Three in five Americans are stressed by the issues our nation currently faces.
The American Psychological Association surveys people across the United States about stress, digging into its intensity, its causes, and its effects on physical and mental health. Unsurprisingly, the 2020 Stress in America survey revealed a large escalation in stress levels. Seventy-seven percent of respondents listed worries about the future of our nation as a significant source of stress—that’s up from 2019, when only 66 percent made this claim.
This is hardly a surprise given that we’re halfway through a second year marked by a world-shaking pandemic, racial injustice, economic instability, unsettling international elections, and social unrest. Many Christians long to reach out to our global neighbors, but we’re burdened by stress for our own homes, local communities, and domestic challenges. The desire to consider others is precariously stacked against addressing our own needs, and all of this is clouded by a growing fog of exhaustion.
Odds are, then, that you’re pretty stressed. So how, and why, should you look up from your local community to consider global work? What is your responsibility? Who is your responsibility? And do the answers to those questions even matter if you’re completely drained of the energy and capacity to respond?
How do you help an entire world that’s hurting when you, yourself, are on the brink of burnout?
One might expect that the executive leaders of international mission organizations would encourage a single, clear course of action: Sacrifice everything. Continue to push yourself.
Raise money for a plane ticket and move to Sub-Saharan Africa. Give it all up and follow Jesus.
But leaders with years of international experience and a shared passion for the nations spoke with both tenderness and tenacity when answering these questions. Some discussed their own feelings of exhaustion, others of grief over losses faced in the past two years. None of them, not one, saw the burdens of the local as enemies of the global.
As it turns out, local and global missions don’t just benefit each other—they also benefit those who undertake them. The advice from mission organization leaders on cultivating a heart for the nations doesn’t add a pile of vegetables to your already-full plate, a heaping mass of responsible and right that you must endure because it’s good for you. That global perspective is instead a dash of salt, playing an irreplaceable role that seasons the meal and enhances your experience of it.
Soak Up the Story
“Mission is like two pedals on a bicycle,” says Jon Burns, president and CEO of Greater Europe Mission. “You don’t need to choose local or global. You can choose both. ‘Around the corner and around the world’ is what a missional church looks like. We go local, and we go global. They’re not mutually exclusive. They actually benefit each other immensely.”
But how do we begin to sprinkle this salt, to push this other pedal? It seems almost too easy to make “read the Bible” the first step, but each of these mission organization leaders emphasized the importance of engaging the Scriptures to foster a love for the whole wide world.
Ken Cochrum, vice president of East-West Ministries, calls immersion in the Bible a crucial starting place for gaining a global perspective.
“Soak in Scripture,” Cochrum says. “God’s Word is the first and best place to align with God’s heart for all people and for the world. If no one else is talking about the needs of people, God’s Word is. Soak in Scripture.”
It’s not that reading the Bible is a magic potion that will give you the energy and desire to hop across the ocean and spend your life far from home. It’s that the Holy Spirit ministers to us through God’s Word, heartening us and prompting us to care for others.
“Meditation [works with] what I’ve memorized, studied, read, and heard,” says Bryan Gibbs, director of world missions at Navigators. “As I reflect on the Word of God, I’m able to grasp it, and it begins to transform my life.”
A practice of hearing, reading, studying, memorizing, and meditating, as Psalm 121 describes, lifts our eyes to the hills, reminding us where our help comes from. As you wonder if the pandemic will ever truly end or if your family members who have been torn apart by political differences will ever reconcile, take comfort in the psalmist’s words: You are allowed to be tired. You are allowed to need. The fate of your friends and family, neighborhood, and the nations does not rest on your shoulders. The Lord is the one who saves. His people are the ones who are called and privileged to join him in sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. And when we keep our hearts saturated in Scripture, we’re more likely to remember that.
A great place to start, according to Dale Losch, president of Crossworld, is with Acts 1:8. “Jesus said that you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth,” Losch explains. “That’s not an either/or. It doesn’t say, ‘We’re going to do it here first, and then when we have things really under control in our local area, we’ll start thinking about foreign missions.’ It’s a both-and. [Jesus] said, ‘You’ll be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and in Samaria.’”
Losch also points to a verse that a professor challenged him to put into action years ago. Matthew 9:38 reads, “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
Indeed, Losch is particularly moved by the New International Version’s translation of the passage, which states the command even more urgently: “Beg the Lord of the harvest.”
By speaking in such strong, vivid terms—beg, send, harvest—the Bible does more than reveal God’s heart for those who live continents away. It reminds us that the God of the Bible is the God who created our spectrum of emotion and experience, who paints a picture of the world and of our inner lives that includes times of desperation, exhaustion, and thirst. In doing so, the pages of Scripture not only grow our global awareness, but they also remind us that we have a high priest who sympathizes with our weaknesses and offers us the unparalleled refreshment of living water.
Storytelling and Stewardship
Matt Green, vice president of marketing at Pioneers, says that the disruption Americans have experienced in their lives over the past few years has led, and can continue to lead, to creativity. Crisis, he explains, drives us to innovation.
One of those innovative efforts at Pioneers centers on sharing the stories of people around the world. “We see storytelling as stewardship,” Green says.
While reading the Bible’s accounts of Nineveh and Judea and the Mount of Olives may inspire some to love their global neighbor, others may need a more tangible, relevant catalyst for their care. As Green notes, stories change us. They inspire us. They give us new hope. They remind us of important truths. And through the stories of our brothers and sisters around the world, our prayers take on a finer point, gaining clarity and purpose.
To that end, Michelle Atwell, chief executive officer of SEND International US recommends Prayercast.com, a ministry of OneWay. Prayercast hosts a wide variety of country-specific videos to guide churches and families in praying for God’s work around the world. Recently, Atwell was asked how to pray for Afghanistan. She immediately sent a Prayercast video that offered context to the crisis and provided specific prayer requests for the country and its citizens.
Ninety seconds a day may not seem significant, but God answers prayer, and it can certainly change how you feel about the world. Rather than another social media doomscroll or anxiety-fueled scan of today’s headlines, take the opportunity to reflect on a story from a place you’ve never been, listen to those facing challenges you’ve never seen, and respond in prayer.
Losch suggests Operation World, known as “the definitive prayer guide to every nation.” Similar to Prayercast, Operation World equips believers with important information about the nations they are continually seeing in the news—or, just as importantly, those that don’t get much attention—giving Christians the tools they need to pray knowledgeably.
“Let’s expose ourselves to what God has going on around the world,” says Mark Gauthier, US national director of Cru. “Prayer matters.”
Prayer sheds light on what the needs of the world and its people are—and what they are not. This is, perhaps, a crucial lesson for a time when travel is more complicated than it has been in years and international mission trips are growing less common. We may not be painting orphanages overseas, but we still owe our global neighbors care, thought, and prayer, and we owe ourselves a global perspective that roots us in truth and love.
Stepping into the Story
Believers who want to think globally can take the first step by starting locally.
Chances are that, even in this new normal, you see pain ripple through your community. To call the heartbreaking amount of homelessness, food insecurity, domestic violence, financial crisis, and social fracturing in American communities overwhelming would be a tremendous understatement.
But loving and investing locally can involve a global emphasis in unexpected ways. Cochrum encourages learning more about the immigrant communities around us. The US has the third largest number of resettled members of unreached people groups. Each of these neighbors and nations represents a prayer and ministry opportunity. Cochrum frequently chooses three stories from his news feed to meditate on throughout the day. “I can pray for Afghanistan right now: war, Taliban, and women’s future in that country. I’m praying for Haiti: God’s mercy in times of natural disasters and displacement. And I’m praying for California and their fires,” he says.
Gauthier encourages American believers to familiarize themselves with a few simple, accessible tools that can support their conversations with people from all over the world who are right here in the States. One tool is The Jesus Film Project app, which hosts more than 200 videos in over 18,000 languages. Gauthier has found that people are elated to learn that he can quickly text them a film in their native language. Technology is a gift that we can and should use to whittle away barriers.
As we soak in Scripture and focus our prayers, we begin to see that learning to love our neighbors around the world is indeed a gift to ourselves. The sprinkle of salt that is global perspective elevates our everyday lives, empowering us to savor the comforting truths of who God is for us and our neighbors next door and across the ocean. By embracing a global perspective, we find ways to better support, love, and reach others. And we find deeper peace amid our own chaos, greater clarity in our confusion, as we anchor ourselves to the one who holds everything—and everyone—in his hands.
Abby Perry is a freelance writer who lives with her husband and two sons in Texas. You can find her work at Sojourners, Texas Monthly, and Nations Media.