If you choose this mission field, you must risk everything.
Have you ever wondered why it's so hard to do mission work in your own city yet so easy to spend two weeks in Uganda?
As we sit in our pews on Sunday morning, the pastor mentions a two-week trip overseas and our ears perk up! A two-week trip with my youth group to a foreign country? How much? I'm in! Raising $2,000 might take a little time out of our day, yet after sending a few letters or getting some cleverly-designed T-shirt printed, the money's in our hands in no time. We fly out to a remote village in Africa, spend a few days acclimating to jet lag, don't bathe for a week, eat small amounts of food that we're not used to and LOVE EVERY SINGLE MINUTE! It's almost counter-intuitive.
At home you have access to Internet, utilities, a supportive Church body, facilities, Walmart, English-speakers and so many other luxuries that we forget we had when we're overseas. The pieces of the puzzle are all here waiting for you to put them together. In your own town you're empowered to put on an event or even go help the homeless because you have access to just about anything you need. A vast network of people that you have grown up with, worked alongside, or simply met in passing are all within an hour driving distance or within a few clicks on Facebook. Forgot to bring snacks for the kids in VBS? No problem, there's a Walmart down the street. Want to take up a collection of canned goods for the food shelter? Put a barrel with a sign on it in the foyer at Church and in a couple of weeks it's filled.
It's almost easy. So why is it so hard?
I believe there are many subtleties of foreign missions that, cumulatively, forge a perception that is both appealing and self-justifying. Full-time missions is not a work that is considered to be wrapped in comfort, excess and luxury. If there is monetary support, it's often meeting living expenses only. If there is pleasure, rarely is it found in the latest Apple Watch or any other material possession for that matter. Missions as a mental concept is considered to be a grueling, uprooting, often unpleasant occupation that is shrouded in undeniable joy, peace and fulfillment in the work that is being done. Quite a unique paradox. On the flip-side, mission work, not as an occupation but rather as a short-term trip, is often seen as a special vacation. Let's just be honest, it's novel. The experiences are new to those attending and if not, certainly to those who they tell the stories to upon their return. There's no need to lie about how big that fish was because your stories are full of intrigue by their very nature. Exploring a new culture, a new language perhaps, a new monetary system, a new lifestyle... it's all exhilarating because it's giving your mind a swift kick in the rear and jolting it out of the routines of your life back home.
At the end of the trip, you're left with dozens of memories, relationships and stories that add a little spice to life. A monotonous life is a story that bores the reader, the writer and the main character. Our souls long for the enriching experiences that are found in the new.
A second reason foreign missions are "easy" for us is the time-frame. Whether you're gone for five days or six months, it's a relatively short period of time compared with the amount of time you'll spend going to work Monday through Friday. When you inwardly digest this fact, your brain goes into survivor mode. For two weeks you can withstand anything. "No hot showers? Ahh I can tough it out." Because it's two weeks, right? Imagine flying into that remote village with a backpack full of your earthly possessions, understanding that for the next 40+ years, that little hut down there will be your home. No hot showers suddenly doesn't look so easy to tough out. Knowing that at the end of two weeks you'll be shampooing your hair under a perfectly-pressured, steaming-hot shower with a plush rug and clean towel waiting for you goes a long way in helping you take in your experiences as they are and not worry about them.
Thirdly, foreign missions are often limiting. When you move overseas permanently, you might get a job, find a Church to attend, figure out the best route to the market or get involved with local organization. In short, you adapt to your environment and begin crafting a lifestyle for yourself. However, when you're on a temporary trip, your sole focus is the mission of that particular trip - building houses, organizing a VBS, handing out Bibles etc. Bosses aren't calling you asking where you are. Bills aren't being sent to your hut. Twitter isn't buzzing in your pocket. Life reduces itself to the bare-bones hear-and-now in a very confining but also liberating way. It's easy to organize a VBS with skits, games, snacks and Bible lessons when that's what you spend all day doing. But as soon as you take it back home and try to replicate it, you realize bosses expect you to show up to work and bill collectors know your phone number. Short-term missions are a quick get-away from the distractions that life throws at us allowing us to focus with unparalleled intensity.
Finally, in a very weird way, it's safe. Not in the literal sense of physical safety but in the emotional sense. Cultural barriers such as language and unfamiliarity with the Gospel act as a buffer between you and the individuals that you are ministering to. Somehow, it's easier to speak of your faith to a complete stranger through a translator than to a close friend. It's not because of logistics. It's because of risk. When we have cultivated a friendship with someone, the risk is greater than approaching a stranger because you actually have something to lose. If you get cussed out or flipped off (or the cultural equivalents elsewhere) by a complete stranger, you're not going to go pout in a nearby Starbucks. In fact, you might even tell that story to your friends back home and laugh! But if you get cussed out by a friend who you've known for years because they felt you were trying to impose your faith on them, it's an entirely different experience. A lot of Christians, myself included, are scared of what reaction we might incite from a friend or relative when we approach them with the Gospel because we've seen others get rejected and heartbroken again and again. Despite understanding the gravity and beauty of the Gospel message, it's a daunting experience.
Do you think you're ready to risk it all for the sake of the Gospel? It doesn't have to be in the Colosseum. It could be in your own backyard. The backyard that doesn't come with a dinner-party story. The one you have to keep coming home to despite how hellish the last two weeks were. The one that piles up with bills, workweeks and meetings and, oh yeah... relationships to risk.