Missionaries — ‘Christian neighbors in a different place’

Published 12:15 pm Thursday, October 22, 2015

Growing up, I remember hearing the stories of special speakers who came to my church telling of the exotic places they had been and exciting things they had done.  They showed slides of people they had met, often dressed in cultural dress, and shared food and flavors of far-away lands.  They told of the stresses, trials, and even dangers they had faced far from home.  I was always amazed that God was doing amazing things on the other side of the globe. 

I have known numerous persons who have served as missionaries through the years.  I have friends who have lived in Peru, Madagascar, the Middle East, Russia, Scotland, China, Zimbabwe, Haiti and Panama . . . the list goes on.  Me?  I have traveled abroad some, but I have never lived “overseas.”  My connection to such missionaries has most often been through stories I hear, contributions we have sent and prayers we have lifted for them.

A good friend of mine has spent a lifetime working in missions around the globe.  On several occasions she has talked about the connection between being a Christian and being a missionary.  While the two words are distinct in our English vocabulary, they are actually intertwined as a Christian concept.  She describes being a missionary as being a Christian neighbor in a different place and being a Christian as being a missionary in a familiar place.  Wherever the place may be, a Christian goes out into community each day to build relationships, to love and serve others, to discover what God is up to and to share with others what God reveals.  That is what we do, in whatever land or culture, even if we never leave the town where we were born. 

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Twentieth century Swiss theologian, Emil Brunner, wrote:  “The Church exists by mission, just as a fire exists by burning. Where there is no mission there is no Church; and where there is neither Church nor mission, there is no faith.”  Or as the early Christian writer of James put it, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not live it out in action? Faith, by itself, if it takes no expression in our living, is dead.”  (James 2:14, 17)

Christ instructs us to love our neighbor whoever they are.  However long you have been in this community, spend today as a missionary with those around you. 

REV. MICHAEL KENDALL is lead pastor of Farmville United Methodist Church. His email mkendall@farmvilleumc.org.