Recently, here in Arica, we were blessed to host a couple Cuban pastors. They shared of their churches, their experiences, and their reality. It was a wonderful time. Hearing this one pastor speak in our church, sharing about their outreach to the community, offering food to those who had none, showing their community the full love of Jesus challenged us all, especially given their context. To be honest, however, something else impacted me even more than his words. It happened during the time of praise and worship.
We were singing a song that, honestly, I don’t like. It speaks using imagery of warfare and battle. It speaks of us taking our bows and arrows, putting on our armor to go out and serve God. I know that imagery is biblical, but I struggle with it because I feel our world is too violent as it is. I would prefer that we focus on preaching love, peace, and forgiveness so that we not forget that those images of warfare, of armor and weapons were to contrast the violent systems of their day. Instead of sword and shield we take up the word and the Spirit.
In spite of my distaste for this particular song, while we were singing these words of commitment, about preparing ourselves for service regardless the cost, I couldn’t help but see my Cuban brother and think about what these words meant to him. When I speak of my commitment, as a North American, is it the same as the commitment he sings about, that he demonstrated to us in his message? Perhaps the battle imagery works for him; I don’t know because I didn’t ask, but I couldn’t help but wonder how, in his mind, the words of praise, worship, and commitment sounded, and how they sounded different to him than to me.
Then I began to realize just how important it is that we share among brothers and sisters. The global church needs to be in a global conversation. Our worlds need to collide. For too long we’ve seen missions in terms of sending and receiving. Someone is sent from one country while the other country receives.
This must change.
We need to work alongside each other, learning from each other as equals. These Cuban pastors kept thanking us as North Americans for starting the work in Cuba. I felt humbled since I didn’t have anything to do with that, but I also made sure to tell him how much his testimony encouraged and challenged me. We will learn so much from working together, from a mutual exchange, than we ever will if we simply stay within our cloistered churches in our cultural boxes.
That’s why missions has to change. No longer is it us giving and them receiving. It has to be a mutual exchange in which all parties are seen as equals in the Kingdom, sharing our gifts, talents, and peculiar insights with one another.
After all, the great missionary Paul once said to a church in Rome:
The longer this waiting goes on, the deeper the ache. I so want to be there to deliver God’s gift in person and watch you grow stronger right before my eyes! But don’t think I’m not expecting to get something out of this, too! You have as much to give me as I do to you.
-Romans 1:12 (The Message)