My first mission trips were to economically challenged places – Haiti (twice), rural Missouri and Oklahoma. I guess I began to see “missions” as something done in poverty stricken areas. “Missions” involved feeding the hungry and building schools or providing medical care as well as sharing the Gospel. I’m a fairly sensitive guy, so my heart would break for those we served. I enjoyed doing things when we could see a difference at the end of the week: help build a dental clinic in Haiti, paint the house of an elderly couple or single mom, work at a food bank. This became my only first hand contact with missions.
Then I met a kid who had just graduated from high school in what could be the Bible-belt of Germany. He was the only Christian in his graduating class. I visited countries where the Christian population was less than one-in-a-hundred. I found churches in Eastern Europe living in persecution.
While I believe the church is to take care of the poor, I’m not sure that doing so is the same thing as “missions.” It’s not mentioned in the Great Commission where, along with Acts 1:8, the apostles receive their assignment to go teach, making disciples, and baptizing. I know that “missions” has become a loaded and confusing word. But I have come to believe, if we are deriving it from the Great Commission, it means taking the Gospel to places it is currently not readily available. Missions is not just for developing countries. It can be done in poor countries or not-so-poor countries. Europe, for example, has the smallest percentage of Bible-believing Christians in the world. While many churches know that, it is not always reflected in their missions giving.
Perhaps more American churches should think about where there are the fewest places to actually hear the Gospel being preached. There are many poor places where the Gospel is available in most neighborhoods, while some countries with lots of cathedrals, and with all their monetary needs met, have very few places you will actually hear the Bible taught.
KM USA Church Relations