by Bob Gerow
Editor's Note: This month, Bob raises some general questions about how we spread the Gospel, rather than covering AMG's work in particular.
TV commercials make it easy to picture the difference a really good truck or SUV will make.
The competing manufacturer's vehicle is axle-deep in mire, unable to move. Its driver tried to navigate rough terrain with a product that didn't "cut it." Then, larger than life, the superior vehicle emerges from the thick forest, and easily navigates the morass. The first driver oozes with envy for the better truck, whose driver beams confidence. "Buy our truck; not theirs."
This "shoot" is over. Wash off the trucks. Pack the cameras. Meet tomorrow for the next one.
That staged dilemma is in stark contrast with some of my own mission-field adventures. The struggles to budge the vehicle were not imaginary. The mud was real. No larger-than-life vehicle waited to emerge, on cue, from the jungle. We could not "pan back" from the view and see TV cameras, microphones, directors, and gaffers. We were not going to wash this one off and put it back on the showroom floor. If we didn't get out, we wouldn't get home.
Many noble souls have gotten mired in some jungle on their way to delivering the Good News to the lost. Their confidence was in God who led them, not in some bigger and better human device that would emerge to conquer their troubles. Without human recourse, many were (and many still are) very much alone, enduring in real jungles, knee-deep in real mud, and knowing that when (or perhaps "if") they get out, there will only be more mud ahead. Panning back from the "camera shot" would only expose more jungles, more mud.
Their physical hardships are pale shadows of the spiritual struggle they endure. The only larger perspective these souls would entertain was of the great cloud of witnesses who led the way, and lined the course, cheering them on, eventually into the Savior's presence. They press on. Real missionary work is no illusory "set" for a commercial.
As stirring and visual as that image of "missions" is, sub-tropical jungles and stuck Land Rovers are only a small part of fulfilling the Great Commission. Backing away from the "camera shot" will not expose an illusion, but it will expose a too-narrow perspective on what the real issues are.
The jungle and the mud are not only "out there." You and I actually live in the jungle. In fact, that's where Christ put us. The "jungles" we must traverse are spiritual-thick with sin, tangled with human longings, drenched in the mist of self-interest, and staring all of us in the face around every corner. The mud of human understanding is no less real, but the consistency of it changes at every turn.
And sometimes the old vehicles really aren't up to the task.
Thanks to earlier mission field experience, I learned to attempt just about any kind of repair on my personal vehicles. With more than 260,000 miles on it, my trusty wagon eventually had more replacement parts on it than originals. I have done engine repairs, replaced carburetors, head gaskets, gas tanks, starters, and aligned wheels.
In spite of all that care, eventually, my old vehicles wouldn't pass inspection. Not only was the terrain different, but the vehicles available to me were now different.
My new car still has four wheels and an engine. Oil and air filter changes are still within my reach. The basics of driving have not changed, but understanding the mechanical, electronic, and computer systems I rely on to get me from "A" to "B" is no longer within my reach. That stuff is for Nick the mechanic to fool with. Were I to try my old ways on my current vehicle it would do more harm than good.
Like my cars, the world in which I live is different from what it once was. Assumptions about religion in general, and Christianity in particular, are unlike anything previously experienced. In just twenty years, the demographic profile of my own community is vastly different. The world is at my doorstep. Political and social structures that seemed to endure for generations are fading. We all still eat, sleep, work, and travel, but street corners and loudspeakers are more likely to get you a night in jail than an interested listener.
You and I are called to be salt and light in the world, and to communicate the grace of God in Christ Jesus in ways that folks will hear, listen, and understand. We're not hawking SUVs; we are declaring by and with our lives, the soul-saving Gospel.
It is incumbent on us to declare the news intelligibly and persuasively. A better understanding of the people among whom God has placed me today-here and now-could expose means and ways previously hidden from my eyes.
"Change" is not a bad word. Backing away from the short view could expose new ways and means to achieve the desired end. God and His truth are constant, but how we deliver the message can be fluid. Unwillingness to "upgrade" could leave your whole missions effort stuck in the mud.
Bob Gerow is development administrator for AMG International
and grew up "on the field" in Argentina.