No prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown

I sometimes sit in church and wonder why we spend so much money, raise so much money, commit to so much for countries so far away.  I sometimes sit and wonder why we have services geared to slide-shows, prayers, video presentations, homecoming talks from those who have been to those far away countries.

I have nothing against missionaries. I have nothing against giving money and/or time.  We should be helping these poor oppressed people – the bible says so.  And my annual income is way bigger than these poor foreign oppressed people.  So I can use my wallet.  And in thanks for “my wallet” I get to see a really lovely bunch of photos and a slick video presentation some way down the road.

I remember being in church when one such talk/presentation had concluded. After thanking the person for their hard work and lovely pictures, the worship leader made a throwaway comment with a smile – that nothing that exciting and rewarding would ever happen in our own small town.  If there is such a thing as righteous anger – that is what went through me right then.

(if not – then it was just anger)

And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way. Luke 4:24-30

Being a “missionary” in your “own small town” is just as needed – just as necessary – just not as well-funded.  I know that locally we have all sorts of “complex issues” that the dusty peeps do not: we have paid our taxes so the council can do “all that”, we have federal governments, we have welfare, we have local charities, we have so much and so many doing “all of that” locally.  Unlike those poor foreign oppressed people.  The ones who have their own governments, their own administrative areas, their own taxes, their own charities, their own …

So just why do we embrace the myth: that these people dusty peeps far away are somehow less than us?  And why do we buy in to the other myth: that locally someone else is doing “all that” so we don’t need to?  And why do we usually tag that with: if “they” had anything about them they would pick themselves up and make a go of things – there is plenty of support available (and anyway “they” are so smelly and so intimidating – so probably best left to the professionals)!

I am not advocating with-holding.  I am advocating embracing.  I am advocating NOT differentiating.  I am advocating NOT passing by on the other side.  I am suggesting that there is a payback and gratification from those distant and multi-coloured smiling faces (always with lovely white teeth!).  I am suggesting we have our reward for every penny of support each time we see a smiling face on the big screen and go “Awwwww!”

But I am asking why the need for a payback – is that why we give? And why the need for distance – these countries so far away?  And just why the need for just wallets – why is that the answer?

Because saying hello to a rough sleeper doesn’t need my wallet – just some time sitting with them.  Saying hello to a young adult needs me to simply share their space.  Saying hello to anyone locally only requires some time.  And something really important – something money cannot do: Listening – affectionate, respectful, and honest interested “listening”.

Because all these foreign peeps have to accept our brand of God providing this wonderful aid.  The local peeps do not.  And the local peeps are not going to provide grateful white teeth smiling back at our cameras.  So the verses this morning resonate.  I am inviting each of us with God in hearts to lose our fear of being hurled “off the cliff” locally. I am asking that connecting with someone in need of simple human contact is not “being a prophet” at all.  I am suggesting simple and honest love.   Unless unconditional love excludes those we live with.

And two final thoughts.

Some years ago, our daughter spent a few weeks at an orphanage far away.  She saved up her money.  She travelled for a full day in various planes and buses.  She finally arrived.  And she came back with loads of memories and loads of smiling faces and white teeth pictures.  And she came back with one profound observation.

That volunteers “got in the way” out there.  That this “volunteering” was geared to raising money.  And the “profit” made on each volunteer was their way of fundraising.  And if the volunteers felt a little surplus to requirements out there – well, that was an acceptable cost.  Our daughter commented she would have helped more by simply donating a bunch of cash to the local initiatives out there (in this dusty peeps land) and staying at home.

And finally, our son goes backpacking to some of these foreign oppressed peeps. He saves his money/holiday allowance from his well paid job.  He loves travelling.  He donates nothing.  He provides no aid.  He does not even take God with him.  Just a backpack, camera, and money to get by for a month or so. But the pictures and videos that he brings back?  Same smiling faces, same white teeth, same “Awwwww!”… same everything.  Almost.

I am not a prophet.  And these verses were not written about my small town.  And most importantly they were NOT written to excuse me from anything.

19 thoughts on “No prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown

  1. Ha. Good point Paul.

    Sometimes the best mission field is a block away.

    Funny you wrote this. I love international missions by the way. We support many, and I am all for that. But, an hour away, in our largest city lays a mission field largely untapped and unexplored. And, it has been that way since most of the churches fled to the suburbs decades ago.

    To make it more personal. I don’t nee a budget to be a missionary to my next door neighbor, I just have to go over there. Problem is, that actually requires ME to to it.

    I appreciated this thought.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. When I was a kid we were encouraged to collect in our neighborhoods for UNICEF, to help the children in poor countries that had no clean water, medicine, food, etc. 50 years later I see the same ads on television, and I wonder, have we done anything? Nothing in the countries has changed. I’m not being cold, I’m just wondering…did I do any good, or did the money disappear into some vast sink hole.

    I find the same here. My wife’s church collects food, clothing, furniture, etc., for Appalachia, are we making a difference, or will the situation be the same 50 years from now? Are we doing any good, or is what we are doing the wrong thing?

    Jesus said, “the poor you will have with you always.”

    Locally, I help out with the local food bank, and I see the changes it makes in their lives. Some of the people are direct neighbors, some further away, but still in the local community. I see people come onto the roles, and others leave as things get better. Some never leave because things never get better. I used to volunteer for Meals on Wheels, and saw the difference it made for people who had no one to help. Locally MoW shut down because it was church run and govt funded, and the Separation people objected…but they didn’t pick up the job when the funding was shut off.

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    • “Are we doing any good, or is what we are doing the wrong thing?”

      Mike, I am sure many would echo your questions. I have and do. And yet … I see adults who were once youngsters. I don’t know them nor they me. Yet a number have passed by the “bus in the cold carpark” we help with and have told us how it was an important part of their younger years – how it made a difference – and how they so glad to see it is still there for others. I have spoken to rough sleepers who admit they have a drink and become loud and aggressive – full of anger. Yet listening to them they are just like me – just making decisions like I do – and with consequences I have been spared from (so far).

      And I wonder – just because we do not “bring them to Lord”, do not see them in church, do not get payback on their souls or ours there and then – why do we (seem to) so often prioritise downwards? I too struggle with logical answers.

      Yet I have read too much history where one man or one woman did something totally insignificant – and yet started a landslide of change. I read my Bible and see the same. And if my landslide is merely a few grains of sand blowing in the wind? I would want to do it anyway.

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      • Jesus said to feed and cloth the poor, visit the sick and those in prisons…He never said convert them.

        I do not question helping, just some times I wonder if we could be helping in a better way. Is there a more lasting way to help, than doing the same thing in the same places, year after year, with no permanent improvements.

        I see this commercial occasionally, send money to help with a lack of pure water, and I can’t help wondering if the money is being used to provide bottles of water as he shows, or would it be better spent building a treatment facility?

        Liked by 2 people

        • What wonderful ponders! Thank you.

          I read (occasionally) about small personal loans. Funnelled through local “on site” organisations. In global fundraising terms – a few pennies. Yet empowering individuals to create and build their own creations and buildings. I think some do “go down the pan” – because the stories I read are always the successes. Makes for better PR I guess. Yet how much “charity” goes down the pan year after year. Handouts that make for great fundraising tv, yet do not empower, do not free, do not create much – apart from reliance and expectation. I have read of the “Disasters Roadshow” – rolling in to town and rolling out to the next disaster.

          Interesting comment: “He never said convert them” – I think we have lost sight of that. And not just convert them to our God – convert them to our way of thinking and living.

          Answers? My brain is very small. All it says is stop giving what is easy for us (even though that is work) – and “listen” more. Less “wallet” and more love – real love – that takes risks – that empowers – that wants to see others succeed. Maybe.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Paul. But as a missionary for over 26 years in Italy, from my point of view, what you’ve actually done is pinpoint some of the failures in “missions thinking.” Too often missions has been mistaken for humanitarian work. Many organizations, like UNICEF, the Coast Guard, etc., take help and relief aid. But that is NOT missions.

    Missions is, as Jesus commanded: Preaching the Gospel and making disciples. So yes, missionaries are needed everywhere. And actually, we are all missionaries every day, as soon as we open our eyes.

    But foreign missionaries often need and receive support because #1 They often cannot legally work in the nation where they are serving #2 Their language skills are sometmes not yet good enough to enable them to work there. #3 It would often be nearly criminal to take a job from such desperately needy people. #4 Others, like us, can’t quite make it on the income they earn through their jobs – because the cost of living is so much higher where we’re serving.

    Of course, those working in poor nations must also offer material help, and that does take extra funds.

    But the point I think we need to keep in mind is that MANY around the world are dying without ever hearing a clear presentation of the Gospel. Here in Italy alone we have over 30,000 towns who have no Gospel witness whatsoever. These are the burdens we believe God wants us all to get a vision for. Both at home and abroad.

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    • Sheila thank you. I love that word “but” – it took me a night’s sleep to get beyond the but.

      And this morning I am not sure what you see in the above words that prompt the but. I am not sure where the word “mission” comes from. And I welcome any perspective and context that widens my own experience and those our Lord has brought me. But one phrase puzzles me.

      If after 26 years of missionary work, there are “30,000 towns who have no Gospel witness whatsoever” – where are the disciples? Where is the one? The one He brings and then moves away to those towns? Who makes another one who moves away to another town? Maybe my brain is too small to understand these things (and the questions are not intended to accuse). I am simply curious.

      Why do we see burdens so often?

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  4. Thanks Paul. I beg your pardon. Perhaps I misunderstood you. Your post, to me, seemed to be questioning why foreign missions requires support. I was simply trying to offer a perspective on that line of thought.

    I used the word “mission” because a missionary is a person sent out with mission (according to my understanding). Whether he is “sent out” to his next door neighbor or across the world – as a “missionary” he would have a mission, right?

    And because, from what I’ve seen, missionary work is often linked to feeding the starving, helping the poor, etc. Which are, of course, all valid, as Christ calls us to give and help when able. But that is not always part of missionary work. We are not involved in that. Does that make us less as missionaries?

    And yes, Paul, my brain also has a hard time wrapping around the idea of thousands (millions even, around the world) who stil haven’t heard. In fact, that is our particular burden here in Italy. We have planted two churches here, and have left them in the hands of national pastors.

    We now live in an area with NO disciples. We have always encouraged our disciples and other Italian brethren to do the same. And we would appreciate prayer that the Lord would motivate Italian believers to do this!

    I think we’re really on the same page. We have always said opening your wallet is not the greatest thing to do for missions/missionaries. What we (personally) need most is prayer. That is what will change hearts, ignite believers, and really bring about lasting change in our nation.

    And, while not wishing to criticize, short-term missions to us seems ineffective, and a poor use of funds. Being a missionary (I think) means going and preaching the Gospel. And sticking around to make disciples. I don’t see how to accomplish that with a two-week missions trip.

    Thanks for your time, patience, and perspective. It’s so helpful for us to know what the folks “back home” are thinking and seeing.

    God bless, and have a wonderful day, Sheila

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Sheila – thank you. Back home for me is England. The internet helps “make disciples of all nations” enormously! 🙂

      “I think we’re really on the same page.” I would say so.

      Rather than question giving, it was the “I have given – job done” mentality I do question. Direct debit and standing order seemingly the solution for so many in this “make disciples of all nations”. Maybe because “our” nation is a Christian nation already – job done.

      Side note – my god-father was a missionary for many years. When he returned home he was treated like a conquering hero – talks, meals, centre of attention. I love him – he is wonderful man, and his family have travelled with him for many years – not a “solo occupation” for a family. The person referred to in the post above got the same “star treatment” when they came home after a few weeks volunteering.

      I also see a lot of Christian Aid, Shoebox Mission, and other “missions” (someone mentioned last night that you cannot go through church doors without a collection box or plate or saucer being rattled somewhere). There seems to be a money mind-set firmly established as the western “Christian way”. So, yes, I do see those Christians missions feeding and helping the poor starving foreigners – all they ask is that you see our branded God is doing this for you – and in some cases all we ask is you come along to our branded God church (to show your gratitude).

      Which is why I ponder “wallet discipling” – which seems to put on a pedestal those who are being funded and means those funding are fulfilled in funding. And those on the other side are encouraged to make that jump and join our side. And the burden continues!

      Final thought – I find an intense hunger for those “sleepwalking” with God and church (mainly church) here in the West. A hunger to be free of how to worship, how to praise, how to be a good (branded) Christian. A hunger for deep and present relationship with a living loving (insert whatever your name for “God”). A freedom to grow personally, to be allowed not to fear, to be allowed to be safe.

      As you say – that takes time – that is relationship – and that allows each to be open to their God – and then He gets stuck in and we are all “making disciples.”

      (always blows my mind!) 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks Paul! Yes, I did misunderstand your post, or at least the part relating to giving. Guess my English is getting pretty bad! I didn’t know you home for you is England, but I think a lot of the mentalities seem similar. So your perspective, for me, is much appreciated. We often feel out of touch with what’s going on else where. And trust me, I did not mean my comment as criticism or to present controversy. I honestly just do not understand sometimes what’s going on in the Anglo-Saxon churches (USA, Great Britain, Australia). It’s very different from what we left and sometimes hard for me to wrap my head around! But yes, money is never “our all”. It’s just a starting place. And relationship, both with the Father, with others, and all the needy around us is paramount!
        Much love in Christ to you, dear Brother Paul. And I’m glad we’re on the same page! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • Sheila – a massive Thank you for this extended “comment conversation”. I always find that such conversations make my “labels” a little more itchy. And that is a great thing.

          And a suggestion: would you accept an invitation to write a piece as a contributor for this blog site? Your comment above: “I honestly just do not understand sometimes what’s going on in the Anglo-Saxon churches (USA, Great Britain, Australia). It’s very different from what we left and sometimes hard for me to wrap my head around!” makes me wonder what that might generate.

          I suspect it would stir quite a profound comment conversation we would all find valuable in the context of “church”.

          (simply let me know and if, yes, I will get in touch by email)

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