Last week I spoke about my brother’s, Jacob, experience in Mexico. He was building houses in a small city. There he met a young man who invited him to visit his family in the mountains.
It was a small community. Mud brick homes, built with bricks they made themselves. The roofs, also mud, had grass growing out of the top. The community was close, each watching over the children. Everyone working together for the whole. There was a small church. Fresh food (though not a lot of variety). Everyone had their place, their purpose. The elders were at work and brought wisdom. A mentally challenged man had assigned tasks. The weak, old, and foolish were not pushed away. Everyone had a role, everyone was an integral part of the community.
Jacob joined them for days. He ate; he worked. He felt their loving community. The patriarchs asked him about coming to build cinder block homes (like he built in the city). So he considered their village. His houses would be easier to build (especially since he brought in groups). But not necessarily better. (The mud houses showed amazing longevity and better insulation.) Then there was the community all around him. He had never seen such unity. A place for everyone. Love. Protection. Purpose.
It is difficult to accept when you can’t help. The American groups would bring labor. They would bring houses. They normally brought Christian love and community. But this place would need to teach his groups. Jacob feared the opposite would happen.
My sermons are short and often the ideas are bigger than the brief rambling I give them. I understood my brother’s dilemma and decision immediately. But I am not sure my glossy point made sense (calling is not toward better stuff; but better relationships — between one another and between God). So… for those who can’t get enough of my rambling…
My experience of missions has two avenues. A mission driven by service (building houses). A mission propelled by word (spoken evangelism). While neither side is against the other, the tendency is to focus on one.
To borrow from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, our mission must be both. A person can not belong, without feeling safe. A hungry person may shout “Amen” during a sermon, but transformation won’t begin until they are saying grace over the dinner table. Because our needs build on each other. Physiological needs build to safety to belonging to esteem… which leads to the goal of missions: Self-Actualization. People living out their purpose and potential. As Christians, we see this as living out the Kingdom of God.
Our lives are not actualized with stuff, but neither can they be actualized without stuff. As the church we must find the balance in our mission.
Beyond the two avenues of mission, there is a deeper mistake, which happens when we set our life as the model. When our amount of possessions becomes the normal Christian expectation, or when our understanding of the gospel becomes the target, then we have replaced Christ. It is our Lord we are called to follow. Of course we will share our testimony, but the mark is always beyond us. It is always Jesus.
As Americans we must learn many “essential” possessions are in fact not necessary. This was the truth Jacob was uncovering. The mountain community missed so many American essentials, but their lives were closer to actualized than any of the mission groups my brother encountered.
By confusing the essentials, we are prevented from becoming actualized. Which explains passages like James 1, where riches are seen as “humiliation”, but poverty a reason for pride. As Americans we must be careful not to spread our humiliation. Instead we follow God’s mission, which fulfills true needs and rejects excess to build actual Christ followers.