You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all; and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. – 2 Corinthians 3:2-6
Tuesday evening our church was privileged to host two Presbyterian missionaries, for a series of informational and inspirational meetings designed to strengthen our relationship and maximize the value of our support.
Al and Ellen Smith are officially known as “mission co-workers.” It may sound like a subtle semantic shift from “missionary,” but the designation is important, because what the Smiths do is inspire, resource, and encourage local ministry partners where they serve.
This is an important distinction from the more (traditional) paternalistic approach to overseas mission. There is little value in imposing North American Christianity, without regard for local history and culture.
One of the more compelling stories the Smiths shared was that of a “Roma” community, where a fierce and sometimes violent man met Jesus and was transformed in every way. He is now a pastor, and – little by little – his faith is becoming more his people’s faith as Christ makes inroads into the unique Roma culture. They are still Roma, and they are still Russian (and Ukrainian), but they are learning to follow Jesus, and that is the purpose of the work.
The Smiths’ goal – according to the blurb shared with our church – is “to develop long-term relationships across the boundaries of history, language, culture, and denomination.”
As a “professional thinker” I often find myself grabbing key ideas and stories and inviting the Holy Spirit to transform my way of thinking. The Smiths offered many such nuggets – both at the church meeting and over breakfast this morning – but there are two I want to share in this post.
Special Needs and God’s Grace:
First, at church Tuesday evening, Ellen talked about a village in Russia where a community is developing around ministry with, and to, and by individuals needing special assistance because of physical, mental, or emotional challenges. Russian culture treats such people harshly and dismissively, and there is great need for not only compassion but practical solutions.
So – and this is the punchline (or punch-concept) – Ellen said, “People can be handicapped physically, and mentally… but they are not handicapped spiritually.”
Chew on that for a while, gentle readers. There is not a human being created by God who does not own the potential to be complete, spiritually – not gasping for air, as it were, to drink of the breath of God.
One more idea in that regard. Many, many of us who are “whole” when it comes to our bodies and our minds, turn out to be severely handicapped spiritually.
Immersion and Witness:
The other thought I had – and I may have to unpack this one more later – came along at breakfast this morning. We were talking about learning the Russian language, comparing language school to getting out among the people, building relationships, and learning Russian “on the streets”.
Language school missionaries find themselves unable to connect in quite the same way as those who deep dive into the culture. Of course the best result comes with a combination of classroom mechanics and real world immersion.
I immediately thought about our mission – as day-to-day disciples – to be light, and life, and salt, and love, and reconciliation to and in this world. We can’t take something we learned in Sunday-school, drop it in the laps (of shove it in the faces) of people we meet in the day-to-day.
Instead, we are called to be salt and light in the unique culture where God has placed us. The mandate of God, perfectly illustrated by Jesus – is immersion, with support, and instruction, and equipping, and purpose generated in and through our worshiping communities.
I’ve run out of space in today’s post. Thanks, Al and Ellen Smith. And may God’s mercy, grace, love, and light shine through you in every way. I’m praying for Eastern Europe, and I am praying for you – DEREK