People sometimes ask me: “Why not just do mission work in your own community instead of traveling across the country or overseas?”And then the person asking reminds me that there is plenty to do close to home. I usually respond by acknowledging that there IS plenty to do in our local area and that I will be helping out at a neighborhood food shelf on Friday. Then I ask: “Why don’t you join me?” Responses are varied, as you can imagine. For some, I find, it’s a legitimate question. For others, it can be an excuse for inaction.
I have found over the years that most often, those who help with a local mission effort and those who go farther away to assist are generally the same people. Why is that? It’s because they have a heart for the physical and spiritual needs of others and are excited about being the hands and feet of Jesus in meeting those needs, wherever they might be.
It’s been said—and I agree—that mission starts at home. It’s also true that “home is where the heart is.” Where our hearts are moved to help others is where God is calling us to get involved, and where our hearts are moved is determined by God, not by geography and not by someone else’s view of what we should be doing. One person can be moved to feed the hungry of Africa, another to tutor a child in a local elementary school, another to fight an injustice.
Following God’s prompting of concern for others is a spiritual affair. Those who are IN Christ have the grounding to go out and BE Christ in myriad ways. The two are linked—two sides of the same coin, if you will. Being in Christ means God is going to point out some situations where our efforts can make a difference in healing a broken world. Many times, those situations are not what, where, or when we had expected. If we find ourselves in a place we never thought we’d be, and doing things we never thought we’d do, at a time we didn’t think it was possible, we can be reasonably sure that it’s God’s will. To quote the Apostle Paul in Philippians 2:12, all of this is frequently worked out “with fear and trembling.”
One thing we can be sure of, though, is that wherever and whenever we are called to serve God, God is already working there—working to preach good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for prisoners, give sight to the blind, and free the oppressed, as Jesus says in Luke 4. So just how we are called to do this work is also up to God. God has a plan, is working the plan, and is calling us to be part of it. We are not the architect or even the manager of the plan. I don’t know about you, but as a person who likes to be in charge, I often get tripped up here.
Are we willing to put ourselves in God’s hands and trust God with what may lie ahead? Are we willing to allow our hearts to be moved by the physical and spiritual needs of this world? Are we willing to help free those who are captive to injustice? Are we willing to step out in ways we previously thought impossible? It’s usually not easy. The shepherds, themselves, feared and trembled. Too often, I admit, I’ve maintained a concerted effort to try to remain in the dark about these things. But it’s a new season. “Arise, shine, for your light has come” (Isaiah 60:1).
Rev. Lyndy Zabel is director of missional impact for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church