There’s this hashtag I’ve seen going around on social media. #missionarylife. Most posts connected to this tag are pictures of Americans serving in foreign countries. Sweet African children are being held, foreign landscapes are shown, or some exotic adventure is taking place. I love these posts. I love seeing how God’s people are serving outside of their homeland. I love that there are people willing to leave what they know and go into the world to preach the Gospel.
But there is a downside to posting #missionarylife instagrams, posts, and tweets. With it comes the idea that #missionarylife is reserved only for people who live overseas and are in “full-time ministry.”
Don’t get me wrong – I am a supporter of mission work happening by Americans outside of the United States. It is a good thing to share from our bounty and live outside of our evangelical American bubbles. I have siblings, friends, and mentors that do this and I am in full support of it happening.
However, I find that with labeling this kind of service as “missionary life” (a title that was created long before hashtags existed) comes a diminished sense of mission work done in the daily life around us.
Let me expound.
A few weeks ago my husband Tanner and I took twelve of our students from the local high school where we teach to a nearby town to see a melodrama and a musical put on by the theater Tanner used to work for. We spent fourteen hours with these kids – riding the bus, sharing meals, touring the town, and enjoying the productions. We sat with two upcoming freshmen at dinner and talked about striving for popularity versus being yourself. I listened to graduated seniors thoughts on leaving home and heading to college. Tanner talked through handling relationship drama with a girl going into her junior year. We took them to the church we’re involved with there to have lunch. We gave several of them a ride home at midnight because their parents were going to have them walk home.
Had these children been from Africa or Haiti or Russia I could have added #missionarylife to my instagram for the day. Instead I captioned it “cruising Cripple Creek with the kids.” Had this been a different country, one where our income was based on donations rather than government funding, we would have called this an outreach; providing teens with wholesome entertainment in areas they are interested in while being available to build relationships with them. While we were back in our hometowns on furlough we would have had a slideshow at church with pictures from this outing.
But we live in a pretty town in the middle of the United States and we work for a public school. We have many of the American comforts at an arm’s reach. We use a brand new toilet and have easy access to Jiffy Peanut Butter and Captain Crunch cereal. We certainly aren’t missionaries.
And yet, isn’t the call of a missionary to further the Kingdom of God? And surely the Kingdom of God isn’t limited to China, Zimbabwe, Honduras, and Poland? Surely His Kingdom should also be built in New York, San Francisco, St. Paul, and Buena Vista, Colorado.
The older I get the more I realize its less and less about where you live and much more about making God known wherever you find yourself. Sometimes God places a call on hearts to go to a certain place with a particular message. But more often He tells us to step out our doors and go to our jobs and share the Gospel there. Not always by sermons or Bible studies but by how we live and how we love.
Tanner and I share the Gospel by giving awkward freshmen a place to belong. We share the Gospel by giving students without a niche a place to create and make art. We share the Gospel by setting standards of excellent craftsmanship and disciplined workmanship and healthy community. We share the Gospel by showing up daily with open arms and open hearts, willing to receive and to love and journey alongside our students.
Because the Gospel is centered around the good news that there is a God who carefully crafted you and lavishly loves you. And from that news there flows a freedom to live fully with joy, secure in who we are and eager to pour into others. And that is what we live out in front of and alongside our students every day.
We moved to Buena Vista one year ago for Tanner’s job. But we moved here for so much more than a job. We moved here to be missionaries.