God has taken me far and wide in His service. I’ve been blessed to spend time in remote villages in Brazil and Honduras, the streets of Paris and London, big cities and rural villages in Tanzania and Nigeria, and communities all across America, including a recent mission trip with a group of young people to an Indian reservation in Oklahoma. I’ve dined in the Ritz in Paris and a thatch-roofed hut in a village that had never before been visited by an outsider. I’ve sat behind Billy Graham’s private desk and behind natives in dugout canoes; preached in opulent American sanctuaries and an overcrowded Third World prison; jetted in First Class and been sandwiched in rundown, foreign taxicabs. And along the way, I’ve been privileged to get to know presidents, governors, celebrities and billionaires … and indigents, addicts, lepers and hardened criminals.
Even as I write this, recounting these adventures feels like watching Forrest Gump share his life story. I never set out to travel or to experience all that I have; it’s only by God’s grace and good pleasure that I’ve witnessed so much of this world and met so many interesting people. Along the way, I’ve done my best to extract every bit of knowledge and wisdom from these experiences, and now I feel burdened to share as much as I can of what I’ve learned with others.
In my missionary travels, one thing I’ve seen over and over again is the tragic disconnect of American elitism. Don’t get me wrong – I’m proud to be an American, and I am thankful for our nation’s relative freedom, security, prosperity and Godly heritage. But sadly, it seems we American Christians – and the people we seek to reach – are deceived into thinking our material prosperity is somehow akin to godliness. It’s like everyone thinks we have it all figured out, and that our ways are the best ways, in every way. As a result, folks around the world tend to be drawn to us like moths to a flame. They generally come with their hands out, and we’re generally way too eager to fill them with stuff – and then consider our missionary work done.
Our money. Our technology. Our buildings. The way we do “church.” All these are craved by the “have nots,” who tend to think, like a cow straining for the “greener” grass on the other side of the fence, that material things and empty religion hold any real value.
Let me tell you, it’s true. The first thing you notice when you visit an impoverished area of the world – including here within our own borders – is all the things they lack that we take for granted. But if you spend enough time there, you begin to see the opposite – the things they take for granted that we lack. And when you step back and look at it all in perspective, you find that, in every important way, we’ve got our whole value system upside down. Because the society the world calls “rich” is one of the most impoverished in the world in the things that matter most – and the “poor” of this world are some of the wealthiest in every important way.
I just got back from a 3-week trip to Southern Nigeria. It is very similar to the other Third World countries I’ve visited. Every Christian I spoke with there has experienced and witnessed countless, authentic miracles. Try finding a mainstream American Christian who has seen one. The people in their “poor” culture put God first, value family, honor their elders, crave knowledge, walk with dignity and respect, and work tenaciously for a better tomorrow. (I visited a large, public, state university, and you know what? In every possible way, it was more of a Christian school than any “Christian” school I’ve ever seen in America!)
Sadly, these are mainly far-out, abstract “ideals” for Americans – and no longer the bedrock values upon which our culture is built.
And even sadder, they seem to think that if only we could be more like America, then everything will all be better.
Yet saddest of all is that we tend to think the same way, too! So our missionary goal is to export “Americanism” – the worship of stuff; the pursuit of physical comfort and stimulation above all else; the hollow sensational, showmanship of our churchianity.
Sometimes I feel like screaming, “STOP! We’ve got it all wrong!” We’re the ones who need missionaries from there! We need to go there with our ears open and lips closed. THEY have what WE need, and not the other way around!
In my most recent mission trips, some simple truths have begun to crystallize in my mind. Everywhere I go, and everyone I meet, all share the same needs – and the same solution to their ills:
No matter who they are, their potential is inborn. It’s not something you or I can give them; it is a gift of God alone. Every single human being has the opportunity to be adopted as a full offspring and heir of the Creator and King of the Universe. They have royal blood and birthright! The very best thing we can do is simply recognize that in them. How do you recognize royalty? With honor and respect! These – nothing more, and nothing less – are the keys to unlocking their full potential. They cost us nothing, and yet we tend to find them the hardest to give.
Our Provider is their Provider, too. There’s not one thing you can give them that God can’t give them better and more abundantly. The same promise applies to them as to you: If they seek first His Kingdom and righteousness, He will give them everything they need, every single day. Of course, if God puts on your heart to give something – money or other – do it joyfully, only give credit where it’s due, and don’t go beyond His leading. Just remember, they don’t need another thing, they need the King! Introduce them, and He’ll take it from there!
They sure as heck don’t need to be indoctrinated into our traditions. Their unique way of doing “church” – whether it be through dancing to drums, or seemingly chaotic celebrations, or praying in sweat lodges – so long as it’s Christ-centered and Spirit led – may very well be superior to what you and I have come to call “church.” Once again, open your ears and close your mouth. You may very well learn something. If our forefathers had done this, our world would be a brighter place today.
Peace, joy and love are fruits of the Spirit, not byproducts of any material things. And they’re contagious! Just walk the path the Lord lays before you, step by step, and these things will be manifest in and around you.
Their best path forward is the one led by the Spirit. It’s not according to the “American Way,” because, as a nation, we’ve lost our way. Introduce them to the Father through the Son, and help them hear the voice of the Spirit, and you’ll be equipping them for an incredible destiny.
The best thing of all is, you don’t need to be rich, or eloquent, or brave to forever change the world. You don’t even need to be far from home. Don’t let your abundance — or your lack! – get in the way. Wherever you’re from, and whatever you have, “as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.” (Romans 8:14). And when all is said and done, that’s all that really matters.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!