Posted on May 20, 2015.
My wife and I are going on our 20th year of service with Youth With A Mission. We have had both difficult and amazing experiences, some more rewarding than others. We have two teenage children that have grown up both abroad and in the US. People have often asked us what it was like living overseas for years. But I was recently asked what it was like being a “missionary” in Colorado.
First, a little bit of perspective. It was during our five year stint overseas in a post-communist, war-torn nation that we were challenged the most. The local people there were very resistant, not only to Christianity, but also to our home culture and nationality. We learned very quickly that we needed to show people that we were simply human, just like them.
It honestly took several years to get our neighbors to see us as a part of their local community. You see, they had been shown by the many other international workers that had come before us, that they were the means to an end. I actually had a local man tell me that he believed all organizations like ours came to their country for personal gain, and that every non-profit organization had a hidden agenda.
That really made me think. I had to ask myself, “Do we have a secret, hidden agenda?” Why were we even there? Of course, my answer to myself was that we wanted them to know Jesus and live a life in Him. After-all, we were there to bring good news! We had information that they needed! But were we trying to convert them into our religion, our spiritual culture and our way of life?
I started to ask myself how I measured missionary success. Do I measure it by number of salvations, bible study participants, or church members? It took a while, but after several years of ministry, it became clear to me. One afternoon, one of the neighborhood elders and I were chatting on the street. He asked me how long my family and I had lived among them in their neighborhood. I told him we had only been for three years. His response floored me. “Really?” He asked surprisingly, “It feels like you’ve lived here for 10 years.”
Yes! Finally! I felt that we had finally been accepted. He felt as if we were one of them.
That is what it was all about. It was about being a regular person, just like them. It took time, but when I dropped my elitist attitude, when I began to care for them as people rather than as “converts” or “targets”, when they actually felt loved, that’s when they saw Jesus in me. That was when I could say I had had a successful day. It was then that I learned to measure success by the smile I got back when I said hello to the elderly woman down the street, or when another neighbor actually would greet me before I could greet him.
What does all of this have to do with being a missionary in Colorado? Everything.
I find that serving in missions in the US is the same as serving overseas. Learn to be a good neighbor. Learn to invest in friendships with those who live around you without strings attached. After all, isn’t that what Jesus did? He calls us to love. And when we love people, they see Jesus.