Ten years ago, if you would have told me that I would be serving as a missionary in a third-world country, I would have laughed in your face. Not only am I a homebody who loves being near family and friends, but the state of my faith in God was completely up in the air. I could hardly grasp being labeled with the term “Christian”, let alone give up all of my earthly comforts to serve God in a poor country on the other side of the globe. I was in the midst of a faith crisis, rebuilding a sense of God that had been thoroughly shattered by the realities of life during my college years. I was hardly even a person of faith, let alone a sold-out missionary.
Oh, how Life leads us in unexpected ways.
Slowly, painful step by painful step, I have rebuilt a picture of God that not only makes more intellectual sense to me, and one that better addresses the harsh and tragic realities of this broken world, but one that also calls out to me to live a completely transformed life. If I truly want to follow the poor Jewish peasant who lived 2000 years ago and claimed, crazily, to be the Son of God, I must not only believe a narrow set of beliefs, but I must also be willing to watch my own desires and life path be utterly turned upside down and inside out, motivated by his unfathomable love and mercy.
However, even though I have recovered a meaningful adult faith, I still have huge issues with the term “missionary.” For me, the word congers up so many negative associations—out of touch religious zealots who believe that the rest of the world is going to hell unless they are converted out of their barbaric ways to a rigid, thoroughly Western, white mindset.
But that’s not at all what motivates me now as a missionary, nor is it the only motivation of the incredible people of faith that I have the privilege of working alongside. Instead of a fear-based religious worldview, my picture of God has been transformed into something much broader, and much more astoundingly beautiful and breathtakingly exciting. One that brings comfort to the mourning, love to the outsider, medical care to the poor, and freedom to the oppressed. This isn’t about passing on a narrow set of beliefs; it is about living out the exciting reality of the Sermon on the Mount, where the poor, those who mourn, the meek, and the merciful are the ones who are, surprisingly and beautifully, blessed.
I now measure my faith by the people that inspire me most, that I hold up as my great heroes of the faith. Oscar Romero, the archbishop of El Salvador, assassinated for his intense association with the poor and marginalized and his association with the movement of Liberation Theology. Mother Teresa, the tiny nun who nursed the destitute and dying of the slums of India. Father Greg Boyle, who works to rehabilitate gang members in inner-city Los Angeles.
Each of these people are not only adhering to a strict religious intellectual mindset that will save them from a future of eternal torment in hell…No, their faith also informs every aspect of their lives as they align themselves with a God who cares for the “least of these,” who turns the power structure of the human world upside down, so that the last become the first, the poor are lifted out of their poverty to places of great honor, and the oppressed and forgotten of society become spiritual kings and queens.
So here I am, a missionary. One deeply moved by the suffering and poverty of my fellow brothers and sisters in Honduras. One who believes that God is near, that God cares more than I ever could, that God’s love is made manifest when we work together to bring His glorious kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.”