Several months ago, our church was approached with the idea of going on a missions trip to Malawi, Africa. Probably twenty people attended the first meeting showing some interest, but when it came right down to it, because of finances, busy schedules, and other things, only two of us will be able to go in January, God willing.
During these past few months as I've told people that I was planning to go to Malawi in January, I've heard some interesting responses, as have my parents. When people talk to me, they kind of expect a teenager to have some nutty dreams, but for parents to actually let their teenager go try out this nutty dream to see if it really is God's will for him to live the nutty dream, that's another story. So my parents have had to put up with the questioning from people more than I have.
Last night, my parents told me that I better be thinking up some sort of response to people who cry, "What about America" or "what about Ebola?" This post is both to say what I think to those reading this blog and to help get a response in my mind for when I have to talk about this to questioning people.
Let's start off with an easy one. "What about Ebola?" What about it? Africa is a continent big enough to hold more than three entire continental United States in it. There's plenty of room in a continent that size for Ebola to be in one corner and not in the rest. Plus, we have Ebola in the US. In fact, those in the US will be closer to Ebola patients than I will be in Malawi.
The next question is a much tougher one. "Why? Why would you want to go to Africa?" This is going to be kind of a long, involved answer, so stay with me. One of atheist's best arguments against Christians is that we are hypocrites. We don't practice what Jesus said, so we probably don't actually believe it to be true. And sadly, they have a point. They're right in many cases. Many Christians are hypocrites; in fact, we all probably are in one way or another.
Part of the reason I am going to Malawi is that I want to be a follower of Christ, not just a Christian. Let me explain. There's a group of people who get saved simply for heaven, simply so they won't go to hell when they die. Just add Jesus to their life as a good resolution, just like adding a gym to their life, and voila, their eternal destiny is secure. That is by far the prevalent attitude among Christians today. We follow Jesus for what He can get us out of, not for what He has called us to do.
However, if you actually read the Bible, I think it's hard to miss that that's not what Jesus taught. In fact, Jesus rarely used the phraseology that we Christians like to use today, like "get saved." Jesus most of the time spoke of it as "follow Me." The Christianity Jesus taught is radically different from the one many of us want to believe in today (Lk. 9:57-63). So, my point is that if I want to be a Christian the way Jesus wants us to be Christians, it involves more than salvation. It involves more than just calling on the name of the Lord. Sure, that's all it takes for forgiveness of sins, but it shouldn't stop there.
Jesus was very clear about his world agenda (Acts 13:47, Ps. 96:3, Rom. 10:13-15, Lk. 24:47, Matt. 24:14) in Scripture. So, when I have felt God leading toward the mission field, it really gives a pretty clear-cut picture. God issues universal commands to Christians to spread His name across the whole world, meaning that some Christians will have to leave to get this accomplished elsewhere. God issues personal commands to some, I believe myself included, to spread His name to the further reaches of the world, beyond where I live and am comfortable. I'm guessing 95% of Christians believe somebody else will do it, somebody not their son, not their daughter, not their cousin, or their parents.
If I've made a logic mistake in this chain of thought, please show me. The simple truth of the matter is that we, as Christians, have the only means for thousands to escape hell forever. To say that it is inconvenient or stupid to take this news to other parts of the world is to me wrong. If I truly wish to follow Jesus Christ in a life devoid of hypocrisy, then I must follow where He leads and do what He says, right? What I sense from some is a double standard: if I a.) go on the mission field, then I'm acting impulsive and radical, or b.) stay at home, then I'm a hypocrite. If I have to choose, I'll be an impulsive radical.
I guess I'll address the last issue I heard raised about this topic: "What about America?" Good point, America needs the gospel too. But c'mon, man, look around you! There are churches everywhere, literally Bibles by the thousands in book stores, homeless shelters and charity programs, along with government assistance here in America. Are these people honestly saying that we need to get America perfect before Christians move on to help others in other countries?
For example, the place I'll be staying most of the time in Malawi is an orphanage. In America, we have the government funded orphanages, and Child Protective Services in case of abuse in the home. Malawi, although it officially has a social services wing, certainly can't keep up with everything, since even we in America can't do that. This orphanage grows its own food to support itself. In America, we have dozens of Christian orphanages across our country to help people in need, helped by church support and government funding. Malawi has very few of these advantages, and what they do have, they have on a smaller scale. Everything, that is, except number of orphans. Compared to America's estimated 120,000 orphans, which we'll toss in the estimated 400,000 kids with no permanent home in the US, look at Malawi's estimated 1,000,000 orphans. Malawi, a little country the size of the state of Pennsylvania, has twice the number of orphans, if we consider US kids with no permanent home as orphans, as the US does, almost nine times as many if we don't count the 400,000.
Does this answer the question? The real question is not why would I go, it's why aren't more "Christians" going. When we look at Jesus command in 1 Jn. 3:17, we see this, "And whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?" This verse shows that those of us in disagreement on this topic can learn from each other. Those who think the US is the only country that matters should keep in mind that our brothers in Christ are not limited to the US. Those who think our only ministry is overseas should remember that our brothers in Christ are not limited to Africa. Our ministry is our love, both to the people of the United Sates and the people of Malawi.
Lastly, I want my life to be in complete surrender to Jesus Christ. Atheists have good reason to feel contempt for many of our versions of Christianity, because they are right, many times it is indeed hypocrisy. Too many times we love Jesus for the warm, gushy feeling of religion and good morality that he gives us. Too many times we love Jesus for the sole purpose of escaping hell, then go back to our normal, comfortable, typical American lives, leaving no recognizable difference between a Christian and a normal working guy.
I want my life to be a life for Jesus Christ. If I'm going to call myself a follower of Christ, than that's what I must do, be a follower of Christ. That part's not complicated; it's Biblically pretty clear. Following Jesus involves radical surrender from what most would consider a normal, American life. But that's what it means to follow Him, to love Him.