These three words. Over the last several years I have found that if you press the call to frontier missions strongly enough, they almost inevitably come up. A casual presentation of the need for pioneering missionaries will usually draw a round of gentle applause and slight nods of the head in approval. If you go a little further, however, something changes. If the call becomes more direct and invasive, it’s only a matter of time…”what about America?”
If the response is really this predictable, it is worth taking the time to give it a sound answer. Let me start by saying that I am so grateful for this country and that I am committed to standing in prayer for the church to be filled with the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:21). Yet the reason I have to start with that affirmation actually exposes the problem with asking the question. In most facets of life, we understand that affirming one thing does not mean negating another. To say that you like pizza doesn’t mean you hate Thai food. If someone blurts out how much they like football, no one automatically thinks they don’t care about basketball.
Yet somehow, almost inexplicably, clarion calls for the desperate need for some to leave these amber waves of grain and go preach the gospel to the unreached is met with the assumption that you disdain America on some level. This visceral reaction is so odd when you translate it into other contexts that it should at least make us wonder whether something else is actually going on.
Let’s consider another analogy to highlight why this way of thinking is so groundless. Imagine two groups of people – one small and one enormous – standing side by side. The first group, though very small, possesses 95 units of food. The second group, altough it is over 100 times larger than the other, only has access to 5 units of food. Now imagine that upon seeing this gross disparity, a fraction of the first group decided that they should go to Group 2 and take along some of the abundance of the resource that they are privy to. Such a response is just a natural, sensible reaction when confronted with such an alarming imbalance. No one would look at this scenario and reasonably conclude that the people trying to help Group 2 are doing so because they don’t care about Group 1.
If the response is so illogical in the analogy, then how does it ever pass as a credible reply when related to missions? In most cases, the real truth behind those three words is actually “what about me?” The prospect of frontier missions is noble and commendable as long as it remains abstract enough to never bother you. When we realize that missions is far more about Jesus and His word than it is about me and my calling, when our arguments for why we don’t have to consider the unreached are found to be baseless, and when we realize we were never actually ‘called’ to America, then we fall back on the smokescreen of America and the virtue of nationalism to shield us from what threatens to disrupt our pursuit of self-fulfillment.
Now large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple…“So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.” Luke 14:25-27, 33
A sincere burden for the spiritual condition of our nation is a virtuous thing, but selfishness is not. Our lives are not our own, and upon seeing the glaring imbalance of access to the gospel that characterizes our world, the most natural response should be to arise and do something about it. Obedience to the Great Commission poses no threat whatsoever to the spiritual well-being of the church in America or those faithfully serving here. It does, however, prove to be fatal to a false version of the Christian life where our comfort, our norms, our notoriety, and our desires remain the paramount consideration.