My God and Missions
As I was falling asleep last night my mind fell into deep thought. I was thinking that the further into the mission field you get, the further you get away from God. In a way, the further I go into the world, into the dark world of others' pain and suffering and need, hopefully with compassion, sympathy and solidarity, it's at those times when I feel the furthest from Jesus. When Jesus said, "Go!" to his disciples, and they left, they were separated from him. It was only when they returned to his presence that they could rejoice at what had happened. Years ago a friend and I went on a trip to the UK to observe a youth movement that was happening there at the time. We visited one youth-focused ministry in the middle of a city. It took place in a warehouse. They had it set up like a huge rave hall. Lights. Elevated dancing platforms. Dark corners. Smoke. Monolithic speakers. Dance music so loud I felt my ribs scraping against each other. And security, security, security. They were an intense bunch of young risk-takers who had compassion for the troubled youth of their city. They confessed that they saw no fruit from their labor of love. No visible results. There was nothing overtly Christian or even spiritual about the place or the weekend night events. They simply got to meet, love and secretly pray for those kids. There was often violence, drugs, alcohol, fights, theft, weapons, sex, and some religious opposition to what they were doing. My friend and I had supper with them, went to the dance, and afterwards to a pub that served tandoori where we ate and drank beer, debriefing the evening. Their burning question to us was: "What do you guys think? Are we okay? Do you think God is with us in this? Are we so far out there that we are beyond all frontiers?" It wasn't a by-the-way question. It was with tears in their eyes, staring straight into ours, desperate for any kind of sign. They were seriously wrestling with disturbing doubts that Jesus wasn't with them, that he broke off their trail a long time ago, that they were too deeply immersed in the tangled jungle of the bleak world they had compassion for. There are times... in fact, most the time!... I feel so covert that I wonder if I've "gone native". I wonder if I've crossed the line of no return, some boundary that Jesus himself would not morally cross. Like a spy, I feel like I've clandestined myself to the point of not knowing for certain which side I'm on. I begin to wonder, because I see no fruit from my efforts, that the gospel just doesn't go this far into the margins. I know, I know. Some of you are probably thinking, "How dark IS your world? You there in your cushy chair with your powerbook and coffee surrounded by friends and a paycheck in middle-class North America?" I know. I realize this. And I'm sorry. I'm not like Joseph Conrad in the middle of the Congo. But I am a little like him, for I have seen the darkness that is in the middle of our hearts. And that was Conrad's point. But that's what I'm after! That's what I pursue, what occupies my time, what stirs compassion for me to go there with others! And it is dark, so dark I wonder if Jesus is even there or if he ever could or ever would be there! I think of some of you reading this right now. This applies to you. I think the furthest a missionary can go, the most missional we can ever become, is where we get to the place where, like Jesus on the cross at the fullest missional expression in history, we say, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" That is the missional voice at its best, or at its worst... depending on your perspective. Last night, on my bed, I wondered if I'd gone to far. I prayed: "My God, my God, I think I have abandoned you. Not because I don't love you. Not because I don't believe in you. But because you told me to go. And I went and went and went, and here I am seemingly so far from you I'm not sure if I will ever find my way back. I thought you would come with me. I assumed, because you asked me to be obedient to your call, that you would be with me in the same way you always had been... in warmth, intimacy, assurance and light. Instead, you sent me away from you into the cold heart of meaningless darkness. You sent me to plumb the depths of our hearts. You asked me to do this! And so here I find myself, asking you the question that keeps me awake in the chilled darkness of night, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'"