Monday, March 09, 2009


I'm in IT management and that means I spend some of my time meeting with account representatives from staffing/contracting companies. It's nice because they always take me out to lunch at places I wouldn't typically go for lunch. Not Ruth's Chris, but more than I'd typically spend on lunch.

A couple of years ago, I was chatting with one of these account reps over lunch and we started talking about our church lives. I mentioned that I'd just gotten back from a mission trip to southern Mississippi, following hurricane Katrina. It was such an incredibly fulfilling trip and I really felt like I was able to do even just a little something to help the people whose lives were (and still are) devastated.

My lunch guest reciprocated with her "me, too" story about a mission trip that she had coming up to Costa Rica. She told me all about the hotel that she and her husband were going to be staying in (in Mississippi, our accommodations were military tents) and how proud she was of the clever service that she would be able to provide the people of a nearby village: salvation.

"See," she explained to me. "There's a local man in our church who makes these 'JESUS' road signs."

I'd seen those (like the picture in this post) around.

"He's making some especially for my mission trip." Big smile on her face. "What's really clever, is that he's making some that have a Bible verse in Spanish on the back! They wouldn't be able to be saved if it were in English."

I tend to find that kind of language "being saved" uncomfortable. So, I changed the subject to the kind of mission work we did in Mississippi and opened the door in our conversation for her to respond with the mission work they'd be doing. All I ever got from her was how they'd be sharing the story of Jesus Christ with the people of this small town. I hope everyone found Jesus somewhere along that journey.

It reminds me of one of my father's favorite jokes:
"Have you found Jesus, yet?!"
"Found Jesus? I didn't know he was lost!"


Stushie said...

In the end, being saved is what we all want to be. It may be uncomfortable to talk about, but it's a whole lot more uncomfortable not being saved.

I suggest you read CS Lewis' book, "The Great Divorce," or Taylor Caldwell's old book, "Dialogues with the Devil."

jairus' daughter said...

I CAN'T STAND "missionaries" who stay in hotels. yes, it's nice of you "not to impose." but maybe you could back up a step or two and ask yourself what on earth you're doing, if your local "target" people don't even want to feed and house you.
I worked in Uganda and lived in a room - it wasn't even a room - a bunk corner in the orphanage. I grew very angry and resentful when large church groups would come through, ten days apiece, and they were so precious they couldn't even use our pit latrines, so they would only come for a few hours to "help" and then run back to their hotels to poop. They learned about 1/4 of what they could've learned if they'd lived with us, and talked to the local staff one on one instead of relying on me to relay messages back and forth.
Well i'm glad the PCUSA has created the very lovely "invitation to expanding partnership in god's mission" as a step toward correcting such messes.

Sarahlynn said...

If I remember Paul's experience correctly, his original discomfort was about the idea of what "mission" meant to his colleague.

On his mission trip, he worked to improve people's living conditions (hanging drywall in gutted homes). This woman was also going on a mission trip, but her trip was actually a sight-seeing vacation . . . on which she was planning to pass out cards with the good news printed on the back. She wasn't working to change or improve their quality of life, just to let them know about the afterlife.

I find this contrast intriguing: different ideas about mission. What are we called to do? To help people here and now or to let them know about what's to come? Perhaps a combination of both? That's what I believe.

But I also have some opinions about teaching by living as an example.

Sarahlynn said...

I suppose there's also the "better than" philosophy. How do you think about your trip? Is it a vacation or a mission trip? And did you pay your own way, or are you being sponsored by an organization/donors to go help a community in need?

I suppose that if you're going on a vacation and you do a few hours of mission work each day, that's a very helpful vacation!

I really really don't like latrines, myself. I'm not a person who thrives away from the city, actually. And my "mission work" as an adult tends to be more small scale and local. Does it still have value?

I believe that it does, and am still trying to figure out where/how I'd draw all the lines.

paulboal said...

To be clear - I'm not suggesting that I don't want to "be saved." What makes me uncomfortable about the way we tend to use that language is the passiveness and differences of opinion on who is the one doing the saving. I don't think that I can be saved by anyone that I've ever met in person. Likewise, I don't believe that I have the power to save anyone. I guess I fall pretty closely with the idea of salvation only by God's grace, not by any act of my own.

Or perhaps it's a quality versus quantity argument. Getting as many people as possible to read the Bible or go to church doesn't feel like a great goal to me. "Works without faith are dead." I think it's more likely that people will find a way to salvation through seeing, experiencing, and doing works more readily and more wholly than through a focus on beliefs and faith.

Sure they told people about Jesus during their mission trip, but did they show the people they were ministering to what Jesus requires of us? I never got the impression they did.

Maybe I'm being too harsh.

Stushie said...

I don't think you're being harsh, Paul; I just don't think that you're looking at the bigger picture.

In the end, it doesn't matter whether we live in rich palaces or the poorest hovels, our life on earth is transient. What does ultimately and eternally matter is salvation through Jesus Christ, which I take from Acts 4:12. We can do a million good works on earth,(and Jesus does tell us to do whatever we can for the poor) but without salvation, those works mean nothing eternally.