Whiplash is one way of describing it.
We spent five busy weeks in a very crowded England, where there is never enough space for anything. Driving, parking, shopping, living - you name it, there’s not enough space for it. We spent the last ten days with friends who live not more than a hundred feet from a very busy motorway (interstate). Arriving back at Toronto airport, space suddenly reappeared. Wide roads, stores with acres of parking, space everywhere. And after four brief days at home, we found ourselves in our new accommodations in Michigan. Again we are perched on the edge of a highway. But as we looked out the window in the morning, the first traffic to appear was an Amish buggy.
Travelling has at least one virtue. It makes you much more aware of how people live differently than you do. And if you’re smart, you also realize they sometimes think differently. And that can be challenging. In fact, it can be much more challenging than any road conditions you encounter. But it makes you flexible. You learn to adapt. Your vision expands.
Being a Christian has a big built-in advantage. As part of a world-wide family, we have more in common with folk on the other side of the world who are believers than with the people next door who aren’t. That should make us bigger people with broader vision for the world in which we live. Even if we never travel beyond our city limits.
And that’s why it’s such a tragedy when Christians and churches become so inward-looking they cannot relate to believers who live and think a bit differently from them. Neither do they care what happens much beyond their own city, or even church limits.
The world-wide missionary movement was birthed by people who had a vision for the farthest-flung regions of the earth long before there was any means of communicating what those regions even looked like. It was a venture into the unknown by men and women who often took their caskets with them to be buried in. Those amazing people were big-minded even before they travelled a few miles down the road.
It’s a tragedy when we cannot see anything beyond the limits of what we’re used to. The church or town or city or country we live in becomes a kind of spiritual perimeter. That’s where we live, and nowhere else matters. Churches become inward-looking, self-serving and narrow. Their desire to serve anyone other than themselves gradually shrivels away. And the kingdom is not advanced. In fact, it begins to retreat.
Years ago, I was at a meeting where the visiting speaker was sharing with a local Christian leader what God was doing in other countries. The local man interrupted with the comment that he was only interested in what God was doing in his own town. It’s a good thing someone with a bigger vision than that had taken the time to bring the gospel 150 years ago to the place where that man’s forebears lived!
We need a new missionary movement. We need modern-day apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (however you define them all) to get us there. We need to learn to invest in what brings back no tangible benefit to us other than the knowledge God has used our giving in the extension of his kingdom.
And then the kingdom will advance.