the problem with missions

missions

Written by Alia Joy

Alia Joy is a cynical idealist, homeschool mama to three little ‘uns, wife to Josh, book wormy, coffee dependent, grace saved, writer of random musings and broken stories, collector of words, attempter of all things crafty, lover of mustard yellow, turquoise, Africa, and missions. She lives in Central Oregon and loves to visit big cities because there are no decent Indian, Moroccan, or Vietnamese restaurants close by. Maker-upper of words. Disliker of awkward introductions and writing in the third person.

August 29, 2013

missions

The problem with missions is there are no worthy people. Only a worthy God. Thus grace.

If we were worthy, well that would make the whole escapade quite a bit simpler.

If we could measure up those we deem deserving, the orphans and widows and oppressed, we could fuel our passion for changing the world solely on our love and affection for those who so obviously got the raw end of the deal. But it doesn’t work that way.

Because while world missions has done a lot of things, it hasn’t changed the fact that once you’re there, on the ground, living shoulder to shoulder with people, you realize that they are just that: people. They love their sin and cling to it, just as we do. They become your neighbors instead of your mission, and neighbors are a lot more work.

When we keep people in the tidy box of mission, we can contain our relationships with project-like precision. But when we do life together, sharing fences, and noise, and cooking smells, and habits, well that’s something else entirely.

Our neighbors let their dog poop in our yard. That part sucks.

Worthy people are not a big enough motivation or at least not a sustaining one because you’ll soon see the rip in the fabric, the gaping holes where the flesh peeks through. And only someone who loves would cover that nakedness with grace.

I wonder if this is some of the fault in short-term missions trips. It’s enough to get your feet wet and leave a country feeling as though you got a glimpse, just a sneak peek at the way the rest of the world lives without actually having to engage them as people. They are an ideal, the ones in need of saving, and instead of seeing that as something we have in common, we see it as something that separates us.

We immunize ourselves to enter a world where everyone else lives with the risks of death and disease and poverty. You can then leave with a heart full of gratefulness that you have so much more and you really ought to be thankful for it. You leave with a mental note to yourself that the copious amount of luxury you enjoy daily are either monstrosities in the face of overwhelming poverty and leave with a guilty burden that has you donating things to charity and rethinking that Target cart before wearing off or an overwhelming sense of gratitude that you are returning to clean water, and flush toilets, and grocery stores with cellophane wrapped chicken cutlets.  Most likely a combination of both.

And I get it. We want to be shaken up.

We long for experiential faith, the kind that grows under the weight of the unknown in foreign lands and continents far away.  We go because we long to be changed but often we have no idea what that means.

Do we want to come back with a stronger faith because we can now see God’s provision in our three bedroom, two and a half bath home with central air or do we want to come back with a faith bruised under the reality that the whole world groans in agony and need of a savior?

Do we want to be wrecked in a way that reminds us of our unworthiness and laughs madly at the ludicrous and lavish grace we could never afford?

Because it doesn’t matter if you’re here or there, there is only ever a worthy God. Even as I prepare my heart for my Africa trip, as an ambassador called,  I so often make it about myself.

And I’ve seen the conversations here and there. We all want to love better. Love in a fuller more holistic way and this is affecting how we engage a dying and sinful world. It changes how we approach our neighbors when they wrong us. It changes how we defend the oppressed and how we champion for justice to be done in God’s name. But are we starting in the right place?

Because I used to think you could just do the things. Mercy has never been one of my spiritual gifts but empathy is. Give me an underdog to fight for and you’ve got me. Give me a cause to champion and I’m your girl. And there are many things close to God’s heart but I’ve come to realize that unless I am, it’s all loss.

Sometimes, I get it backwards.

Sometimes, I start with people and work back to God’s heart but that never really works because again, people are messy. Sin is messy.

We loose our footing when we start with the wrong stand.  But when I start with God’s heart, start with His glory as my focus, everything else fades. In the most undignified way, my heart breaks and it’s not just for the cause, it’s for the conquerer. It’s changes my focus from going to be changed or challenged to walking with God enchanted.

And in this place, I can do no other thing than serve and worship Him with my life, because it’s already lost to me.

13 Comments

  1. Ashley Tolins Larkin

    Alia, thank you, friend, for putting words to this for me. “Worthy people are not a big enough motivation or at least not a sustaining one because you’ll soon see the rip in the fabric, the gaping holes where the flesh peeks through. And only someone who loves would cover that nakedness with grace.” Bless you, friend. These words are so true. Am praying right now for this work in Africa and for the day-in day-out of dealing with your neighbor’s dog poop. It’s all gotta be rooted in love.

    Reply
    • Alia_Joy

      Thank you for your prayers, Ashley! I can use them both for Africa and the crappy things that happen here. Sorry, I seriously couldn’t help myself. But yes, all in love. Thank you friend.

      Reply
  2. Deb Anderson Weaver

    Yes, when it’s people vs. projects, it is harder and messier… You’ve pointed out a problem, and then you point out the answer: “But when I start with God’s heart, start with His glory as my focus, everything else fades. In the most undignified way, my heart breaks and it’s not just for the cause, it’s for the conquerer.”

    Yes.

    Deb Weaver
    thewordweaver.com

    Reply
    • Alia_Joy

      Thank you Deb. It’s a hard balance to find because I get so inspired sometimes by the cause that it’s easy to lose steam when you realize the mess that’s involved. People are messy and the only way to do this whole thing right is through a passionate love of God. Then, it all makes a whole lot more sense. Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate you.

      Reply
  3. kelli woodford

    I am all over the unworthiness thing with you, girl. What a way to shred any way by which we calibrate ourselves, eh? So true – all is grace.

    Oh, and this: “They are an ideal, the ones in need of saving, and instead of seeing that as something we have in common, we see it as something that separates us.” YES! You said it right that neighbors are a lot more work, but empathy, compassion, and humility are enough for the brave ones who let love shatter them.

    Great post, Alia. So good to see you here.

    Reply
    • Alia_Joy

      Thanks Kelli! So good to be here. I have loved the words you’ve shared in this space and the whole making much of God? Well that’s just the kind of writing I love to do. Your work shines with His glory. So glad to be a part of this community.

      Reply
  4. Karin Madden

    Alia, I love this post. Beautiful. It’s so true. It isn’t until we draw closer to the heart of God that we can be His hands and feet. It’s just not easy. The thought that keeps running through my mind is… the problem is – me. Your writing rocks. Thank you. I’m praying for your trip to Africa.

    Reply
    • Alia_Joy

      Yes, the problem is me and the solution isn’t. So important to remember. Thanks for your prayers, I appreciate every one. You have no idea.

      Reply
  5. Diane Bailey

    Alia, Girl, you rock. Yes this is it! “I start with people and work back to God’s heart but that never really works because again, people are messy. Sin is messy. We loose our footing when we start with the wrong stand.”

    Yes this is the message. We step forward toward people first instead of the heart of God, and we stumble unstable onto the ground.

    Good job! Good blog!

    Reply
    • Alia_Joy

      Amen! We have to get to the heart of God not just in our actions but in our motives. Thanks Diane! and you rock. Can’t wait to see you again at Allume.

      Reply
  6. Kim Hyland

    Chewing, chewing, chewing. As always, you cram SO MUCH goodness and challenge into one post. Bottom line . . “And there are many things close to God’s heart but I’ve come to realize that unless I am, it’s all loss.” Thank you, Alia.

    Reply
    • Alia_Joy

      Thank you Kim. Yes, that is always going to be the bottom line. Learning to sit mary-like in Jesus’s presence and let that be the impetus to move us forward into the world.

      Reply
  7. Ashlie

    I couldn’t agree more! Giving a round of applause for this post – I love your heart, Alia. Praie the Lord for the work He’s doing in your heart and how it’s spilling out through your words to others!

    Reply

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the problem with missions

by Alia Joy time to read: 4 min
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