What exactly is a "missionary?" I grew up hearing about missionaries but rarely saw one. I thought of them as some "super spiritual" Christians that God sent into the world to spread the gospel of Jesus to the "heathen."
As I got older I actually met some real, live missionaries; what a rush. They ate exotic food, traveled on unpronounceable rivers through unknown and unexplored jungle ...
Then I met missionaries who served in the inner cities that the church had abandoned. They served in housing projects and medical clinics; they traveled on subways and "el-trains" through the "concrete jungles" of the city. They dodged bullets and knives instead of spears and machetes. They didn't fear being physically eaten, but being "devoured" by the violence of the rural areas, mountain and city. I found that these, too, were "missionaries."
In 1981, I joined a group of individuals called "The Evangelism Corp.," formerly known as "God's Invasion Army" -- for all the wrong reasons -- but I was there nonetheless. We did backyard Kid's Clubs, door-to-door surveys, taught evangelism and visited people in their homes. It was here that I learned firsthand what it meant to be a "missionary." All done in the cities. I was never the same (that explains it all, doesn't it?).
The location of the "mission field" is not important, but what takes place on that mission field is. It is here that the battle for the souls of mankind is waged on a daily basis, many times in "hand-to-hand combat" with the enemy of our souls. It is done, not by "super Christians" but by everyday people like you and me who have a passion for seeing people go to heaven when they die.
The "Great Commission" of Matthew 28:16-20 does not specify the place. The only indication is that we should take care of those in our area, then concentrate on the rest of the world; and here is the "rub" for me. We are eager to designate large amounts of time and money to foreign missions -- and that is good, that is scriptural.
But, what about the "home missions?" What about funding for the local clinics, aid societies, food shelves, soup kitchens and social organizations where the physical and spiritual needs are being met in the cities and rural areas?
When was the last time you gave to a charitable organization without first thinking about where the receipt would come from so you could deduct it from your taxes? When was the last time you physically served in a place like this? Think about the people whose lives have been forever changed by a tragic event: a death, accident, chronic illness, loss of employment, violence or abandonment? Maybe you have been there and can identify.
My wife and I founded and ran an emergency shelter and crisis center in Little Falls for three years; 24 hours a day/seven days a week/365 days a year. We served a five-county area with some of our services; they were needed, but we had to close it after three years because of lack of funding and lack of help. The services are critical to those in crisis; the government and community verbally supported us -- but that is where it stopped.
Those in crisis are in need not only of spiritual encouragement and direction, but first, and foremost, physical aid. Yes, there are those who will abuse the system, but most do not. They are truly, genuinely in need of a "leg up," not a hand out. Support your foreign missionaries in your churches, please; but do not forget about your neighbor who may be one paycheck from being homeless.
Don't forget about those who are shut-ins from your church and cannot get out, those who can no longer drive, those in the nursing homes and care facilities, the newly divorced or abandoned, or those who have just lost a loved one; all are in need of physical ministry as well as spiritual encouragement.
If someone has an empty stomach, a broken heart, or is about to be put out on the street, they will have no use for a God who would let them endure this kind of misery without seeming to care. We are His hands that carry groceries, His feet that walk with one who needs to talk, His heart that breaks when there is a death, His arms that hold one close who has been betrayed or brutalized.
What can you do? Where can you go? To whom can you minister in this week, month or year? Ask God to show you where you are to go, what you are to do, to whom you can be "Jesus with skin on." May God give you direction, then give you courage and strength to do what He asks you to do.
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