Every Christmas the world revives a classic movie that stars my all time favorite character: George Bailey. George is the main character of the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. The reason I love George Bailey is because he’s a visionary, he’s humble, he’s bold, he defends the weak, he loves people, but most of all, his life begs the best question for every Christian, “Are you living in such a way that if you were to have never been born, your family, friends, and city would be different?” For George Bailey, they weren’t just a little different. They were completely different. His city didn’t just like him. It needed him.
“From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.” (Acts 17:26-27)
God intentionally marked the appointed time you live, in the specific city you live in, among the people you’re around, so that you’d help people find God, even though He’s not far from any of us. Basically, God is already moving in your city, but He’s given you the privilege to join that movement. In essence, your city needs you.
A few years back, I met a man that spent over twenty years in Belize as a foreign missionary. In that time he helped plant over four hundred churches. Amazed by all that God had done through this man, I asked him a question, “What kind of advice would you give me? You, being a foreign missionary, and me being called to do local missions?” His answer completely shifted my idea of missions. He said, “I’m not a foreign missionary. I’m a local missionary, just like you. You have to become a local missionary to become a good foreign missionary.”
If you truly want to help a community, you have to become one with the community. You have to know what the people actually need for sustainable change. Not what you think they need. You have to know how the community can become a part of that sustainable change. You can’t be the savior. But most of all, you have to earn the trust of the community through sheer, unvarnished friendship. Essentially, even if you’re going to another country, you have to become a local. And the one thing that develops a foreign missionary into a local missionary is time and consistency. The saying is true: Nobody will care what you know until they know that you care.
The closer the mission field is to our front door, the harder it is for us to live unashamedly for Christ. But the farther the mission field is, the easier it is for us to be like Christ. Why is this? I think it all ties back to convenience, accountability, and a way of thinking.
It’s convenient when you know you only need to be like Christ on a Saturday morning at a homeless shelter or for two weeks at a Village in Africa, but the minute you’re told to share Christ with your friends or co-workers, you’ve immediately decided you’re inadequate. The sad truth is most Christians could never consider sharing Christ with their friends or co-workers because they have already dug themselves so deep into a hole of their co-workers viewing them as a Christian that goes to church, but not a Christian that actually lives for Christ. Let’s just say, to bring up Christ in most Christian’s local every day context, would be foreign.
Every year, hundreds of young people go to South Padre for Beach Reach, where they minister to people primarily there for the purpose of partying and getting drunk. And every year, God uses this ministry to reach countless people for Christ. The difficult part is hearing everyone talk about all the things they did in Florida to reach people for Christ, that are the very same things they should do in their own city. But instead of hearing, “I’m going to start living this way in my own city.” I hear, “I can’t wait to go back next year!” The statement that bothered me the most was someone saying, “I wish Beach Reach was every day!”
Fortunate for him, Beach Reach is every day. It’s called Christianity. Charles Spurgeon said, “You’re either a missionary or you’re an impostor.” It concerns me when Christians can’t be on mission unless they are far from home. It’s disheartening to see how many incredible Christians are dumbfounded by the idea that God saved them through Christ, but have yet to discover that God also intends to use them for Christ. You’ve been saved to save others. When the gospel terminates on us, we’ve received the gift, but we never opened it. The beauty of God is not only that He engaged sinful men with His message, but He entrusted sinful men with His message. Jesus came, He lived, He died, He rose, and told us, “Now, go change the world.”
Have you ever met someone through the internet, become pretty close, and then met in person and it was the most awkward thing ever? That’s what Christians are like. From a distance, we’re great, but make it an actual real life relationship, and we have no clue what to say or do. We’re awesome in other countries. We just have no clue what to do back home.
If we could just stop turning people into projects, we might actually have a chance at making a difference through missions. The fear of local missions is the accountability of making a commitment to a person or community, and not delivering. However, the benefit of local missions is the ability to not just benefit a person, but to actually befriend them. We have the chance to go from “See you next Sunday morning at the church” to “See you next Saturday at my house.” Bob Goff said, “I used to want to fix people, but now I just want to be around them.” That’s different. People are not projects, and we are not their savior. That is good news, because it frees us to have fun and make friends.
I’ll finish with two questions. Who has changed the world more than any other person in history? I think we could all agree that would be Jesus. Now, for a man that so deeply impacted not just his own community but the entire world, how many countries did he travel to in order to change the world? Jesus invested most His time in one general area, but He changed the world. Jesus changed his city, and in doing so, changed the world. This should make us reconsider the priority we put on discipleship and loving our local neighbors. Jesus spent the majority of his ministry among the people we spend the majority of our lives trying to avoid.