Six Reasons to Bail Out of Overseas Missions This Summer

HereNowBy Shane Bennett

If you’ve read more than two of my columns, you know I have totally drunk the short-term missions Kool-Aid. You’d be hard-pressed to find a bigger advocate. In fact, I’m dying to invite you to come on a short-term to Sicily with me! But just for fun, this month we’re going to look at why you might not want to go overseas—why instead, you may want to do something just as cool but that’s within a stone’s throw (or a day’s drive) of your house.

So here are six reasons why you and your church should not plan an amazing trip to Faroffistan this summer, but rather do something equally strategic and helpful nearby. [Click to tweet this]

  1. Because you live here!

I for one have stood on the rooftop of my short-term housing in Faroffistan and wistfully watched planes fly away, whispering in the darkness of my own heart, “Someday soon I will be on one of you!” Being more spiritual than me, you probably have felt another kind of sadness nearing the end of a short-term assignment: something like regret that you couldn’t stay longer, a sense of tearing as new found relationships come to an end, a wish that you could complete or at least continue the work your team began.

Well, good news: If you do a short-term trip near where you live, you live near there! (Take whatever time you need to process that logic, then read on!) You can go back next month or next weekend. You can have your new friends over for a barbecue. No plane ticket. No passport or shots. Just gas money equivalent to the change you can scrounge from under the couch cushions.

  1. Everyone is “here” now.

For many of us, the key value of dropping into a foreign culture can be pretty much accomplished within driving range, sometimes walking range, of our house. If you arrange your efforts to focus on people different from you and to engage them in conversation, you’ll get at least a little bit of cultural disorientation (and connection).

Furthermore, if you focus well, and perhaps drive a little farther, you can serve unreached people. There may be communities near you representing whole peoples who’ve largely been overlooked in our sharing of the kingdom of God.

  1. We need to play the home games, too.

If you’re into missions, you may have heard this, “I don’t know about going all the way to Faroffistan. We have plenty of needs right here and the Bible says to bloom where you’re planted.” Well, we do and it doesn’t, but there is a point here. Steve Hawthorne said that being exclusively concerned about overseas stuff is like a team who only plays “away” games. It’s silly. God has placed us where we are and we do have a certain stewardship for our place. It would do us well to look around a bit and ask God what he’s up to here.

  1. You have kids! (Well, some of you do.)

And you’re telling me you’re going to take them overseas? Let them get groped by TSA along the way? Expose them to Zika? Probably lose them in a crowded train station in Calcutta? (Yes, I am reading your mom’s email!) I’m all for taking kids overseas, but I figure the effort required to shift the family is large enough to make a one-year stay the minimum for most families. And cross-cultural exposure is so important that if you don’t already live someplace like San Francisco or Amsterdam, you may need to make some special efforts to get your munchkins immersed among people different from them. If you don’t want to give Mum a coronary, doing that domestically may be a good start.

  1. Lower cost means more workers.

OK, work this out to its logical extreme and the cheapest thing to do is stay on the couch! I get that. But making a cross-cultural experience more accessible to more people is a worthwhile idea. For good reasons or bad, some of our friends cannot imagine finding $2500 to spend a week in Faroffistan. But they might pony up US$250 for a long weekend of immersion in a nearby city. And sometimes it only takes three or four days of hugs and hummus to change minds and knit hearts to newcomers. [Click to tweet this]

  1. Action beats whining … every time.

While I was writing this column, President Trump was signing a new executive order limiting refugee admittance and temporarily banning travel to the US from several countries. We may think the order is ill-advised and will do little to increase the security of Americans, but this much also seems true: We shouldn’t complain if we’re not willing to act. I feel a little foolish ranting and raving about my country not letting in refugees while I myself fail to drive across town for tea with some who beat the ban. This spring break or summer could be a really good time to go hang out with refugees.

Conclusion

What have you done to connect with unreached peoples domestically? If you were going to take a small group from your church to reach out to refugees nearby you, what would you do? I’d love to hear your ideas and experiences.

» Please take a moment to share them with us below or through Facebook.

If this kind of experience seems like a good idea for your church, but you don’t know where to start, let’s chat. A good bud and I are once again dreaming and scheming about effective, high-caliber, domestic, unreached-focused, short-term trips. And, well … we need some guinea pigs!

» Email Shane.

Subversive Mobilization: What’s the View from the Pew?

You’re smart, right? I’d like to hear what you think about a couple of things: What are Paul and Patty Pewsitter thinking about Muslims? What are their honest concerns? What’s behind their anger, if that’s present? How do you see them connecting or are they largely apathetic? And secondly, what will help shift them to more intentional engagement?

If you guessed that I’m asking as an effort to do some crowd-sourcing for Muslim Connect, you’re right. In case you missed our previous promotion of this new effort, it’s a 300-word drip feed to help us think about Muslims the way God does and to love them like Jesus. I’d love for you to subscribe and share it in your circle of influence. Together we can shift the foundation of thought and action toward Muslims.

» Comment below or on our Facebook page or send Shane an email.

Can Normal People Love Jesus, Muslims, and America—at the Same Time?

By Shane Bennett

If you live in America or you’re packing a US passport in a far-away land, you may be aware that we’re living through some crazy days here. Really, we talk about it all over, so even if you’re not an American you may be aware as well. I’m not super old, but I’ve never seen a situation like what’s going down here. We could argue ad nauseum about what’s right, what’s wrong, who did what first, and who’s just doing what was done to them. Pretty soon, we might look like a couple of fourth graders arguing over who should wash the dishes. Nobody wants that.

But we do want to follow Jesus, right? I was only sort of kidding when I said to a bud at lunch today that maybe it’s time to bring back “What Would Jesus Do?” And what would Jesus think? And how would Jesus love?

I think people who love Jesus and want to follow in his ways have a wonderful opportunity to do that in these days. Not an easy opportunity. One fraught with peril and risk, but equally or even more filled with possibility.

What if we rose up in the love and spirit of Jesus and set an example for others? What if we were asked to call our sisters and brothers to a straighter path? If God is calling us to that on large scale or if he’s just calling you to step into that in a low key and local way, how might it happen?

Well, you’ve come to the right place. I’m not going to tell you what to think. Land sakes, you’ve got Facebook to do that! But I’m going to give you five ways normal people like you can love Jesus, love Muslims, and love America. All at the same time. (In case it doesn’t quite “go without saying,” people who love Jesus, should love him more than both American and Muslims combined. We’re all cool with that, right?)

1. Separate the “political” from the “human.”

This solid insight came from my friend Tommy at MidIndia Mission. God’s kingdom and the American government have been linked of late in some awkward ways. In case you missed the Super Bowl, here’s the image that comes to mind.

As followers of Jesus, we need to discern the difference between what the government is called to do and what individuals who believe the Bible are called to do. Again, I’m not saying what you should think. But the two have gotten conflated of late to an extraordinary degree. Abraham Lincoln famously said, “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Let’s hope not, but let’s also realize that we are not our government. National efforts to keep terrorists out of our country perhaps do not need to be imitated on a personal level by advocating suspicion against Muslims in our communities.

2. Take advantage of your sphere of influence.

Who cares what you think? Who’s watching what you do? Besides the NSA? (I’m kidding. Just kidding!) Who around you has a sense that you know what it means to be a follower of Jesus? My hunch: More people than you suspect! Scary, isn’t it? But true.

If you were to say, “Hey, I had coffee with a Muslim guy today and it was sort of interesting,” who among your friends would reply, “Yeah? What happened?” Those are the people you might humbly, kindly influence to think in new ways in this national debate. That woman who just came to mind? Yep, that’s her. Talk to her. Does your pastor answer your texts? Send a couple. (Just a couple, please! I’m passing that on based on what my pastor tells me!)

God has given you influence for a purpose. I don’t suppose I know what that purpose is, entirely, but I’d sure love to see you leverage some it if to help us through this tricky time.

3. Recognize fear on both sides.

Happily, as followers of Jesus, we’re invited to pursue a fear-free life. But most of us aren’t there yet. Some Christians are honestly concerned that Muslims are taking over the world. It does no good to lightly gloss over that fear. Nor does it help to imply they’re stupid for being afraid. We must meet people where they are, fears and all, and look with them for a way out.

At the same time, let’s be honest: many Muslims in the US are afraid. A friend of mine recently related, “A young woman told me that after the election she stopped wearing her head covering out of fear. ‘Fear of what?’ I asked her. ‘I live in a neighborhood that is surrounded by churches,’ she answered.” Dang.

Let’s acknowledge what’s going on in people’s hearts and lives, but then let’s live and love, speak and write in such a way to show a better alternative to fear.

4. Get used to the sight of your own blood.

If you step out of line of the predominant political narrative these days, you may take some shots. Heck, if you oppose the predominant opposition narrative these days, you may want to duck! With Jesus (always) as our model and Peter wisely advising us to not get beaten for being stupid, let’s take some risks for what is right. With humility, patience, and winsome words, let’s invite our fellow believers to wrestle with what is right these days. We can love Jesus and Muslims and America.

5. Put your money where your mouth is, and take your friends.

OK, that metaphor may have broken down before it reached the end of the sentence, but here’s my point: It does little or maybe no good at all to wax eloquently about how much Jesus loves refugees and how he’d never institute a “Muslim ban” if he were president, when you’re not willing to roll up your sleeves and link your life with some of them. As papa John says, “Let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”

While continuing a lively debate on how many refugees should be allowed into the US and whether or not “extreme vetting” should include keeping one of their kidneys in a cooler, let’s do the relatively harder work of caring for the ones who have come. And as you do that, grab a pal by the hand and take them along with you. Visit a mosque with some skeptical friends. (Turns out, it’s not cheating on Jesus!) Enlist your small group to gather some clothes and take them to refugees. Compile a list of what normal people can do in your town, like my bud Tim is doing for Portland.

Speak passionately and act practically. We can, by God’s abundant grace and lots of work, show a good way forward. The love of Jesus is big enough to include both 320 million Americans and 1.5 billion Muslims and the seven million or so who are both.

Subversive Mobilization

A Serious, Once-every-decade Kind of Request

As part of my effort to go all Luke 10:2 on the American church (Send them out, Father!), I’m launching a weekly email. It will help us think about Muslims the way God does and love them like Jesus. It will help you understand what the heck is going on and will give you solid, gracious, and sometimes funny stuff to share with your friends, pastor, and Facebook friends. Would something like that help you?

Muslim Connect is a complement, not a competitor to Missions Catalyst. It’s a 300-word, weekly drip feed about you and me, Jesus, and Muslims. I’d be crazy grateful to have you sign up. If you do so now, you’ll get the next one that comes out tomorrow.

» Subscribe to Muslim Connect. Thanks.

» Read previous articles by Shane Bennett or respond to this one on Facebook, email, or the Missions Catalyst website.

Gifts, Questions, and Why the Magi Still Matter

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epiphany-image

By Shane Bennett

Unless you go to a really cool church, Epiphany may have slipped by last weekend without notice. And that’s too bad. The speaker where I went on Sunday didn’t even mention it all (yeah, that was me!) But my friend Chris did, and he agreed to let me borrow liberally from his sermon. Which is good, because the story most of us commemorate with Epiphany, the arrival of the Magi to honor Jesus, is fascinating and chock full of challenge and hope.

Ever wonder how it went down?

There’s Mary, maybe making dinner, scolding Jesus for wearing his diaper on his head and pondering things in her heart, when the nosy neighbor kid from down the street barrels in shouting, “Hey, Mary! Hey, Mary! Hey, Mary!” She turns, raises her eyebrows and waits for the report. “There’s some weird guys and they look rich and I think they’re looking for you guys and I don’t know where they’re from, but they smell funny.” Mary wipes her hands, drops Jesus back into his nappy, and goes to the gate. When she opens it, her hand goes to her mouth. The towel falls to the ground.

Matthew doesn’t tell us what the magi said, but that they were both very happy and very humbled. That evening, with most of the town peeking in, they bowed before the boy, opened the goodie bags, and honored the king they’d journeyed so far to meet.

I like these guys for a few reasons. Not just because they logged a gazillion desert miles to see Jesus, while I sometimes won’t even open the Bible app on my phone!

1. They’re Gentiles.

First off, as far as we know, they were the first Gentiles to recognize who this kid was. They were the first outsiders to honor, worship, and adore the messiah. By doing so, they begin to live out what Paul would later say in Ephesians 2 and 3, that the “mystery of the gospel,” hidden from other generations but revealed by the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, is that through Jesus Christ, the Gentiles have been welcomed into God’s family. The walls of division between Jews and Gentiles have been torn down.

This happens, Paul says, because Jesus “broke down the dividing wall of hostility” and “reconciled us both [Jews and Gentiles] to God in one body through the cross.”

The gifts of the wise men foreshadow that reconciling death of Jesus. They bring gold because he is a king, incense because he is God, and myrrh because it is a burial spice, foretelling Jesus’s death.

2. They brought their unique treasures.

Secondly, coming from “the East,” the gifts the Magi bring represent the cultures and places of their home. Myrrh came from Arabia and Ethiopia. It was imported to Israel. Likewise, frankincense. This is significant as a picture of each of the world’s cultures offering to God their unique treasures. One day people from every tribe, language, people, and nation will worship Christ. They will do that in part by offering back to God the most beautiful aspects of their own culture. We see a picture of this in Revelation 21 where the “kings of the earth bring . . . the glory and honor of the nations” into the holy city. The best aspects, the treasures of every culture, are invited into the kingdom of God and offered back to the Creator who is the giver of every good gift.

What about your culture? What gifts have been planted deep in your tribe? How about in the people group you are working with? Of course it’s easier to point out the flaws of various cultures. Goodness knows mine has some issues: We think we can fix every problem. We’ve taken individualism to amazing heights (At least I have). And we seem to have an insatiable appetite for more and more stuff! On the other hand, I believe God has also knit into American culture special traits and abilities designed to contribute to his kingdom, to be offered to him in worship. Treading lightly here, I believe God has given Americans a deeply rooted sense that things can get better. We believe that suffering can decrease, hope can increase, and that we can be agents to that end.

Perhaps you’ve seen similar giftedness in your culture or cultures with which you’ve worked. I think of the depth and passion I’ve experienced praying with Korean believers, the warmth of family loyalty shared between a Memon mother and her kids, or the great hope and persistence that carries my Gambian friends in search of a safe and secure life in Sicily. The glory of God is reflected in the many thousands of facets of the peoples he has created.

The great missional hymn “Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun” wraps up with these words, “Let every creature rise and bring peculiar honors to our King.” Indeed. We’ve all been made in the likeness of God, but all with unique gifts reflective of our own place and time and people.

3. They asked the right question.

Finally, I appreciate the magi because their words, though brief, are most important: “Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews?” Certainly they said more. Imagine the words it must have taken to convince Mary and Joseph that they really could keep the gifts! (And I hope at least one of them played “I’ve got your nose” with Jesus.) But all Matthew sees fit to record is this question: “Where is he? Where is the one?”

Oh how I need to ask that question. Where is the king in my life? Where is the king in this current political climate? Where is Jesus when 65 million people, more than ever before in history, are displaced from their homes?

Even as I ask that question, here is my hope for this new year: That more people from more people groups will ask along with the magi, “Where is the one born king of the Jews. We want to worship him.”

May those of us who know him be on hand to show them.

Thanks to Rev. Chris Brown for his insightful thinking and gracious sharing. You’ll find his sermon here.

» Read previous articles by Shane Bennett or respond to this one on Facebook, email, or the Missions Catalyst website.

Practical Mobilization

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In This Issue: How to Celebrate Like God Does

  1. The Partying God
  2. Good Reason to Celebrate
  3. Subversive Mobilization

How To Celebrate Like God Does

By Shane Bennett

So, you got a minute in the midst of Christmas craziness to read Missions Catalyst? Good for you! And thank you. We’re honored. As a measure of my gratitude, let me be brief and to the point: Party! Cut loose! Enjoy this season! Celebrate. As you’re able, enjoy your family, friends, and your God! There you go.

If you have only two more minutes, skip to the story (item #2) below. It’s really the best part. But if you have just a bit more time, let me flesh out the party injunction…

The Partying God

partying-godMy mom gave me a book recently that her book club read and enjoyed. It’s called The Partying God: Discovering the God of Extravagant Celebration.

I’m guessing most of you are not going to gravitate to a book with a title like that. Being smart, serious, and globally minded folks, you might be more apt to look for titles like Ignorance, Intention, and the Possibility of Forgiveness: A Study in the Remissibility of Sin in Second Temple and Early Christian Sources. (Sound like a doctoral dissertation? It is.) So in case your mom doesn’t give you this book, I want to give it to you. Or at least the main idea.The author, Robert Herber, invites us to see the joyful, celebratory aspects of God. This is a good time of year to do that.

Herber says God celebrates because he has to. It’s his nature. When the Prodigal Son comes home dirty, shame-faced and smelling of swine, the dad throws a party. He tells the older brother, “We have to celebrate. My son was dead and is now alive!” And in Luke 15:10, Jesus says, “There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” God is the King of Celebration!

When Jesus enfleshed this great partying God and walked among us, he celebrated: Jesus made wine at a wedding, he invited himself to dinner at Zacchaeus’s house, he asked another bad guy to be his disciple then went to a party the bad guy threw with a bunch of his bad guy friends (and presumably some bad girls as well). If we’re going to follow this Jesus, I guess “go to parties” and “host parties” need to go on our list along with “stop cussing,” “tithe,” and “drive no more than five miles per hour over the speed limit!”

One last thing Herber mentions, and this I love: God is insistent on inviting all kinds of people to his parties. Jesus tells a remarkable story in Luke 14 about a guy who throws a banquet and through an odd series of events ends up beating the bushes to urge all sorts of overlooked outsiders to come, eat their fill, and celebrate. I really like that about God. And I like that God puts a fistful of invitations in our hands and ask us to go fill up the party room.

Let me close with a party story that first appeared in Missions Catalyst more than a decade ago when some of you were still putting out milk and cookies for Santa Claus…

Good Reason to Celebrate

By Shane Bennett

celebrate

As the door swings open, warm light spills out into the dark, chill night and outstretched arms welcome you to the party. Handshake to handshake, hug to hug, you’re gathered into the house. Familiar songs from holidays of your childhood compete with football on TV, the running footsteps of a dozen children, and the happy din of catch-up conversations. The earthy bouquet of pine-scented candles gives way to the rich and steamy aroma of the feast that awaits you. A sigh comes unbidden to your lips. The food makes the day, doesn’t it?

To your feeble and false protests a plate is pressed into your hands and Aunt Somebody leads you down the table laden with food that says, “Life is good. God is good. Our family that we celebrate and celebrate with is good.” As you step away bearing what looks for all the world like a tenth scale model of Pikes Peak, you hear Aunt Somebody admonish, “Eat that, then you get right back here for more.” Tucking into your personal buffet, you watch family and guests arrive and depart, sharing greetings and giving and receiving gifts. Deep in the back of your mind, Louis Armstrong’s gravelly voice begins to rise, “I said to myself, ‘What a wonderful world.’”

Later, when the children begin to drift to sleep in upstairs rooms, downstairs chairs, and relatives’ arms, the family patriarch takes a seat toward the head of the room. The TV is turned off, conversations drop to whispers then cease, and he begins to speak. Of course you can’t understand the resonant Arabic flowing from his lips, but Aunt Somebody, now sitting next to you, helps out by telling you he’s reciting from the Qur’an, recounting the story behind this celebration, the sacrifice that Abraham was willing to make but that God, at the last moment, prevented.

In your heart you know the ram God gave Abraham foreshadows the sin-quenching sacrifice of Jesus, whose birth you’ll celebrate soon. But your dear friends, now warming the room with their breath and bodies, warming your heart with their love, do not see it so. Your warm heart aches, “When will they see it so?”

Can I give you a word for Christmas this year? Please celebrate with gusto, and encourage your family and friends to do likewise. We have good reason to celebrate: We’ve been given an astounding gift. And if conscience allows, raise a glass and toast the happy situation that finds you a child of God Most High. Then, perhaps in some quiet moment, whisper a prayer that next Christmas finds many more gathered around the table, counted as your sisters and brothers, wholly devoted to this great king Jesus.

Image: Matthew Hurst, Flikr/Creative Commons.

Subversive Mobilization

If Missions Catalyst has been good to you over the past year, could you do something for me? Well, actually, two things:

  1. Hit reply on this email or shoot a quick note to Marti and say thanks for making this happen. She puts up with a lot and really does work hard to keep this newsletter in operation.
  2. If you’re rolling in coin, consider a year-end gift to keep the servers humming at Pioneers, our sponsoring agency. We’d be grateful.

You can also connect with us about anything above through Facebook, Twitter, or the Missions Catalyst website. We love to hear from you.

How Can We Tell Hard Stories?

hannelieThis year’s IDOP prayer video is a powerful one, but for me it raised a big question…

How Can We Tell Hard Stories?

By Shane Bennett

Can I invite you into my confusion? Here’s the story: This weekend at church we commemorated the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church by praying for believers in oppressive situations and watching a video produced by Voice of the Martyrs. Perhaps your church did something like this as well. I admit that the global persecuted church is not usually at the top of my agenda. In fact, I’d do well to give more thought and action to these issues. In the meantime, I’m grateful that God is raising up many from all over to pray and advocate for our sisters and brothers suffering for their faith.

Here’s my problem. The video we watched, Hannalie, was well done, intense, gripping, and heart-breaking. A lovely family moved from South Africa to minister in Afghanistan. The father and two teenage children were murdered by Afghans, leaving the mom a childless widow. The tragedy was palpable. The leader in our church who prayed after the video spoke to God through tears. The congregation was visibly moved.

Moved to pray? I hope so. But what else?

Moved to hate Muslims. Confirmed that our suspicions are valid, our anger justified. The logic is hard to escape. God called these dear people to this risky situation and they got killed. But as good Christians, we hesitate to blame God for their deaths. (Although if the children’s grandparents didn’t hesitate, we’d be hard pressed to blame them.) You can’t blame the dad; he’s dead. And who can blame a widow? So we blame the Muslims. And because we’re not too sophisticated in our understanding (and they are brown, after all) we blame all Muslims. It is desperately difficult not to extrapolate, to allow the actions of a few to characterize the attitudes and intentions of the rest.

I’m confused because honestly, Muslims did this terrible thing. And Muslims have lately done a number of terrible things, sometimes clearly in the name of Islam. Sometimes directly targeting Christians. So how do we tell those stories fairly? How can we tell them honestly, without contributing to growing fear and anger toward Muslims?

I don’t know. Do you have ideas? Good examples? Should we be balanced in our depiction of bad deeds? It seems absurd to give equal time to bad things Christians have done, although doing so might be less difficult than it first appears. I don’t think we should avoid telling such stories either. To be clear, I don’t wish to question the motivation of Voice of the Martyrs. I’m simply expressing concern about the results of telling the story in the way they did. Maybe there are better ways. I’d love your input.

In the meantime, words of Jesus ring in my ears:

“Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.”

“I’m sending you as sheep among wolves. Be as wise as serpents. As innocent as doves.”

“I’m sending you as the Father has sent me.”

And my prayer for dear believers risking their lives for Jesus is this:

Holy Father, give strength, courage, and hope to your dear children living in challenging situations. May the aroma of Christ emanate from them and the joy of Jesus permeate every molecule of their being. May their lives and deaths (should they happen) result in the purposes of God going forward mightily and the kingdom of God arriving fully.

» Respond on Facebook, email, or the Missions Catalyst website.