“When a man journeys into a far country, he must be prepared to forget many of the things he has learned, and to acquire such customs as are inherent with existence in the new land; he must abandon the old ideals and the old gods, and oftentimes he must reverse the very codes by which his conduct has hitherto been shaped. . . . It were better for the man who cannot fit himself to the new groove to return to his own country.” Jack London, “In a Far Country” (HT: Art of Manliness)
If you were sent out as a foreign missionary, to start a church and spread the gospel, what would you do first?
Caesar Kalinowski, in his book Transformed, gives a typical answer:
“We would start by getting to know the language of the local people. We would eat what and where they eat, start to dress more like them, and adopt some of their customs.
We would shop at the same places over and over to get to know the shop and restaurant owners. We would look for ways to be a blessing to them, serving them in simple ways as a display of God’s love for them.
We would need to live as much like them as possible and build relationships over time.”
Of course, we need to have this same strategy as we aim to live on mission in our communities!
Reflecting Back, Looking Forward
As we reflect back on our time in Allendale, SC, we are fortunate to have stumbled into following this advice. We were accepted into the community, and we worked to be a part of the community – in where we shopped, ate, got some haircuts, and more. Those two aspects fed into each other: The more we were accepted, the more we wanted to be in the community. And the more we were a part of the community, the more we were accepted.
Many of our previous habits and thinking changed. Some had to change for the necessity of survival or connection, and some changed because we were exposed to new ways of thinking.
If you told me four years ago that little things like volunteering in schools, summer day camps, chess clubs, etc, would make a big difference in a community, I would have seriously doubted you. But here is a note I got from a mom in Allendale this past June:
“I want to thank you and Joanna on everything that you have done with these children here in Allendale County. . . . What you and Joanna has done was give these children a chance to do things that many never though they could. They will all miss you and your family. Everything that you have done will stay with these children forever. You and your family will always be talked about on how you have inspired these kids that they can do anything if they put their minds to it. Good luck on you travels wherever it may take you. Have a safe summer and I all Love you and I think I speak for all the parents and children. WE WILL MISS YOU!!”
I’m not saying this to toot our own horn or to imply that our efforts were perfect, but to remind myself (and to encourage you!) that we need to keep building friendships and serving our neighbors. I don’t know about you, but I regularly get discouraged and think that I am not making a difference.
This mom’s message is not something I will rest in, but a boost for me to press on and to continue in love.
Not a Bait and Switch
“Don’t be ashamed of the gospel. In normal conversation, let people know you’re a follower of Jesus.” Ben Connelly (The Bait and Switch)
We must be careful that we are not being manipulative as we become a part of the community. We must make friends and love them just because we want to have friends and show love. The last thing anyone wants to believe is that they are your evangelism project. (Trust me – I’ve been there — on both sides.)
Kalinowski reminds us that our motivation must be that of love:
“The heart behind all of our incarnation must be love. . . . God’s family should be woven into the very fabric of the culture, shouldering sin and pain in the lives of others. If we were to go away or cease to exist in the community, people should cry out, “No! They can’t go away; they’ve loved us so well!”
As we are settling into our new community, we are missing a lot about Allendale. We started feeling that loss early this year, and it is still not fully healed. And it shouldn’t be. There should be hurt.
And we are working to enter into this same intimacy with our new community in Greenville. We want to love for love’s sake. Of course, we want people to know and believe in Jesus’ love. But the truth is that God will hold us accountable by how much we proclaim Jesus’ love (in word and in action), not in how many people respond to it by trusting in Him.
This is freeing for me. I am free to love without feeling like I have to convince anyone of anything. I am free to live out my identity in Christ, as a child of God who ought to love his neighbor.
PS — Speaking of identity, I plan to write more about this idea later, which I learned in Transformed.
- We Are Allendale
- 14 Can’t Fail Principles to Earn the Trust of a New Community
- 11 Blessings on Our Trip Back to Allendale
- 25 Ways to Be Missional
- Are You Too Christian for Non-Christians? (Rick Segal)
- Kitchen Grace and the Great Commission (Yia Vang)
- Should We Kiss Evangelism Good-Bye? (Jonathan Dodson)