An Upside-Down World

Distinguishing between home and mission field no longer makes sense.
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So another piece of unlearning we must do is breaking the habit of using the term mission field to refer to everywhere else in the world except our home country in the West. The language of home and mission field is still used by many churches and agencies, but it fundamentally misrepresents reality. Not only does it perpetuate a patronizing view of the rest of the world as always being on the receiving end of our missionary largesse, but it also fails to recognize the maturity of churches in many other lands.

Christianity probably reached India before it reached Britain. There was a flourishing church in Ethiopia a century before Patrick evangelized Ireland. There were churches in Eastern Europe centuries before Europeans reached the shores of North America. There have been large Christian communities in the Middle East for 2,000 years.

So it is discourteous (at best) and damaging (at worst) when Western mission activity ignores all such ancient expressions of the Christian tradition and lumps all lands abroad as the "mission field," in comfortable neglect of the fact that the rest of the world church sees the West as one of the toughest mission fields in the world today.

This is not, of course, to suggest that countries of ancient Christian churches need no evangelism, any more than we would exclude nominal Western Christians from the need to hear the true gospel. But the real mission boundary is not between "Christian countries" and "the mission field," but between faith and unbelief, and that is a boundary that runs through every land and, indeed, through every local street.

Normal Mission

In this, too, we will be relearning the multidirectional nature of mission in the Book of Acts. Our preoccupation with concentric circles has obscured the more complex pattern of mission and movement that Luke shows us in Acts.

For example:

  • Philip goes from Jerusalem to Samaria, to Gaza, to Azotus, and to Caesarea (Acts 8).
  • Peter goes to Lydda and Joppa (Acts 9:32-43).
  • People from Cyprus go to Antioch and initiate a multiethnic church there (Acts 11:19-21).
  • Barnabas goes from Antioch to Tarsus to get Saul (Acts 11:22-26).
  • Timothy goes from Lystra to Ephesus, while Titus ends up in Crete (Acts 16, , ).
  • Priscilla and Aquila come from Italy and end up in Corinth (Acts 18).
  • Apollos comes from Alexandria to Ephesus, then ends up in Corinth (Acts 18-19).

What held together these crisscrossing lines of missionary movement all over the international Mediterranean world? Carefully tended relationships of trust. That is what lies behind the letters of recommendation and the exhortations in to treat traveling church planters and teachers "in a manner worthy of God" and to respect their self-sacrificing for the name of Christ. Indeed, is a much-neglected missional tract for our times. We need to recapture this relational, partnering, reciprocal style of missional interchange.

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