I grew up in a context where to be a missionary meant two things. First, it meant long skirts and white button ups. Second, it meant you went to Africa.
But we live in a context today where that idea is ridiculous. Obviously, my immature vision of what it meant to be a missionary was just that: immature. Beyond my youthful ignorance is the reality of a world where mission is no longer simply over there, in that place, to those people. Mission is now from everywhere to everywhere. Churches all across the globe are sending missionaries all across the globe. No country or region is exempt from the need for missionaries and no country or region is excused from the call to send missionaries.
It should come as no surprise that the U.S. is a mission field. I mean, duh, is everyone in the U.S. a Christian? Are we now experiencing the fullness of the kingdom of God in this country? Has the beautiful vision of Revelation 21 – that picture of a time when there will be no more tears, where the new has come – been actualized here? Absolutely not!
But even more than that, the notion that “missions” is this narrowly conceived activity that takes place only on the other side of an international boundary line comes from a misunderstanding or mis-emphasis of the Bible. Consider the oft’ quoted text of the Great Commission in Matthew 28. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (NIV). The imperative in this verse is actually only “to make disciples”. “Go” is a participle and can accurately be translated, “As you go.” The emphasis of the verse should not be on the geographical location but on disciple making wherever we go. (Don’t take my word for it. The late South African Missiologist, David Bosch, has already pointed this out in his 1983 article, “The Structure of Mission: An Exposition of Matthew 28:16-21.”)
InFaith exists because the U.S. is a mission field. We enable people to live out their call to a life of ministry here in the U.S. And we do this in radically different ways. Some of us are pastors. We shepherd the people of God along the way of God as we walk after God together. Some of us do this in very rural places where towns are eighty miles apart. Some of us do this in very urban places, where rows of homes sit eighty on a block. We are also children’s ministry leaders. Day in and day out we work with kids to share the love of Christ and give kids the tools to live out their faith at school and home. Sometimes, these children are only able to hear about Jesus through their contact with our people. Other times, churches send busloads of kids to a camp where someone from InFaith works to provide a fun, Spirit-soaked week of Jesus time. As chaplains we visit the sick, the elderly, and those in prisons. Sometimes we are able to pray and read the Bible with dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Other times we pray and read the Bible to introduce new brothers and sisters to Christ.
We are also doing mission in the more “traditional” understanding. Some of us work cross culturally. We help refugees who fled political, economic, and religious persecution to establish their new lives in a new culture. We visit Latin American shepherds (yes, literally sheep-herders) in the lonely mountains of Colorado; sometimes we are the only other person they see for weeks at a time.
There has never been a more perfect opportunity to share the gospel across international borders. And what’s crazy is that we do not need to go anywhere. The world is coming to us. Each year nearly 900,000 international students come to the U.S. to study. These students come to learn business, science, medicine, art. Most of them return home and are leaders, movers, and shakers in their own contexts. What an incredible opportunity to share the reality of God’s reign with these young minds!
There are, without a doubt, many people who are called to “the ends of the earth.” This is desperately needed. We join in prayer for these kinds of missionaries. But for our part, we are right here, in our own communities, bearing witness to the reality of God’s kingdom. You don’t need a passport to be a missionary. In fact, you don’t need to go anywhere. Unreached, unchurched, unmissioned people are all living right around us.
I wonder what it would look like for us to open up our mission sieves? What if we stop so narrowly conceiving mission as the job of a select few, and realize that mission is everywhere and everywhere needed? How might we find ourselves called to more fully engage those around us? How might we find God leading us to begin something new – to step out and live lives of bold risk?
This is why InFaith exists: America is a mission field.