Mission: Meaningful or Madness?

Last week my son and I were visiting a frozen yogurt shop. He ran next door to grab a water from another store, so I camped outside the yogurt store and sat at one of the tables. At the table next to me were a pair of guys and since we were so close I couldn’t help but hear their conversation.

One of the guys was telling his friend about a recent mission trip he had been on to another country. I wasn’t sure what country he was talking about, but from his description of the poor conditions, I presume it was a third world country. Excitedly he told about how God moved through his mission team and used them mightily while he was there, and even though he didn’t speak the language he was able to share his faith with others through interpreters.

He told of one instance when the Holy Spirit was leading him and others to walk from village to village and share their faith with anyone they came across along the way. As they walked and encountered someone, they would ask people if they wanted to meet Jesus. Immediately the person would say “Yes” and pray to receive Jesus on the spot. This happened over and over again to almost everyone he encountered and hundreds that day came to know the Lord.

It was all I could do not to jump in on the conversation and ask some questions that I really wanted the answers to, but my son came out and was ready to go.

I don’t doubt that this gentleman had this experience in some far away land, and I don’t doubt that he had good intentions and was sincerely concerned for these people and their spiritual lives, but my question is – “Does it really mean anything?”

Author: Steve

It's not about you unless it's about you!!

16 thoughts on “Mission: Meaningful or Madness?”

  1. Depends on how one defines the Christian message, I suppose. That’s what I was getting at with the subjectivity of meaning.

  2. I find it interesting how many people are bothered by the fact that Christians do good deeds with the intent of spreading their beliefs.

    Yes, it is an exchange. No, it’s not forced. Simply put, these missionaries agree that there are going to meet a physical need in exchange for being allowed to potentially meet a spiritual need.

    When I took economics, one of the first lessons was that there are no free lunches in the world. Every exchange between human beings has some sort of price tag. Sometimes it’s obvious, other times it is subtle. But the exchange ALWAYS occurs. Why would Christians be wrong for doing this?

  3. Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.

    I would think leading by example is the better theology.

    As for Missionary work, one must evaluate the whole picture rather than going of on a tangent preaching to non believers and boasting of their so called saving souls. What did the missionaries you overheard do to make those peoples lives better? Any thing? Actions speak louder than words

  4. Sir, methinks thou art a raving black lunatic. ; )

    I can only speak for myself, but I think it bothers me a little because to admit that there is some quid pro quo is to make Christianity something less than I hope it is. To my mind, Christ gave all without asking anything in return (depending on who you ask, of course), so I ought to be able to do likewise.

  5. Several things about the man’s experience (as I heard it) made me wonder:

    1) Why do Christians feel compelled to evangelize? I know I considered myself an evangelist so I know it’s out of a sense of “following Christ’s commands” but it just seems so arrogant now.

    2) Does the man sharing his faith understand the cultural insensitivity he demonstrated?

    3) Isn’t it probable that the people that were “accepting Christ” were only being polite to the “white visitors”?

    4) What happens next? The white man comes to America and feels better about himself and the “converts” do what?

    I’m just asking questions, thinking it out loud.

    So my question is Rebel and Dorse: What does it really mean then? What does it mean to you to hear this type of story?

  6. Big Man…

    As long as you are admitting that the salvation that Christ offers is a commodity that should be bought and sold be his followers… then I’m ok with that as long as it’s announced upfront and not a bait and switch.

    And the other thing that bothers me is that the missionaries imply that there is a spiritual need to be met in the first place. Isn’t that the arrogance of Christian evangelism and missionary work?? I mean if I’m hungry and you give me bread to eat, I’ll pretty much agree to anything you want me to say to get it, or as a way of being polite. But to be so arrogant as to think that I have a spiritual need that YOU can meet is quite a Messiah complex don’t you think?

  7. Dorse I completely agree with you regarding “meaning”. Highly subjective.

    I loved hearing the things you and your daughter accomplished on your recent trip. I think personal experience and immersing ourselves in another culture (even for a brief time) is quite beneficial to change occurring around the world and in us. But often Christians see the physical work they do as part of a means to the end where they can evangelize the people they are “serving”. It’s like spiritual commodities trading.

    Did your trip involve any evangelism as I describe in my story? If so, what are your thoughts on this?

  8. I do understand your point and I have been on trips where that has been a source of some consternation for me. There are some people who believe that God placed them on this earth to share the gospel and make converts. You will never convince them otherwise. Therefore, every facet of life must revolve around that agenda. Some people I love very much are like this. I easily become very weary around them, mostly because they are so accustomed to approaching relationship as a means to an end rather than the end in itself, that they have assumed a fakeness that carries into all their interactions. It’s rather heartbreaking.

    The people we served in Guatemala had been presented with the gospel more than once, so even if I was the evangelical type, there’s no reason to beat a dead horse. I figure love speaks louder. So my aim was to love without agenda, and to meet whatever physical needs that I was able. And if God can somehow work through that, then great. If someone was somehow touched by something I did, I hope the Lord can speak to them through it. But I’m glad not to know, lest I be tempted to wear that knowledge as a feather in my cap. It really, really, really isn’t about me (that’s my hope, anyway).

    As far as I know, in the Guatemalan mission, the missionary doesn’t do all that much in the way of evangelizing. She has partnered with existing churches there, as well as several orphanages, to help get resources to where the needs are. What evangelization there is, is done by the local believers (see the previous remarks re: cultural sensitivity). One thing she does is help prostitutes learn a practical skill (sewing, in particular), to help them find a way to earn a living as they try to get out of that life. The very practical nature of this very modest operation is what drew me to it. I feel quite comfortable supporting this lady. I wouldn’t say that about a lot of missionaries.

    Anyway, I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture. I think the idea of missions is a noble and worthy endeavor, but if I’m reading your post correctly, I think we would agree that the same kinds of people who miss the point here at home, continue to miss the point abroad. That’s why guys like you and me need to go and do things in such a way that might reflect the point more clearly.

  9. Overwhelmingly YES. There’s good argument to say that ultimately it’s the only thing that does mean anything.

  10. OK, see where you’re coming from now. I’d love to answer but – without the slightest bit of irony intended – I’m off to do a evangelistic kids camp in 12hrs and still got loads of prep to do!! I’ll attempt an answer when I’m back in 2 weeks if no-one else has! (I’ll probably just agree with my best buddy Dorse tho’) :oP

  11. There are a lot of dynamics at work here. I think it will be difficult to discuss mission work without going off on a tangent, but here are some of my thoughts:

    To answer “does it mean anything,” is enormously subjective. What is meaningful to you may seem like utter nonsense to me (and vice versa). That’s why I answered the way I did.

    It’s easy to sit back and judge such a thing. From where I stand, if that fellow only went there to preach, without working to meet one of the myriad of physical needs that surely existed there, then I think good sense (and James 2) make it pretty clear that his efforts were useless, and probably did more harm than good. But in this age when most of church is centered around “me,” it’s not surprising that our idea of charity should follow suit. From my observations, having been on a number of such trips myself, it’s easy to see how a missions-trip can lapse into a big ego-stroking cry for attention for people who haven’t really considered it thoroughly.

    And cultural sensitivity is an often overlooked aspect of a great many of these types of endeavors. I was in Dominican Republic several years ago, adding a second story to a school that was affiliated with a local church. I just assumed we were doing this great altruistic thing, but found out that the people in the town were very angry that we were providing free labor while many of the men there were out of work. Had we just sent the money we spent on our missions trip to the church there, the church could have easily hired these men, and they could have fed their families.

    That said, I think such an effort CAN be meaningful, if it’s done in the right spirit. I’m certainly not able to make a judgment about whose heart is in the right place, but I think some good can be accomplished.

    Earlier this year, my teenage daughter and I tagged along with a lady we knew who was headed to Guatemala to spend a few days working with a missionary friend of ours. I only went because there were no pastors or other professional christians going along to try to turn the thing into a promotional event for the church. And I went with a clear mission: there’s a 50-child orphanage with 75 kids in it, and out of 15 sinks and eight toilets, only three sinks and four toilets were operational. When I left, everything was in working order, and a set of shelves had been constructed in one of the classrooms. I don’t say this to toot my own horn (to the contrary, I consider my time there to be a drop in the ocean. The need there is enormous. I felt utterly helpless in the face of it). At the end of the work day, I sat on the orphanage steps, sweaty and filthy, while a couple dozen kids (2-12 yrs old) clambered to squeeze my neck. That meant something to me,

    I suppose it could be argued that I could have sent money to hire the plumber they couldn’t afford. But being there, and putting a face to the need, and letting those kids know that they’re not forgotten, and that they were worth making the trip for, well, that seemed meaningful, too. I felt like we all benefited from that trip.

    I guess I said all that to say the thing I keep coming back to: Just because a person doesn’t execute an idea or practice properly, don’t automatically reject the idea or practice.

  12. Steve,

    Whether evangelisim is relevant or not depends upon whether the Christian message is true. If it is, then I’d say that everyone who believes that message is under a moral imperative to spread the word, lest anyone be eternally separated from God. If it’s not true, then at best they’re wasting everyone’s time and resources.

    I just don’t know anymore, so I’m a poor judge to say who’s right.

  13. In response to Stve’s question, “why do Christians feel compelled to evangelize?”

    A lot of people have selfish motives for it, intentionally or not. A lot of people are misguided, confused, don’t know enough about God, etc., and have a misunderstanding of who God is, what he wants for our lives, why, and how. Some people like being “right” and just want to convert people to their point of view so they will feel as though their “righteousness” has been affirmed.

    But that’s not everybody.

    I’m a missionary myself, and I can tell you that I evangelize because I know what God has done for me and what I would be without him. And THAT is so wonderful to me, so exciting, so life changing, so urgent that I don’t want anyone to go without knowing the love that God has for them. It might sound like BS to you, but that’s seriously why I try to share my faith. No, I’m not in people’s faces or chase them down or try to argue them into like God (because unfortunately a lot of people think that’s the way to evangelize? But really, that just makes people dislike the idea of Christianity… doesn’t work). But when an opportunity to share what God’s done for me… I’m going to take it.

  14. I thought we were supposed to make disciples. That kind of implies some sort of longer term relationship and a sharing life. Discipleship is evangelism btw… Just check Jesus out.

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