Foreigners Coming, Missionaries Going

July 3, 2016     The Seventh Sunday of Pentecost   2 Kings 5:1-14; Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

The story of the servant of Naaman’s wife alongside the sending of 70 missionaries gives the dual trajectory of mission today.

On the one hand, we have the Jewish slave girl with the people of Damascus. Because of being among foreigners, she had the opportunity that never would have come had she stayed among her own.

On the other hand, Luke tells of Jesus sending 70 evangelists to Gentile nations. Matthew tells of the 12 He sent. The number 12 is a Jewish number—the tribes, the apostles, so these went to the Jews only. Luke recorded sending 70. Again the number tells us the context. There are 70 nations listed in Genesis 10, representing the nations of the world. So the mission of the 70 indicated Christ’s global view.

Today the stories remind us of the two-fold trajectory of mission: do not miss the opportunity of foreigners in your neighborhood, and do not fail to send missionaries to those nations who yet have no church.

In Part II I will focus on the 70. First, let me make some observations about the servant girl’s opportunity and what that means for us here. “Here” for Constance and me is Richmond, Virginia. Our three children and their families live here, so we moved to join them last August.

Next door to us is an Orthodox family from Serbia. Two doors down is a Muslim from Morocco. The lifeguard at the community pool is from Slovakia. I mention those neighbors because that is normal–normal for us and normal for those of you living in the United States.

God has given us an opportunity. We are the servant girl, not in captivity but living with Serbs, Moroccans, and Slovaks. And Han Chinese, Pushtun Afghans, Maaye Somalis, Rajasthani Marwari, Algerian Tuaregs, and so forth. Endlessly–an endless list of representatives of the nations represented by the 70 nations of Genesis 10 in your neighborhood and mine.  The servant girl was displaced to them. Now they have been displaced to us.

A couple of thoughts about following her example:

  1. Face our wilful isolation. That is, we live isolated lives, choosing to surround ourselves with people like us. To be God’s witnesses, we must wilfully leave our own and pay attention to those unlike us and around us.
  2. Face down the stereotypes. If we do not look under and beyond the stereotypes, we will never move to people beyond our own. Here is an example—the stereotype of Muslim terrorists. The FBI lists 1,000 Muslims on their watch list. There are 3.3 million Muslims in the United States. That means Muslims deemed suspicious by the FBI amount to a whopping 0.03%! Even if we triple the number who could be on the list, that still leaves the number at just 0.1%. The woman you notice with the hijab and her husband, and most like them, are just “bringing home the bacon,” just like you and me.
  3. Learn about their religion. This applies to Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, Baha’i believers, and all the rest. Can we not show them the respect for their religion that we hope they will show ours? We do not compromise our faith, nor are we disobedient witnesses, when we do no more than listen to them explain their faith and then go home. We are opening a respectful dialogue.
  4. Extra stars in your crown for every invitation you receive next week for celebrating Eid al-Fitr with your Muslim friends as they close Ramadan. After all, Ramadan is their time of seeking a better knowledge of God, forgiveness and salvation. One of the nights before the close is the “Night of Power.” That is when Mohammad first received dictation from Gabriel for the Qur’an. Muslims believe that the Night of Power is when prayers are answered and determination for souls is decided.
  5. Can we not see opportunity in all this: not for rolling our eyes but for opening conversations on a dozen topics that can draw out our Muslim friend to discuss a different take on a deeper knowledge of God, intercessory prayer, salvation, revelation,…

Naaman, or his contemporary counterpart, is listening. Maybe with skepticism, but don’t forget, the general left with a faith that he carried back to Damascus. That is possible with the Han, the Maaye, the Pushtun, and the rest on the endless list.

World Christian Trends and the 70

WCT gives statistics on this dual trajectory with foreigners coming and missionaries being sent. While the suggestions above apply to us individually, these reflect the global context of mission.

The relevant measurement is the balance of the dual calling of mission: workers among those where they live, and missionaries sent to unevangelized.

Some countries ought to receive a much larger number of missionaries than it sends, due to the relative low level of Christian depth in it. But for those with significant depth, the balance would be more on those sent than received.

WCT introduces categories describing where a country sits relative to the balance of receiving and sending. Some of these categories are : looting, squandering, donating, and sending. Looting takes more than its share of workers, while donating sends more than it might be expected to.

Ireland’s share of sending, for example, is way above those it receives. This is appropriate for that deeply Christian country. Chile, also a mature Christian land, is in the “looting” category, with many more received than sent. Some of those in the “wasting” category are Kenya, Reunion, Zaire, and Honduras. Belgium, Canada, France, and the US are among those in the ‘Sharing” list.

The studies show some expected results. For instance, India was one of the top receiving countries throughout the last century. Now it is the second ranking sending country. Nigeria is among the top five sending countries, not including missionaries sent to the unreached in its own lands. Nigerian leaders have touched the cold hearts of Central and Eastern Europeans more than others have been able to.

The final word comes from the Lord at the return of the 70. No matter the part we play, the important thing is but one—that our name be written in the Book of Life.

About Tad

This trip accompanies several of the friends of St. Paul. We will eaves drop on their correspondence, look into their lives and ministries, and find some insights about what they were doing. I suspect that much of what we see will surprise us, some will challenge us, and all will fill in some spots of God's work then and now.
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