During recent years I have witnessed several young adults (usually recent college graduates) embark on a journey called “The World Race” which the organization self-describes as an “11 country, 11-month mission trip to share the love of Jesus and serve others around the world.”
This year-long, global adventure is, in essence, the dream of many millennial Christians. That is, to abandon the comforts of affluence and Western society to set out in a journey discovering what the world has to offer and doing it all in the name of Jesus. The marketing for the organization looks very similar to a Patagonia catalog, and its social media accounts are overflowing with incredible pictures and stories of how the World Race has drastically altered the lives of participants.
A few years ago, I would have been a textbook candidate to participate in such an adventure and was considering what it would take to raise the nearly $20,000 required to complete the journey. I thrived off of international travel, culture, food, and learning about world religions. However, around the time that I needed to become serious about my next steps following college I became convicted of a very important truth:
Engaging in global missions is a lot more like a slow, tedious, and sometimes painful pilgrimage than it is a “world race.”
I came to the realization that when we examine the New Testament, those who were sent out to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God were not embarking on a millennial dream of an adventure. Instead, they were often going to engage and invest deeply into specific and potentially hostile communities with the aim of raising up local churches within them.
Luke 10 tells of Jesus sending out 70 of his followers in pairs to go ahead of him proclaiming the Kingdom of God. He specifically tells them not to go from house to house, but to stay and invest in the home of the first person who would receive them. Paul, in his first letter to the Thessalonians, reminds the church there of how he and his companions shared not only the gospel but their lives with the people of their city.
An intentional investment in a specific community becomes the model for establishing and building the church as seen in the New Testament.
It is important to remember that these Kingdom workers traveled everywhere on foot, and likely experienced many trials as would a pilgrim on a long and testing journey. It is evident that the first missionaries believed that the local church, by God’s design, is the best catalyst for mission and community transformation. They were also committed to the long-suffering and investment required to see this mission succeed.
Unfortunately, this model is not a concept that seems to exist within the structure of organizations such as The World Race. Participants undoubtedly have the experience of a lifetime traveling the world for a year with a group of like-minded team members and will come away with all the Instagram pictures needed to impress their friends and encourage their supporters to keep funneling the cash. However, within their “race” (spending typically one month in a particular country) these young adults miss out on the opportunity to invest deeply into specific Kingdom work happening in local churches and communities around the world.
Instead of taking a posture of a learner and engaging in intentional and reciprocal relationships, participants seemingly rush into global communities with a temporary perspective that is focused on gleaning from the community rather than participating within it. This concept is so far removed from the realities of people within the majority world, many of whom live in highly relational, contextualized, and impoverished societies.
Instead of coopting missions and wanderlust, what if we were to invest in, learn from, celebrate, and mourn with a particular group of people over a long period of time?
What if global missions looked a lot more like spending enough time in a particular community for it to become a part of you rather than simply gaining another passport stamp?
Intentionally engaging in the work of pilgrim-like mission implies that one will:
- Invest in a specifically (and strategically) chosen neighborhood or community
- Learn a language
- Spend a lot of time listening
- Thoughtfully consider how the Gospel might come to life in a way that it has not already to your new neighbors
Rather than racing through countries and villages around the world collecting photos of people and places we don’t know, we might consider how God often works in slow and steady ways over long periods of time.
While planning to spend an entire year (or more) in one specific community may seem far less adventurous than traversing the world, imagine the incredible journey of learning what it means to deeply invest in the work God is doing in communities around the world. While your Instagram posts may be less impressive, I would argue that your heart will be overflowing with friends and Kingdom moments by journey’s end.
If engaging in a long-term investment in a particular community on mission is something you may feel called to, check out these great organizations:Christian Studies may fit you well. We’d like to invite you to stop by for a visit to see if UMHB is right for you.