Even as I was hauling rock from point A to point B, cutting wire and making rebar columns (see the slide show or video referenced in the post “Mission Accomplished), to help in the construction of a missions school and local church in Cajamarca, Peru, I was aware of a miracle that was drawing to a conclusion, after some 25 years in the making.
25 years ago this fall I started college, with faith and good intentions. 24 years ago this fall, I returned to college with good intentions. 23 years ago this fall, I returned to college… (awkward silence). I don’t blame Drew University, but in two years there, my moral compass got all screwed up, such that I thought I was going north when I really was headed south.
On both sides of my family, I had mission-minded grandparents. Dad’s mom had been to Latin America dozens of times taking literature, clothes, etc., in support of local churches. Mom’s parents had spent 13 years in the Cayman Islands as missionaries. Even though concern for the Great Commission was part of my family heritage, my newly acquired world view convinced me that mission work was culturally insensitive, a form of neocolonialism and even supremacist activity. And indeed there is no dearth of missionaries throughout history and today who have played this out.
Well, praise God, it turns out intelligencia was a just a phase I was going through and I eventually returned to the values of my family – for the most part. However, missions remained my one bastion. Sure, I want the natives of the Amazon rain forest to learn about Jesus, but can’t we find a way to do that without making them wear clothes? In it’s purest form, missions is OK – the lost get found and then God begins to work in their hearts to transform them for His glory and their good. It’s all that other stuff that really turns me off.
Indeed even today, most Christians are confused about how culture is irrelevant to salvation. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this guy.
Do you think he’s a Christian? (See below for the answer.) Salvation comes with a simple confession of sin and profession in Christ as the Son of God and risen Savior – not with the way we dress, the music we listen to, whether we’re circumcised or the food we eat (right, Peter?) Once we’re saved our entire existence should be subject to the Lord’s will, but for most of us, actually subjecting the whole package to God’s will takes a lifetime. I know I’m still working on a couple of little things called worry and doubt – anybody else have a problem with those? (oopsie – started to rant!)
As you can see, I feel a passionately about this cultural sensitivity thing and I continue to believe that the vast majority of mission work carried out by foreigners tramples all over the sensitivities of culture. It’s the Ugly American – in missions work! Ugh.
So, imagine my surprise as I ventured into publishing on account of the book Walking Man: A Modern Missions Experience in Latin America. Then, so much more when I heard myself saying, “I’m organizing a missions trip,” – a trip to build a school to train missionaries, no less! What is going on here? It can only be explained thusly: God works in mysterious ways.
In some effort to explain this incongruity, I have to point out the school we worked on is going to prepare Latin Americans to serve in missions among … Latin Americans. By and large, there is not a cultural chasm to bridge (or not!). I feel good about that. Yet there remains the cultural mine field between Catholics and Evangelical Christians. Many Latin American Evangelical Christians wrongly assume that to be Catholic is to be lost in sin – again, they confuse culture with salvation.
So, I’m back – full circle – continuing on that family heritage of lending my hand to the Great Commission, and I’m happy about it. Further adding to my joy is that I am partnering with a couple that my grandmother supported near the end of her ministry and the beginning of theirs. And now my son and daughter have had the joy of contributing to their ministry – and we also support their son’s work in Brazil. Kind of a neat intergenerational thing going on between our two families who have only one thing in common: the same Heavenly Father.
Oh, yea, this guy: I can’t say for sure, but he seems to be making a profession of faith.