Perhaps the most trenchant commentary ever written on the Great Commission was that of Keith Green (1953–82), a performer of what in the 1970s was called "Jesus music." The genre was not particularly commercial and not particularly polished, but it certainly made its point. Green once produced a song, an album, and a tour titled "Jesus Commands Us to Go," the lyrics of which included the memorable line, "It should be the exception if we stay."
Well, truisms are true. And although we have all noticed that the mission field begins at our door, that need to go farther continues to resonate. Despite the sea change in missions over the last century, folks continue to explore new territory — even when the novelty is entirely personal — in the name of Jesus. And since North America seems to need considerable evangelizing at the same time that it has a certain attractiveness, folks are coming in Jesus' name at a great rate, too.
Maybe the reason God keeps his people moving around so much is so that more and more of us can experience the sheer cognitive dissonance that jolts us away from the mundane. Conversion, after all, means "turning around," and anything that makes us stop and look in another direction can help the process.
Even in a small town like mine, there is a stream of international seminarians. I recall the first one who stayed with me, a bright if naive 20-year-old from Slovakia. (Not so very naive: When someone told her she didn't have enough life experience to be a pastor, she sweetly replied, "Does living through the collapse of Communism count?")
I particularly remember her first day on the job. At that point, her book English was fine, but we were talking, not reading, and that posed a problem. Sooo, I thought, let's take her to visit the new baby in the congregation. Off we went, and we found the little fellow on a blanket on the floor, wearing only a diaper, sweltering like everyone else on that very hot June day. Marta helped coo over him, pass him around, and bless him, full of smiles. But as soon as we were out the door, she turned on me, her large eyes now enormous, and said, "Why do they have child so on the floor? Why is dog there? In my country, only Gypsies would do so!" I gathered that "Gypsies" was not a complimentary term.
So I explained to the best of my ability why the baby was so, and started a program of cultural sensitivity that included commentary on the evils of prejudice toward Gypsies. Fast forward a month, to vastly improved English and a conversation about religious life in newly post-Soviet countries. She told me about the previous Easter, when she and a fellow seminarian had been sent out to conduct worship in a church that hadn't been used in 40 years. It was a moving story, and then, as a postscript, she told me about the Gypsies who had come and asked to be baptized. Fifty-four of them. And Marta quizzed them, ran them through some basic catechesis, and baptized all of them.
Well, then. Color me humbled.
That's the way it is when the church universal rubs shoulders. And you owe it to yourself, and to the rest of the body of Christ, to get in on it.
It's absurdly easy. Your school has international students. Hang out with them. Oh — and see to it, when you can, that you help them over the cross-cultural bumps. No matter how intrepid the explorer, no matter how grounded in faith, culture shock is a bear. And it starts early. I know a missionary priest, a sophisticated fellow, happily ensconced here for a dozen years now, who still isn't quite over his arrival. He was on his way to one of the better programs for international clergy, but the directions he was given were unconscionably vague, and the hour and a half trip from the airport turned into an eight-hour fiasco.
You can help avoid such silliness. It's a mitzvah. And the blessing you get in return is immediate, and profound. You can look at your own world with new eyes — maybe even the eyes of Jesus.
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