To be candid, this month’s theme has been difficult for me to write on. Don’t get me wrong, the Great Commission and all things global missions are familiar territory for me. As a teen, I felt called to be a missionary. I admired the Covenant missionary Paul Carlson and imagined myself moving to Africa to spread the good news. At seventeen, I did just that. I spent my summer living in South Africa, interning with a missions agency. Then, in college I studied Intercultural Studies (aka, missiology) and continued to travel the globe.
So why am I struggling to find something to say about missions?!
In continuing my candidness, I admit that, as a teen and early college student, my ideas about missions were romanticized and imperialistic. As a zealous wanna-be missionary, I saw the Western world as Christian and the rest of the world as should-be Christian. I thought of missionaries as brave, adventurous soul-savers who were the most faithful of all believers. I wanted to be that kind of believer.
But something changed within me. Every time I travelled abroad, I came home feeling that I had more to say to the American church than to the South African, Indian, or Sierra Leonean people. I think I felt that way because I was realizing that the church did not belong to the Western world. Everywhere I went, there were already churches, already preachers, already indigenous missionaries. I was just another foreigner who knew very little about the actual lives of the people I thought I would “save.” As my understanding of the global church expanded, I began seeing the failings of the American church more clearly. Add to that a few years of studying the history of Christian missions and its misguided role in European colonization of the world, and I ended up with a heavy dose of skepticism in regard to the type of missions I had dreamt of as a teen.
[I feel the need to say that throughout my study of missiology I also came across really beautiful ways of doing global missions. I met missionaries and experienced forms of spreading the good news that were truly impactful and faithful to the ways in which Jesus himself spread his gospel. I also still admire the life of Paul Carlson and his legacy.]
I still believe that Christian mission in the world matters. This is why:
During my travels abroad, I noticed that I was not the only one trying to spread a gospel across the globe. No, I’m not talking about missionaries of other religions. I’m talking about missionaries from any and every Western corporation and government. Ambassadors of Western consumerism, ideologies, and culture are on mission. They are sending out their missionaries, saying,
“Go and make customers of all nations.”
“Go and make business deals.”
“Go and make American sympathizers.”
“Go and make arms sales.”
“Go and make allies.”
“Go and make all nations dependent upon us.”
There are a lot of gospels being proclaimed in every corner of the globe. It is not by accident that a Coca-Cola can be bought in almost any small village in the southern hemisphere. The only reason I can buy an ice-cold Coca-Cola on the streets of Sierra Leone, a McDonald’s burger and fries in New Delhi, or a bucket of KFC fried chicken in the middle of South Africa is because those corporations effectively sent out missionaries with a gospel to proclaim.
The church is not the only entity with a gospel to spread.
This was true even when Jesus spoke the Great Commission to the disciples in Galilee (Matthew 28:16-20). Jesus knew his gospel and Caesar’s gospel would clash. The good news of the Kingdom of God and the good news of the Roman Empire would contend for the same hearts and minds. In the same way, the church’s mission to make disciples of Jesus today conflicts with the missions of governments, corporations, and other movements that seek to make disciples of their own.
But when it is embodied faithfully, the church’s news is better news than any other. No other gospel offers citizenship in an alternative kingdom in which peace, justice, and love reign no matter who you are. There is no better news than Jesus’ triumph over death and all powers of evil, and his extension of resurrection life to all who experience death and dying.
If there is one more thing I learned from my travels as a wanna-be, would-be missionary, it is the beauty of the church—the global, diverse, whole-world church. Everywhere I have travelled, I have been welcomed and accepted as a brother in Christ by each congregation I have encountered. There is something liberating about being a part of a global people. Jesus is not just Lord within any specific borders—Jesus is Lord of all. We, disciples of Jesus and members of his church, are citizens in the kingdom of God which transcends all geopolitical boundaries.
So, yes—let’s go. Let’s go spread the news of Jesus’ life-giving kingdom which is far better news than McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, or any government can offer. Let’s make disciples through true relationships and care not just for souls but for whole persons. And let us go into the world to commune with our sisters and brothers of all colors, clans, and tribes—affirming one another’s membership in the people of God and encouraging each other to continue embodying Jesus’ kingdom of love, peace, and justice in the world.