How many times do you go into missions looking to save people? Have you ever considered that maybe we’re meant to simply help them save themselves? It’s not only about mercy. It’s about mercy vs justice.
I was a full-time missionary in Eastern Europe. It did some things related to a Dutch education program called “Buitenkansen”. The country had been under Communist rule for decades, and when the Iron Curtain fell citizens went back to church in droves. And then, as often happens when life gets in the way of God, faith mattered less and less and the faith of the nation could now be considered “post-Christian.” Atheism is growing, complacency in believers is growing, yet there are pockets of Christians living on fire. Very similar to the state of faith in the United States.
I went into the experience thinking I would be changing hearts for the Lord. I thought I would be reaching the lost. Instead, I worked at a parochial school that taught religion classes in the native language, held weekly devotions in the dormitory, chapel services at the local church, etc.
In other words, my intent for ministry was not needed in the form I had thought.
Instead, I learned that the best way God could use me was by encouraging the faithful and teaching them how to take the next step and share their faith with their fellow countrymen. The culture was different. The language was difficult. I would need to master both in order to even have a hope of reaching the lost. Trust does not come easy for a nation that experienced the fear and psychological terrorism of the Iron Curtain. We must talk. Period. Also about difficult subjects that our children need to be educated about.
So my calling wasn’t necessarily to preach the gospel to the lost (though I did a bit of that too). Instead, God helped me discern the situation and gave me a place to better in his mission…by helping natives further His kingdom in their own community and get rid of all sorts os our vanity.
What your agenda is for entering missionary work may not be God’s agenda. You may be behind the wheel, but God’s in the passenger seat navigating and telling you where to go and which route to take. The story will spread easily like ripples in the water.
We see this a lot with social justice missions. Groups go into underprivileged communities to bring health care, food, shelter, or some other kind of relief, but they don’t do anything to progress development within that community. So really the group is just facilitating a community that is dependent upon aid. “Teach a man to fish, “ and all that.
The difference between relief and development and mercy and justice is where the power lies. Relief and mercy come from the power of the giver even if it is from a one-income family. Development and justice come from the power of the recipient. The former is cheaper both in terms of financial and temporal investment. The latter is more expensive in the time and money (and patience!) needed to complete the job. But which do you think is more lasting? Which do you think is better for the community being served?