The predicament of the American church is that we live in a kind of Magic Kingdom. Like going to Disneyland, you buy your ticket, and once you are inside the gates, everything you experience is controlled. The rides, the food, the shows are all there to entertain and amuse you. All you have to do is be there and observe.
Yet just beyond the walls of Disneyland is Anaheim and the rest of Los Angeles, including the rough streets of Compton. This is the real world with real problems: pollution and congestion, drugs and violence, islands of upscale neighborhoods surrounded by slums. Inside the Magic Kingdom, the outside world is almost inconceivable.
As Christians, we too are tempted to see our world that way. We can start thinking that our job is to invite a few fortunate others into the theme park, away from the troubles outside. But our job isn't to increase the attendance at Disneyland; it's to tear down the walls and transform the world outside.
I find the most effective way of getting people's minds outside the Magic Kingdom is to get their bodies into one of our development communities. There is no better way to be stirred with compassion than to work with children and families in desperate need.
Often, despite their need, the generosity and empathy the poor have toward one another puts to shame the visitor who has material abundance.
For Keith Stewart, senior pastor of Springcreek Church in Dallas, it was a World Vision trip to Nairobi that broke down the walls of the Magic Kingdom. Visiting a slum in Kenya's capital, Keith met an 18-year-old orphan who had learned shop-keeping skills to earn an income. That young man had taken a boy under his wing, sharing the profits of his cell phone retail shop with another orphan and beginning to teach him the business. It was this encounter with the generosity of an orphan that changed Keith's life.
When we travel beyond the walls of the Magic Kingdom, we discover a new reality, a Tragic Kingdom in need of the transforming gospel, a kingdom that will make us anything but comfortable.
In the Tragic Kingdom, a billion people are going to bed hungry every night, and nearly a billion have no clean water to drink. This is a world where 2.4 billion live on less than $2 a day. In the Tragic Kingdom, there are 59 million orphaned children in Africa. Around the world today, 21,000 children died of mostly preventable causes. The same thing will happen again tomorrow.
One small way we encourage young people to leave the comfort of the Magic Kingdom is The 30 Hour Famine. Teens and young adults learn the spiritual discipline of fasting. They also experience a twinge of the pain the billion people who suffer from hunger feel each day. Such events allow American young people to begin seeing their lives in light of the experience of their peers around the world.
Much of the world doesn't have to be a Tragic Kingdom. This is preventable hunger, preventable disease, and preventable deaths. They only exist because we don't care enough to prevent them.