Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Handing Back Your Sword

“What do you think of the United States?”

I shifted the microphone from one hand to another, once again standing before a church congregation in my travels of home assignment as we completed the question-and-answer period,
“I’m sorry; I’m not exactly sure as to what you mean...?”

“You’re a missionary. I want to know what you think when you come from Papua New Guinea and see us and all our stuff.” She spat it out and wrinkled her nose.

My heart sank. Not again. I tried to redirect her, “Oh, you mean those exciting surprises of soft carpet and sidewalks and blueberries...”

“No.” She glared at me and folded her arms. “What are your impressions of the materialism and superficiality of the church and our lives here in the US?” She leaned back in her chair with a small smile, apparently rather thrilled to watch the missionary skewer the fallen American Church with a holy diatribe.

Since, after all, I must despise the US church.

A few months ago, I sat with a group of women, quietly listening to them share their heartaches and struggles, when suddenly one of them turned to me, her voice slicing through all the others. “You must think we are so shallow,” she commented. Shame silenced the other women, and everyone turned to stare at me, then away. Of course Americans are shallow. Everyone knows that.

Image from Google
Time after time again, when people find out I am a missionary in a third-world country, I find myself blocked into a corner, shoved a verbal sword into my hands and demanded to slash into smithereens the culture and church of the United States. “Please,” they spread their hands wide in front of me, “tell us how terrible we are!” as if American Christians find it “holy” or “righteous” to speak disparagingly of their culture, parading it’s weaknesses for all to see in an attempt to showcase humility or pious introspection.

And obviously, since I’m the missionary, I’m the one to do it.

The thing is, I suppose I could. Years away from the country which I called home means that some things are painfully obvious, and I suppose, if I wanted, I could rain indignant sermons of horror down on the heads of my friends and church as they struggle under the addicting weight of the first world.

But as the missionary, I simply can’t.

True, to deny fault or error is wrong. But to deny blessings is just as wrong. And once you spend enough time in a country that was not founded upon a Judeo-Christian worldview, where anger manifests as unstoppable murder, where HIV/AIDS runs rampant, where witchcraft and sorcery and spells and demons hold people in bondage, where food runs scarce, where medicines are often just a wish, then you begin to realize that some places have indeed been privileged with great gifts.

And perhaps, instead of rejecting them, we ought to steward them. For, I’ve never known a loving husband to appreciate slicing, angry criticism of his bride, and I can’t imagine our Lord Jesus valuing the bashing of His Church or the continuous walloping on His creation of American culture either (or any other culture, for that matter).

At least here, there is a mature Church, and she’s trying.

Sure, the US is full of sin. So is Papua New Guinea. It’s why we’re all here, preaching and sharing and proclaiming the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection. But there is also great beauty—beauty that looks different in each country as it reflects another facet of our Lord.

So, please, don’t ask me to impale you with your sword. You have been entrusted with so much! There is a greater Enemy, and I’d rather face him with you, together.