If your image of a missionary is a woman who wears a white dress and sits in church with a group of similarly clad older women on the third Sunday of the month, you might want to take a second look. Being a global missionary today is far more than collecting pennies for foreign fields or spending your entire adult life in some remote corner of the world—unless that corner is a dream location for you.
Global missionaries are engineers who help to bring water to isolated villages, computer specialists who provide towns with access to the internet’s communication resources, and businesspeople who help individuals establish and succeed in micro-economy enterprises. Global mission has a new face and it also needs the faces of more African Americans who have a unique perspective to share with the world.
“The African American voice and story has much to lend to global missions…inspiring and supporting causes that help to bring about justice for people groups around the world,” Leroy Barber, executive director of the Voices Project, says. Barber is the former global executive director of Word Made Flesh, an international organization that works among the most vulnerable of the world’s poor, and author of Everyday Missions: How Ordinary People Can Change the World.
“Our history of struggle, of forming a vibrant culture within a culture, and of sacrificing for justice and freedom, witnesses to the truth that the arc of God’s love leans toward the betterment of all people,” he says. While we might feel a sense of being a minority here, we soon discover that globally, we are not.”
Thabiti Anyabwile and Carl Ellis discuss the rich history of missions in The Black Church.
Video from The Front Porch
Meet a missionary
Global missionaries are not always in the countries where they serve. Depending on the organization that commissioned their service, they are usually in the U.S. every three to five years for a year-long furlough. During this time, they often speak at churches and other venues about what it’s like to be a missionary.
Recently, while home on furlough, career missionary Linda Saunders spoke at a seminary symposium about her experiences abroad. Twelve years ago, she and her husband, Mark, and their three children went to Venezuela to build orphanages and serve homeless children. Linda and Mark were both inspired by missionaries they encountered during their teen years.
“Those missionaries allowed me to see that missionary service wasn’t a spiritual call for other ethnic groups only,” Saunders says. “All people groups are to support and serve in mission, at home, and abroad. It’s not here or abroad, but here and abroad.”
Short-term mission trips – see for yourself
For the past 12 years, the Saunders have hosted nearly 100 individuals at their home in Valencia, Venezuela, giving these guests—many between the ages of 15 and 25—opportunities to explore what it’s like to live with and serve in another culture. Morenci Manning was 22 years old when she spent a summer with the Saunders, telling Bible stories, participating in puppet ministry, singing songs and playing games with the children to whom the Saunders minister. Three years earlier, she had gone to Ghana for one month to help build a home for children.
“Global mission experiences have broadened my horizon,” Manning, who is in her first year of medical school, says. “When you see how people live in other cultures, you learn that there are a lot more ways to think about and do things than you have experienced. It exposes you to more ideas about what you want to do in the future.”
Engage your church in global missions
According to the Pew Research Center, the African American church community has more than 20 million members. If just 1 percent of those members answered the call to global missions, there would be a startling increase in African American participation in reaching the world for Christ.
“The church today is blessed with more means financially, technologically, and theologically for doing global missions than at any other point in history,” Saunders says. “There is no question that we have the resources; the more urgent question is: Will we answer the call?”
Saunders believes that the African American churches’ potential for participating in global missions can be significantly increased by educating, training, and sharing the value of global mission with African American young people. She suggests that one way to promote teens’ and young adults’ interest in global mission is for churches to help teens identify credible organizations that offer global mission training and global mission trips. Or, churches can work with teens to organize their own global mission trips.
“When a church supports global missions, that support gets woven into the fabric of the church’s life,” she continued. “Global missionaries are commissioned during a Sunday morning service, not privately in a pastor’s office.
Prepare to change the world and yourself
Mission service, whether at home or abroad, is transformational. “You’re not just building an orphanage or giving away school supplies, Saunders explains. “That’s community service. The work of global mission continually challenges you to honor and respect all cultures, and to be on the alert against an ethnocentric understanding of life. People may live very differently from the way you do and still love God.”
Whether you participate in a short-term global mission trip or spend a season of your life serving in another country, global mission gives you a perspective that forever informs the way you look at everyone around you. “When we change our priorities, we can change the world,” Saunders concludes.