Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Where are the rural missionaries?

I love what God is doing in the cities, and I love the city. I can easily see myself happily living in New York or Chicago or San Francisco -- or even London. That's not going to happen though since our family of four couldn't remotely afford to live in any of those places (we can barely afford to live in West Palm Beach). The missiologists tell us that to fulfill the Great Commission the church needs to be moving en masse into the global metropolises, planting churches and putting down roots. To reach the people you have to go where they are, and we are increasingly an urbanized planet. I get that. And I agree with the missional focus on the cities. I love the ministry of Tim Keller and others! But God doesn't want/need all of us to be missionaries to the city.

Damaris Zehner, a resident of rural western Indiana, has written a beautiful eloquent plea for Christians to move into languishing communities like her's. Not for a month, or a year, but for a lifetime. Here's an excerpt from her piece A New Missions Field:

Mission work is not just church planting. Yes, rural people need a good church, but nowadays even good churches are filled with retirees; younger people, if they work at all, work an hour away, late shifts and early shifts, and become disconnected from their community. Many young people don’t work; it’s cheaper to live on food stamps out here than in the cities, and frankly, people can do pretty much anything they want in their old trailers in the woods – meth labs are competing with farming in most Midwestern rural areas. So yes, if you want grittiness and drama on your mission field, you can find it here: drug problems, broken families, teen pregnancies, hopeless lives – there is work for missionaries in these little towns and scope for active churches to get involved.

I know that running a doctor’s office or grocery store in rural America isn’t typically considered missions by many Christians. But if caring for people’s daily needs is a means of mission work in Burkina Faso, why not here? Many of the needs are the same, and rural Americans, like Burkinabes, will respond to people who are humbly serving as the face and hands of Christ.

Zehner goes on to describe how running a local grocery store (something her town no longer has) could be an outpost of "genuine Christian presence" in areas where hope and gospel witness are in short supply. God loves the cities, but he loves the small towns too. Perhaps some of us need to be moving back to the country. Not as an escape, but as a mission.

Read the whole thing!

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