missionary

Deconstructing God's Mission

Dennis Cox / Shutterstock.com
Dennis Cox / Shutterstock.com

When I ask people to describe a typical “missionary,” the usual response includes that of a young man with black pants and a white collared shirt (with a name tag attached) that knocks on doors, or perhaps an evangelical preacher who stands on (and shouts from) street corners, or possibly one who travels the far ends of the earth to help the poor and plant new churches. But just because some are more vocal and visible than others, such missionaries should not be acknowledged as the totality of all that exists, because:

All people in all places are missionaries, for all people in all places participate within a particular mission in some shape or form. Missionaries are as diverse as the human community itself.

While most missionaries do not self-define as such, the world is filled with them, many of whom serve with a high degree of commitment and faithfulness. For instance, if a missionary is – by definition – one who participates within a particular mission, then those who consume Coca-Cola are not merely consumers, but they are – by definition – missionaries of the Coca-Cola brand and its corporate mission. Similarly, there are countless political missionaries in all corners of the globe. As election cycles draw close, such missionaries multiply in mass numbers, and their energetic zeal often rivals – and sometimes far exceeds – the determination of many religious clergy labeled as extreme.

The world consists of countless missions and innumerable missionaries. As stated from the onset, all people in all places are missionaries, so not only should we hesitate to assume we know what a “typical missionary” is, we should also attempt to distinguish who a Christian missionary is to be within the context of countless other (complementary and competing) missions and missionaries. So what follows is a brief reflection on what the focus of God’s mission might be, and an exploration of how Christian missionaries may be able to function as a result.

Second American Ebola Patient Arrives in US

A small plane carrying Nancy Writebol, the second American Ebola patient from Liberia, arrived in the United States on Tuesday, making a brief refueling stop in Bangor, Maine, en route to Atlanta and Emory University Hospital.

The same plane, a Gulfstream jet specially outfitted with an isolation pod, brought the first American patient, 33-year-old physician Kent Brantly, to the medical center from Liberia on Saturday, WLBZ-TV reports. The plane was on the ground in Bangor for less than an hour.

Brantly, with Samaritan’s Purse, and Writebol, with Service in Mission, are medical missionaries who were infected with Ebola while working with patients in Liberia.

SIM USA said on Monday that the 59-year-old Writebol was in serious condition.

War on Poverty Anniversary Recalls Religion's Role in Appalachia

RNS photo by Don Rutledge
A mountain home with teenagers involved in work at the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board. RNS photo by Don Rutledge

HOT SPRINGS, N.C. — The 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s launch of the War on Poverty, which falls today, reminds us how intractable that effort can be, despite the hope and determined idealism when the legislation was signed.

Appalachia was one of the targets for the newly established Office of Economic Opportunity, utilizing programs such as Head Start and Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA). The anniversary also recalls how religion has motivated, shaped and sustained this effort, in many ways prefiguring the campaign, in both its successes and failures.

For more than two centuries, these Southern mountains have been a magnet for missionaries, both religious and secular, all determined to wipe out poverty, hunger, and ignorance — whether the region’s benighted folk wanted them to or not. Their too-common failing, local people say, is that the erstwhile do-gooders have not respected the strong beliefs and culture that already existed.

With the best intentions, altruists and uninvited agents of uplift have come with their social gospel of “fixing” local people. That is to wean them from violence and the debilitating use of alcohol, while bringing their brand of faith, along with education, nutrition, and improved living standards. Invariably well-meaning, these efforts have typically ended in disappointment and failure in places such as Madison County, N.C.

Can Paul Be Redeemed?

“Jesus was a radical who welcomed everyone and criticized powerful leaders who oppressed the poor. Jesus was crucified because he was a political threat. But the Apostle Paul was a conservative missionary who misunderstood Jesus and was anti-woman, pro-slavery, and anti-gay.”

That seems to sum up how many progressive Christians view Paul. But are such views justified by the biblical record? Or are there other ways to understand the zealous Pharisee who became an apostle to the Gentiles?

IN THE EARLY 1970s, I came across an article on Jesus’ women disciples in the Christian social justice magazine The Other Side. I was shocked. I had attended church all my life; how come I never noticed those women disciples?

What I didn’t know then was that a renewed “search for the historical Jesus” was underway. Applying the ever-developing insights of sociology, anthropology, and archaeology, scholars were investigating the socio-economic and political aspects of life in first century Palestine. How did Jesus fit into his historical context? As a peasant healer, how did he challenge the Roman occupation and their clients, the chief priests at the temple in Jerusalem?

It takes a while for new insights from biblical research to reach lay Christians. This is further delayed if church leaders are suspicious of intellectual elitism and fearful some of their parishioners might “lose their faith.”

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Dr. Livingstone, I Presume? Missionary Icon Turns 200

Nicku / Shutterstock.com
David Livingstone - Picture from Meyers Lexicon books written in German language. Nicku / Shutterstock.com

LONDON — When journalist Henry Morton Stanley found the world’s most famous missionary barely alive at the tiny village of Ujiji on the shores of Lake Tanganyika on Nov. 10, 1871, he gave the English language one of its most famous introductions: “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

As Britain marks David Livingstone’s 200th birthday on Tuesday, Christians are being reintroduced to one of the greatest missionaries and explorers of the 19th century. A new book, meanwhile, introduces a darker side to Livingstone’s globe-trotting career and the corrosive effect it had on his marriage.

That 1871 meeting in the heart of Africa is the stuff of legend.

In 1864, Livingstone — already one of the world’s most famous men because of his trek across Africa and the 1855 “discovery” of the Victoria Falls that straddles modern-day Zambia and Zimbabwe — mounted an expedition to discover the source of the Nile River.

As months stretched into years, nothing was heard from the famed explorer.

The Hoola Hoop Mission

Hula hoop image, Gorilla, Shutterstock.com
Hula hoop image, Gorilla, Shutterstock.com

It’s a simple joy – hoola hooping. And that seems to be the reason Carissa Caricato left her job to travel the world.

A few years ago when Carissa traveled to Haiti for earthquake relief efforts, she brought a few hoops to share with the children. Amidst the devastation she discovered the power in these simple hoops to bring people together and transcend barriers of language and culture.

Across the Great Divide

I can remember it like yesterday. It was three weeks before my wedding day -- Sept. 10, 2001. The next morning my brother woke me up just before the first tower crumbled.

Since 9/11, I've traveled the world many times over. Some have called me a "freelance missionary," since in any given year I can end up visiting just about any country on the planet. Out of all the places that I've been and all the people I've met along the way, one experience stands out that continues to shape my attitude toward how Christians should (and shouldn't) engage Muslims today.

It was shortly after I moved back to the U.S. from Senegal. A filmmaker named Stephen Marshall was looking for a zealous Christian missionary to participate in a feature-length documentary film about the role that religion plays in the post-9/11 clash between Christianity and Islam. I was the zealous Christian missionary.

Marshall came to my home, interviewed me along with my family, and asked us about how our faith affects our views on capitalism, democracy, Iraq, Afghanistan, the so-called war on terror, and everything else under the sun. A few weeks after the interview, I accompanied Marshall to Pakistan to demonstrate to him the plight of Christian minorities living in predominately Muslim countries. I was glad I got that point across. I thought my work was done.

Then Marshall told me about Khalid.

Khalid is an Irishman who converted to Islam in a Saudi Arabian prison. Khalid believes that democracy is human-made law, and that the hope of the world lies in Islamic sharia law. He also believes that 9/11 was "defensive jihad," a just retribution for the presence of U.S. troops in Muslim lands, U.S. support of Israel, the sanctions in Iraq that (according to UNICEF) killed 500,000 children, and U.S. support for dictators throughout the Muslim world.

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