FeelMyFaith.com

Creative Biblical content at the intersection of life and faith.

Mission My Town, From Rodney Calfee of the Upstream Collective

In writing a series of posts on how mission trips help us think missionaly in our hometown, I asked my friend Rodney Calfee to contribute.  Rodney is an amazing worship leader and one of the most progressive thinkers on connecting local churches to missions that I know.  Rodney works with an, the Upstream Collective, an organization committed to doing the very thing this series of posts is about - taking people on cross-cultural mission trips to help them be more missional at home.  I asked Rodney to share a few things he had learned along the way:

_____________________


It was a short-term trip to Taipei, Taiwan that changed things for me. Those 10 days exposed me to truths about mission I had never considered. They also exposed me to truths about myself I had never considered. That particular trip literally helped me understand my own identity, which changed the way I think about why I am here (both literally “here” in Birmingham, AL and ethereally “here” - alive and walking around). 

On my first major foray into overseas mission, I got lost in literally the worst part of town in a huge foreign city whose language I did not speak. I was with a group of 12 or so folks in the “red light” district of Taipei learning about some missionaries who were working within the brothels there. There were several huge street markets where we were and there were people everywhere. I was taking some video and one of the guys in the group pointed out a particularly cool shot to try to get on camera. It was a nice shot, so I went to get it. After filming for a couple of minutes, I turned around to begin to celebrate the awards we would certainly win for the masterful work we had just done, only to find a sea of Taiwanese people. 

All my friends were gone. I remained there. Utterly alone. In a city of millions speaking a language I did not know. I couldn’t read a sign or say anything useful. For a moment, I was lost and scared out of my mind. I pulled myself together and wandered the area for about an hour or so looking for some sign, any sign, of my friends. I finally found a police officer who spoke broken English. He drug me into a shop and began talking with the shopkeepers who began searching the internet looking for my hotel. They hailed a cab, put me inside, said something in Mandarin to the driver, and off we went. Where? I had no clue. I was just along for the ride. 

After a brief stop at the wrong hotel, a conversation with a kind concierge, and a shocking revelation that I should not have talked to the police in that area of town (I apparently found the one officer in that area that was taking the night off from being corrupt- I was told I should have found a gang member instead. Comforting...), I finally made it back to my hotel and my friends. But that night began a journey for me; one that has taught me what it means to be an outsider, and why that matters.

If I could narrow down a “top 3 things” I have learned through short-term mission that have effected the way I do mission locally, it would be these:

1. Culture is critical. There is no such thing as acultural. Many people have taught that the Gospel is simply some words we say; the same words in any culture. They believe that mission is simply translating those same words into a new language and speaking them to the people in a certain place. The problem is that people do not live in a cultural vacuum. People are products of the culture in which they live. Their worldview is shaped by that culture. 

The Gospel certainly is an unchanging truth, unshaped by culture; but the way we speak about it must be shaped by the culture of the ones to whom it is spoken. Mission must be incarnational. It was necessary for Christ to come to us and become like us in order for us to relate to the gospel of the Kingdom. In the same way that He came, He has sent us out (John 20.21) to become like others so that we can live the character of His Kingdom in ways that they understand. 

2. All mission is cross-cultural. If we believe that culture shapes the way we speak about and live the character of the Kingdom, then we must also believe that it effects every iteration of our efforts. When we follow Jesus, we give allegiance to a kingdom with its own culture, characteristics, and norms, all of which are in opposition to those of the kingdoms of this world. We become strangers and aliens - outsiders to the Kingdoms of this world (Heb 11.13, 1 Ptr 2.11). Our worldview is different. Our character is different. Our culture is different. Even in our own hometowns, in the places we grew up, and in the cultures we know so well, we are outsiders. You may be just like the people around you, culturally (wear the same clothes, have the same hobbies, employ the same crazy slang/accent); but if you follow Jesus and they do not, you are an outsider. You belong to a different culture; the one in which you currently reside is not your home. So for you to live on mission even in your hometown is a cross-cultural endeavor. You need to think like a cross-cultural missionary. You are one. 

3. Mission is not something you do; it is who you are. It is an identity. Paul, speaking of our earthly bodies in 2 Cor 5, says that they are temporary. Just a tent. Our real home is not here. But we are here temporarily to persuade others; to reconcile them to God. He says that when we follow Jesus, the old things pass away, and we are made new. He then gives a name to the new creation that we become - ambassador (5.17-20). All who follow Jesus are ambassadors- representatives who live among a foreign people representing the character of God’s Kingdom here on earth. 

Ambassador-ship is not something you do. It is something you are. Think of it- an ambassador doesn’t live in another country and work a 9-5 job. An ambassador lives the very best of the country (kingdom) that is home for him in full view of a foreign people. People who see American ambassadors in foreign countries see them as just that - Americans. That is their identity. Their mission in those countries is to represent America well as Americans. That is not a job, it is an identity. 

All the same, neither is mission a job for us. Our mission is to be representatives of God’s Kingdom in whatever places He has sent us, whether in our hometowns or around the world. You are an ambassador- a missionary - right where you are. 

Know that. You are a missionary. 

Understand the unchanging Gospel and “bear witness” to the Light that has overcome the darkness. Understand the culture in which you have been placed and live the culture of the Kingdom in full view of the people there. That is who you are...


Rodney Calfee is a part of the Upstream Collective, a group of leaders and churches committed to thinking and acting like missionaries locally and globally. Learn more at theupstreamcollective.org. He lives as a missionary in Birmingham, AL with his wife and 3 daughters. 
Continue reading
338 Hits
0 Comments

Mission My Town, Thinking Culturally

continued from part 1, Mission My Town

How do mission trips help me become a better missionary in my town?

Mission Trips Help Me Think Culturally

I can’t remember where I read it, but the author defined culture as, “The water in which we swim.”  As you may guess, his metaphor was that of a fish. The fish becomes so accustomed to water he is oblivious to the fact that it is there.  We do the same thing with air.  We also become oblivious to our own culture - until we are exposed to a different one!
The first mission trip I ever took was to Russia.  I lost six pounds because I don’t eat cow tongue.  It was the first time in my life I needed a translator just to help me do simple things.  It was also the first time in my life I realized that common mannerisms and gestures I use everyday may be highly offensive, sexually provocative, or explicitly crude in another culture (that is a story for another day).  At the time, going to Russia helped me to realize that not everyone grew up watching the Dukes of Hazard, addresses other people as “y’all”, or knows what a Herschel Walker is.
Mission trips help you realize you are a cultural product, an international anomaly, an alien everywhere else but home.  But there is a positive reverse effect.  By seeing what an alien you are in other worlds, you begin to slowly begin see the water in which you swim.  You see the culture of home.  
Cross-cultural missionaries invest years trying to cross cultural barriers.  At home, you are already way past the line.  You swim in your world without thinking about it.  But think about it.  Think about what makes your town tick?  What are its shaping historical influences?  What are your town’s major events?  Who runs the sports leagues?  Who owns the local diner?  Where do the sages of the community eat breakfast (you know what I mean, the table of old men who know everything about everybody)!  If you want to reach your town for Christ - eat pancakes with its tribal rulers - the dudes with the gossip!   
On mission trips we gawk and awe at other cultures.  We study them.  In some respects we pompously judge them laughing at their quirks and pointing out their flaws.  But the mission trip ultimately turns our gawking at other lands into observations of our own.  Missionaries try to not only overcome cultural barriers, but they try to find veins within a culture in which the gospel will freely flow.  What are those cultural veins in “my town?”
to be continued . . .
Continue reading
298 Hits
0 Comments

Mission My Town


I have been on numerous mission trips.  I have never been on one in which I was not profoundly changed.  Each of them have left markers in my spiritual walk that have shaped me toward Christ-likeness.  That said, I do not want my following comments to be a condemnation of the “mission trip.”  But I must be honest, currently, I am doing nothing in any of the cities to which I have been whether it be in the way of missions support, partnership, or ongoing work.  Not that I haven’t tried.  In every place I have been I had a passion to support and to return, but I am currently batting .000.  I have yet to return.  I have no ongoing relationship with any of the missionaries, planters, or pastors in those locations.    It is no one’s fault.  Others have made ongoing, fruitful connections, but I have yet to do so.  This does not mean I am not appreciative of what they have added to my life, nor does it mean I fail to pray for them.  It just means, people are busy.  Pastors, missionaries, and church planters are all well intentioned people, but staying connected (sort of like breaking up), it is hard to do.
Again, this does not mean that I think mission trips are a total waste of time.  In fact, I think they make an incalculable contribution to our souls; far greater than the money or time we invest in them.  Mission trips, especially cross-cultural ones, help us expand our vision for the Kingdom of God.  They convict us at the point of selfishness.  They help us become better stewards of our resources, wasting less and investing more in the spread of the gospel.  They challenge our calling.  They make us listen to the voice of God.  They expose our cultural blind spots.  They make us want to go again!
While all of this is profitable, for me, none of these positives sufficiently represent what is for me the most important point of mission trips.  Mission trips help me become a better missionary in my town.  
Allow me to make further clarification before I speak to missions in my town.  This is not a missional cop out statement.  Many people justify their lack of giving and going by pointing to the need of the gospel right around them.  The hypocrisy here is that while they say they realize it, they do nothing about it.  The end result is that they are missional nowhere.  What I want to challenge you to do is to go somewhere else, anywhere else.  Learn from missionaries in a cross cultural context how to be truly missonal.  Then come home and take a look around at your town through the lens of what you learned.  
Another end I want to avoid is the heresy some participate in in which we are only misisonal elsewhere.  Many people will spend great resources and time on mission trips, but are virtually invisible and ineffective in their own town.  This too is hypocritical and should not be so.  Missions is incarnational.  You do not go on “missions” as if the gospel is something you are to meet up with and start doing in another town.  The call of the gospel is global, universal, timeless - your zip code is not exempt.  
In any scenario, missions is a “where you are proposition.”  The thrust of the Great Commission is to baptize the nations and teach them all things Christ commanded, as you are going.  Christ never meant for missions to be scheduled.  He never meant for us to think of missions only in chunks of time, effort, and energy we call “trips.”  On “trips” we should go, but after “trips” we should not stop.  If anything we could say about this, we could say that mission trips should take us to another place in our town.  When we return we should not be in the same place we were when we departed; metaphorically speaking of course.
What I want to do is to encourage you to take a cross-cultural mission trip this year, if for no other reason than to be able to learn how to think missionally about your town.  Over the next few days I want to share with you what I have learned on mission trips that help me think missionally about my town?  
to be continued . . .

Continue reading
343 Hits
0 Comments

Off the Edge

“And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.” Leviticus 23:22

One of the ways God secured the welfare of the people was to command the farmers to stay away from the edges of the field. Live off of the center. Allow the needy to reap the edge.

We are living on the edge. Every penny is spent. We have no time. Life is demanding and at the end of the day, there is nothing left. Leviticus 23:22 is a call to pull back, to live off of the center. Determine what you need. Determine what is truly important. Leave the rest alone. Allow the needy to reap the edge.

When life becomes hectic we grow self absorbed. We use every ounce of energy, every penny, and every moment to serve self. There is no time to serve others. There is nothing left to give. When there are no edges left on our field those in need become inconveniences, interruptions to an already spent day.

Someone needs your time. Determine what is truly important. Live off the center. Allow someone else to reap the edge. Leave enough time in the day to serve, to visit, to listen, to talk.

Someone could use a meal. Fix a meal for your family with an edge, an extra portion to give a neighbor. If we were honest, most of us fix more food than we eat. We trash the edges. Don’t trash the edges, fix another plate. Give it away.

Budget your money to meet your needs. Use the edges to create opportunities to bless others. Save $2.73 per day, you will have $1,000 in a year. Go on a mission trip. Donate it to a cause. Help a hurting family.
Tags:
Continue reading
227 Hits
0 Comments