[When the Members are the Missionaries – July 13, 2003]
“They were lost in a Laotian jungle, stalked by a lion in Ethiopia and had rocks thrown at them. A fish bite in Papua New Guinea needed stitches. Hindu militants in India pulled the plug as potential converts were watching a film about Jesus.”
That is how Friday’s Chicago Tribune describes “Travel the Road,” the latest reality TV series that follows the twenty-something missionaries Timothy Scott and William Decker as they travel the world to spread the word of God. It’s not surprising that Christian Broadcasting would jump onto the “reality series” bandwagon first with “TruthQuest,” the religious version of MTV’s popular “Road Rules” and now with their own brand of “Survivor.” Can these two young attractive missionaries survive the rigors and dangers of spreading the Gospel? Tune into TBN Saturday nights at 10:30.
Five years ago, Southern California natives William Decker and Timothy Scott sold their cars to fund their travels. They have visited twenty-three countries, wending their way through jungles and third-world slums. Timothy Scott conveys the intent of the show: “What we wanted to show was the life of missions, everything that missionaries have to go through.” And we can watch it all accompanied by graphics and background music.
The show with its on-camera religious conversions does indeed depict what seems to be a modern version of this morning’s Gospel. Our Gospel describes sending people out in pairs, into alien and sometimes hostile territory, with no provisions or supplies, relying only on the generosity of those whom they encountered. They were even instructed on how to respond to hostility by shaking the dust off their feet. This might be the only difference with our “reality” missionaries. They were probably told to call 911 on their cell phones! Throughout history the Church has maintained this picture of missionaries: facing hardships in distant lands, converting “heathens” to Christ. “Travel the Road” conforms to that tradition. Perhaps that’s why it’s called a “reality show.”
And for most of us, the closest we may get to this kind of missionary is the prayer and help we provide through our mission board to the several brave missionaries we support in foreign lands. Although we may sing, “I’d like to be one, too,” the “reality” for most of us that we are not likely to risk being “slain by a fierce wild beast.” And that means that most of us are not able to respond to the Gospel message – not destined to be missionaries . . . or are we?
There is another reality about missionaries – not depicted on TV – but described in a book I have recently read that just might make it possible for you and me to be missionaries after all. Wayne Schwab, the first evangelism staff officer for the Episcopal Church in the United States, has written a provocative book about a new reality of church mission. His book is titled, “When the Members are the Missionaries,” and the book explores some very different mission fields and some very different kinds of missionaries. Schwab explores how the arenas of our daily life, including home, work, and the local community are “mission fields.” He tells the stories of ordinary people – people just like you and me – and how they see themselves as missionaries in their chosen “mission fields.”
Kit is a busy, working mother. Her “mission field” is her home and family, and she has chosen to provide quiet time for herself in order to quiet her busy spirit and to bring Christ’s presence more intentionally into her family’s life. Jim is a father in a sometimes stressful blended family. He lives out his mission of being a peacemaker in his home. After a fulfilling career, Leila has chosen to be a “stay at home” mother for now, because she sees her mission to be the formation of her child.
Margaret struggled with a difficult relationship at work, until she began to understand her mission to befriend and pray for a co-worker. George is a letter-carrier whose mission has been to speak up and address issues between the workers and management. Although he still draws a check from the U. S. Postal Service, he will tell you that he now works for God. Eddie is a praying attorney who manages 17 partners and 5 associates. His “mission” has been to change the way the team works together – moving away from attitudes of blaming to an atmosphere of helping each other.
Susan was already busy supporting her family, doing graduate work, and running her own business, when she felt called to become involved in local government. As a member of city council, her mission is to work to rebuild homes and the quality of life for residents in San Bernadino, California. Kevin’s mission is to support the work of Job’s Daughters, aiding young girls, including his own daughters, to grow in self-confidence and good citizenship. Lloyd’s mission has been to oppose the lottery in the state where he lives.
Everyone of these people, whose lives and relationship with God are explored in depth in the book, have found some aspect of their lives – their home or family, their work environment, their community – to become their “mission” in life; environments where they feel called to bring Christ and to be Christ.
My own son, Will, recently was transferred by his company. His new job has been challenging, but his work environment has been brutally abusive. For weeks, he has been on the verge of resignation. One evening on the phone, he confessed to me that he couldn’t figure out why God had sent him into such an awful situation. Having recently read Schwab’s book, I suggested that perhaps it was because God meant for it to be his “mission.” Perhaps God had chosen him to be a missionary, in order to bring God’s peace and love into that hostile environment. Will’s situation at work is still very difficult, but last night on the phone, he told me that although little has changed at work, his attitude about the work has changed. He is willing to accept the hardships, because he now understands that he’s a missionary in a very tough mission field.
Our mission here at St. Gregory’s is for each of us to be “Ambassadors for Christ.” One way to interpret that phrase coined by the apostle, Paul, is to tell others about Jesus or invite our neighbors to come to Church. But an ambassador quite literally is an official representative. So to be an ambassador for Christ is to represent Christ – wherever we go and whatever we do – in our homes, in our work, and in our communities. And according to Schwab, that makes each one of us a missionary! So, what is your “mission field?”