvard, asked me, “Are you a Christian missionary?” Maybe you or someone you know has been asked questions like this. As I see it, there are three potential answers:
3. What do you mean by that?
Lately many missions pros have taught that #3 is the correct answer. People ask the question and we feign surprise or even ignorance, saying, “Excuse me? Am I a Christian missionary? Why, what do you mean by that?” And then they say something (inaccurate) that allows us to say “no” (#2) with a bit more integrity. Make sense? Others would just say “yes,” (#1) thinking that answer carries the weight of integrity.
I don’t think either answer has a lock on integrity. Here’s why. Since we know that Muslims (and, I’d argue, almost everyone alive today) think of a “Christian missionary” as someone who is doing unhelpful maybe even harmful things to cultures and families, why would we ever agree to be labeled that way? And if we respond with answer #3, I’m afraid we give the impression we’re just trying to avoid #1. People aren’t dumb.
Let me back up a bit: If you are, in fact, a Christian missionary, then you should simply answer “yes.” We shouldn’t be deceitful or try to fudge by giving clever answers (which typically don’t work anyway). Just say “yes,” and then explain what you mean. You want to help people see Jesus. You choose to live in a different culture in order to do good things. And then give examples of what you’re doing. You’re supported by friends and churches back home and you love the people of your new culture. I think most folks respect that sort of answer.
If you’re not doing any of that stuff, then simply say no, and tell them who you are. Shouldn’t be any need for secrecy.
What if You Live in Both/And Land?
The challenge, of course, is that many of us live in “both/and land.” Sometimes we are “Christian missionaries” with much of what that entails. Other times we’re not, or would prefer not to be. Sometimes (like back home in our churches) we’re happy with the label. Other times, we’re embarrassed by it. We struggle to figure out who we are and whether we can sometimes be one thing and other times be something else. How can we live with authentic honesty, integrity, and wisdom?
I told Ahmed at Harvard, “No, but I used to be,” then went on to describe how wonderful most of the missionaries I’ve known have been. How much love for people and God they demonstrate. And that I was pleased to be counted among their ranks. But now I’m a businessman, doing many of the same things, and I’m still all about loving God and my neighbors! All that’s true and it really is my identity.
Middle East Experience
So to put this thinking into action, to live into the role of “businessman who loves Jesus,” I teamed up with some friends to start a website called Middle East Experience. It’s for-profit, as in, we want it to make money. And we expect to personally profit from the site. We got some investors together and put about $20,000 into design and production. We did this so it would be sweet. And make money. And help a lot of people.
Think about this website with me for a second. How do we make it do these things? Who’s our audience? Are we a Christian site? Are we Christian, but trying not to look like it? Are we a Jewish-Christian-Muslim site that doesn’t take sides? A political advocacy site? Supporting the Palestinians maybe? Or something else entirely?
It’s complicated. We need to make money, have integrity, share a message, not offend folks (or they won’t come back) and do all this in a way that’s crazy interesting. Let me just say, it’s not been an easy equation!
The solution is all wrapped up with where I started this article: My identity. Who do I want to reach, what am I reaching them with, and what is the best way for me do that? These are my questions, but I’m not the only one asking them and a lot more of us need to.
If we make the site appear Christian, we reach a Christian audience. But we want to be broader than that. If we are not Christian, then why are we even doing what we’re doing? Here’s where we landed: It’s a purely 100 percent secular site that presents all points of views as equal and valid, without commentary. We’ve let Middle Easterners, and those few outsiders who write for us, speak for themselves. So we have Israelis from all persuasions. Palestinians from all sides. Both liberal and conservative Muslims. Saudi women, businessmen, politicians, peacemakers and even some warriors. We have the Hezbollah, Hamas, and an Israeli Settler from the West Bank. They all speak from their varied personal perspective.
We also have some who love Jesus: traditional Christian Arabs and Muslims who are trying to follow him. Once in a while I bring in my perspective, just being who I am, talking freely and openly about this Jesus whom I love, worship, and follow. There are a couple of others who share their light in creative ways through videos and blogs. Even so, I doubt anyone would look at the site and come away with the thought that it’s “evangelistic” or Christian in some way.
We are making money through advertising and through charging a small fee for a premium subscription that allows members to join a monthly video conference call with some of the most influential leaders in the Middle East. Men and women doing extraordinary work in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Palestine and Israel, Lebanon and Sudan. They are businessmen and women activists. Gandhi-esque peacemakers and undercover fighters. I know them all. They have agreed to do these calls to share their lives and stories with us just so we would know. They want us to know who they are. That they are real people with husbands, wives, children, dreams, and jobs. And yes, also people who want Jesus. They want to know him. They don’t only “need” to know him, they want to!
Business, Missions, or Both/And?
To all of you who are straight up good old-fashioned Christian missionaries: God bless you. I honor you for who you are and the integrity with which you live your lives. For those of you who are business people: Go for it. Make a million bucks and share the love. Really. Don’t hold back. Make wheel barrel-loads of dough.
But for those of us who live in “both/and land:” There’s hope. With some clear thought, lots of prayer and an amazing team, you can do it. Let the creative juices flow.
Editor’s Note: You can respond to this article in one of the ways described below, and don’t forget to check out Middle East Experience.
Carl has graciously agreed to give a free copy of his book Muslims, Christians, and Jesus to three Missions Catalyst readers. To enter the drawing, do one (or more) of the following:
- Comment on the article on our website.
- Forward the article to a friend.
- Tweet a link to the article.
- Share this article on Facebook.
Winners will be randomly chosen on Friday, March 15.
Shane Bennett writes and speaks for a great organization called Frontiers. Lately he’s wondering about how Muslim immigrants in Europe might fully experience God’s blessing.
He’s also working with some buds to leverage a $49 a month smart phone plan to raise a ton of money for cross-cultural workers. Email him for info on the plan or the vision.