Missions Sunday

Today is Missions Sunday at our little church. I try not to use my writing to talk much about the deep issues of faith and matters of the Kingdom. It’s never been my purpose here to preach to the masses, and by masses, I mean all 147 of you who are faithful to read the things I put in print.

But today I’m taking a chance. I’m not here to tell anybody how to live their lives, only to tell you a little something about some of the people we met today.

But first.

It’s a Sunday evening and there’s a 12-year-old boy squirming in a church pew about three rows back. Black horn-rimmed glasses. A buzz cut on the sides and a cowlick on top. That’s me.

I’d rather be at home watching The Wonderful World of Disney on TV. It’s not fair. Where the Red Fern Grows is the feature movie tonight and I have to be sitting here minding my manners in church.

Tonight, a special missionary guest is going to fascinate us with his stories about his work among the tribal people who live along the Amazon River. Clint Thomas disappeared into the jungle with his wife and family long ago with little more than a Bible and the white skin God gave him.

His wife is dressed in odd looking clothes, the official dress of the people native to their mission. Although, based on the pictures, her clothes look more like a Simplicity dress pattern from the Singer store with an Amazonian flare.

Mr. Thomas is working his way through the Kodak slides. He has several show-and-tell pieces to supplement his presentation. He holds up an authentic tribal face mask, and an authentic tribal spear, and an authentic tribal bowl.

His wife gives us lessons in the authentic tribal dialect. None of us knows for sure if this is a real language or not. But she is convincing.

“Shu-ah-nee,” she says. “This is a common greeting where we live, like Good Morning.”

We all try to repeat her vocalizations with southern accents.

“Shu-ah-nee ah-poka-wanda.” She’s lost us. “This is ‘good morning, I’d like fries with my cheeseburger.’” I have no idea, but that is the way a 12-year-old thinks.

For years, this was my impression of life as a missionary. Some far away foreign place without cheeseburgers and without TV. A person gets a post card from God and immediately he packs a bag for a mysterious destination where the clothes are scant, and the food is strange, and his bedroom is a grass hut in the middle of the jungle.

We’ve come a long way.

Nobody brought any Kodak slides today. In all, there are about 15 different missions represented with displays set up in our main hall. Some are from faraway places like Zimbabwe, or Oaxaca, or the Philippines. A few of them are from right around the corner in our own area.

They represent a wide range of hope for all kinds of people. College kids who are still trying to figure out who and what they want to be in this life. Young mothers who need help with the birth of their child because they don’t have anywhere else to turn. Neighborhood kids who, believe it or not, drop out of school in the fourth grade and who have little chance of having a life unless someone intervenes. Not overseas, but only 3 miles as a crow flies from our church doors.

Meet Carrie, from Truth Spring Academy. Her husband and she moved into one of the crime-ridden neighborhoods of Columbus 15 years ago to see if they could make a difference. This is an area of town most people avoid. I’m one of them.

She stood up in our service to give her three-minute talk. “We decided a long time ago that if we didn’t live in this neighborhood, we wouldn’t have a voice.”

Today they have a state certified private school. “If a child can walk in our front door, we find a way to cover his tuition.”

They also have an agreement with the local trade school to teach adults trade skills. They are buying old, dilapidated houses in the neighborhood, driving out the drugs and prostitution, and using the local students in the construction classes to rebuild these houses so that neighborhood families will have some place to live.

Next is Andy. His son, Drew, who is 20, was diagnosed with autism when he was two years old. “My wife and I have been faced with some pretty difficult days over the years,” Andy says to us. “But there have been so many blessings, too, that come with having Drew as our son.”

He goes on. “The Adaptive Sports ministry here has been one of those blessings. We just can’t say enough how grateful we are for what this means to our son.”

A video plays up on the big screen. There’s a college over in the Philippines where we’ve made a few long-distance friends. Early last spring a Tsunami came right through the middle of their city and destroyed almost everything standing. Roofs gone. Buildings collapsed. The power grid twisted to the ground. Food sources nonexistent.

We were able to send a little money from our comfortable chairs at home.

In this video, there are students talking to us about how God is good and how grateful they are to be back in school. Young faces are looking at us. In broken English they are thanking this little church for helping them get their homes back, get their school back, and get their lives back. You could have heard a pin drop.

All the short speeches came to an end. If nothing else had been said, the words already spoken would have been enough.

But, it’s not church unless there’s a sermon.

Our friend, Al, Director of the mission in Zimbabwe, stands to bring the main message of the morning. He says, “There are two kinds of Christians in the church. Those who go to the mission field, and those who send them.” He said it much more eloquently than that, but you get the point.

What he means is this. Maybe we’re not all cut out for the work in the trenches. Personally, I can’t see myself living anywhere but good old Harris County, Georgia. I’ve been on a few short mission trips, which means I’ve traveled to places so unlike home that I have a deep appreciation for flush toilets and taco trucks and thermostats.

But I have resources. I have time. There are ways for me to be a part of something much bigger. More far-reaching. A part of something that, as Carrie said, makes a difference. I can be the guy to help send the guy or gal who can go.

Some say that the Church is irrelevant. The message is old news. The mission serves no purpose. The Church has nothing to offer that matters.

Well, I’m gonna use my little pulpit here to say, “I beg to differ.”

Just ask the students in Cebu, or the kids from Truth Spring Academy.

Better yet just ask Drew.