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.