Currently, I am sitting in my new room, in my new home, in a city that’s in a state in which I’d never been before.
Eight days ago, I was sitting in a different room, in another city I’d never been to before.
These two novelties form the bookends of a week of disorientation that will shape the rest of my life, and in particular, my year of service in Indianapolis.
Over the course of my experience at Orientation Week (in Stony Point, NY), I heard a number of quips from YAV Alum (YAVA) which could have made great titles for this blog post. “Screwed Up for Life,” and “I Promise, You Are Not Actually a Good Person,” were top contenders for obvious reasons. In the end, though, I felt like they were slightly too contextual for the average reader of this blog (my mom and dad). But when I heard one of the YAVA talk to us about his experience when he arrived at his site, and the first thing he heard from one of the people alongside whom he would be serving being the sentence “You are not needed,” I knew I’d heard one of those rare, encapsulating phrases that meant everything I was trying to learn.
Let me explain.
For as long as there has been Christianity, there have been missions. These come in many shapes and sizes, and occur in all sorts of places for all sorts of reasons. And for the entire history of the Church, many, if not most of them, have been catastrophically poorly executed. Sometimes people go for the wrong reasons, sometimes they go and do things that leave the communities they touched far worse off than when they arrived, and sometimes they come home without gaining any understanding of the community where they served, or why that even matters.
While at Orientation, we focused on a number of vital aspects of the coming year. We had intensive racial sensitivity training, some professional/personal boundary training, and a number of other sorts of training relevant to entering a “year of service for a lifetime of change,” as it says on the back of the shirt I got there. What I want to focus on for this blog post though, is what we discussed about the purpose and definition of missions, in the context of the Christian Church.
One of the first things we established is that missions are done with, not for. I am not here to be a hero for people; I am here to let go of some of my privilege, and walk alongside people. I am here to be a part of a community, to learn from the people who compose it, and to follow their lead in serving that community. Anything that unjustly promotes, demotes, or excludes anyone is not a part of the mission of Christ.
Eventually, we were given a definition of mission originating from a Congolese pastor whose name I have unfortunately forgotten, which says that mission is “following the border-crossing God in weaving mercy, peace, justice, and love into the common life of all of God’s people, in the way of Jesus Christ.”
That definition is strikingly beautiful, honest, and accurate. It emphasizes God’s movement, not our own, and displays poetically the vitality of peace and justice in mission work. Unfortunately, anyone reading it who has taken a class taught by Dr. Rebecca Davis, my college advisor, cannot help but notice a few things it’s lacking. Therefore, I’ve taken it upon myself to add a bit, making it a definition with which I hope Becky would be satisfied:
Mission work is the divine call of the Christian Church to follow the border-crossing God in weaving mercy, peace, justice, and love into the common life of all of God’s people, by meeting people where they are, joining them in service of the community, and loving them in the way of Jesus Christ, so that we may live out Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves, and therein be instruments in revealing God’s Empire on Earth.
So that is a taste of a piece of what I gained from Orientation. I’m going on this “mission” to join the people of this community in our mutual effort to understand and contribute to God’s Empire. As Lilla Watson puts it,
“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
So as I sit in my new room, in my new home, in this new city, preparing for my new job (though I still don’t know what that will be*), I reflect on the fact that I am not here because I am “needed.”
I am here to build relationships.
I am here to learn.
I am here to teach those who could not go with me.
I am here to serve with, and not for.
I am here to love others well.
I am here to experience the love of others.
I am here to let go of things.
I am here to find new things to hold.
I am here to be an instrument for the architect of God’s Empire.
I am here to become whatever I was meant to be.
In a sense, I hope never to go back.
*- When I wrote this, I still had not received my official placement. I now know I will be serving with the Greater Indy Habitat for Humanity, specifically in expanding their interfaith efforts hopefully. More on that to come, but here’s a link if you want: