I’ve written before about how the church is in need of a conversation about what we mean when we use the word “mission” in the church.
Those first few weeks, I stayed close to our clinic and let the residents of Itipini come to me if they needed help. It was safe. “They” came to “me.” But it was an untenable and unsatisfactory situation. I hadn’t moved to South Africa to sit in a clinic all day. Gradually, I began to venture forth. I met people like Fumanekile who made it feel safe to wander farther afield. I began to think in terms of “we,” not just “they” and “me.”
I came to think of the Incarnation in a new light. By being born in a manger, God in Christ crossed the hitherto impassable barrier between human and divine and showed up in a place no one expected. Jesus took time — thirty years, in fact — to build relationships with those around him. If I was going to model my life on Christ’s — be a Christian, in other words — something of the same had to happen in my life. I needed God’s grace to overcome my fear and share an existence with people who seemed different than me and lived in a different place. Gradually, imperfectly, incompletely, that happened.
God’s mission calls us to engage the multiple forms of difference in this world — down the street or around the world — and doing so in a vulnerable, Christ-like way. It’s great that we’re talking so much about mission in the church. But if we don’t talk about it without also talking about our individual, personal need to change — the forgiveness, renewal, and transformation that comes in baptism and is reaffirmed each time we celebrate the Eucharist — and the difficulty and joy of modeling our lives on Christ’s, then it’s hard to see how the conversation is going to help us proclaim the good news of God in Christ.