Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God.
He is the Maker of heaven and earth,~ Psalm 146:5–9 NIV
the sea, and everything in them—
he remains faithful forever.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the foreigner
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
During the years that I worked in South Sudan, the question I got most frequently from friends and colleagues living in the United States was, “Aren’t you afraid?”
Hidden behind this simple question were a myriad of concerns about life outside of my passport country. Some people were concerned with the lack of physical amenities, and what it would be like to live without electricity, a toilet, or easy access to medical care. Others were concerned about the political history of violence and unrest. Others worried about relationships, and what it would be like to interact in a place with a history of cultural and tribal clashes. No matter what people’s specific concerns were, almost all of my American friends anticipated that life in South Sudan was something to be feared.
It is honestly hard to remember what I felt when I first moved to South Sudan, though I’m sure I was scared in the midst of so many unknowns. But when I think about my season of life there, I don’t remember feeling frequently afraid. Instead, what has stayed with me is the gift of friendships and community where I felt safe and loved. I think of meals around shared tables, about working alongside colleagues in schools, churches, and gardens, and about sitting under mango trees in the dry season heat. In other words, I found a home in South Sudan, and that home became a refuge from fear. A place that was initially foreign and strange became routine and familiar; people who were strangers became friends and family.
Strangers in a Familiar Land
I have recently reestablished residency in the United States after living in East Africa for over a decade. It has been an interesting season to move back to the U.S., particularly in light of COVID-19, along with American political unrest and racial injustice. The oft-repeated anthem is that we are living in unprecedented times. I have returned to an America that is experiencing a health care crisis, political upheaval, and racial and cultural division. The very things people thought could be risks in South Sudan have shown themselves present here in my own passport country.
Even though I may feel particularly out of place since I’ve just returned to the U.S., I think we all feel a bit like strangers who are living in a season we could not have prepared for. We are all learning how to live in the midst of fear and uncertainty, and our day-to-day lives can feel foreign to us.
Unsettled and Afraid
How do we live as people of God when we are afraid and unsettled? Does it even make sense to think of living a missional life when everything seems so unstable? Psalm 146 reminds us that God comes into the very places of fear and uncertainty that we currently inhabit. He cares for the oppressed, the hungry, the imprisoned, and the stranger. He cares for the blind, the bowed down, the orphan, and the widow.
God comes to you both when you feel like the stranger, and when you encounter the stranger. When you are bowed down with shame, and when you see others bowed down by oppressive systems. You have the opportunity to be a part of God’s coming kingdom as you care for others even in the midst of your own loss and fear. In the family of faith, we are always called to move toward one another in love, even when (or especially when) we feel afraid.
What Does Missional Living Look Like?
What does it look like to care for your neighbor who is at high risk for contracting COVID-19? What does it look like to love a neighbor who has lost a job or who may not be able to afford rent? What does it look like to love a neighbor who has a different skin tone or comes from a different socioeconomic situation or passport country? What if you aren’t close to anyone in these categories? How do you acknowledge the experiences of neighbors you may have been blind to for much of your life?
I hope you see and feel today the hope of God who promises to sustain, to feed, to uphold, to free, to lift up, and to love his children. His promises are for you, and for all of those who are suffering and struggling. Our missional living flows out of a life rooted in the love of God. God is the maker of our world, the healer of our brokenness, and he is faithful forever. I John 4:18 reminds us that “perfect love drives out fear.” If you find yourself afraid today, I hope you will remember the love God has for you that is shown perfectly in the life of Christ. I hope that dwelling in his love will free you from fear in a new way that empowers you to love your neighbors. I hope that your own fear will grow your empathy and compassion for those around you who are also afraid. As you learn to love those around you who may seem very different from you, I hope you will find that they are not strangers but instead are a part of the beloved community of God that is being used to transform your fear into hope.
A missional life means continually reminding ourselves of God’s power in our weakness, and his faithfulness in the midst of a scary and uncertain world. May you find freedom to participate in his coming kingdom as you hold onto his gracious eternal promises.
THE MISSION-CENTERED LIFE: FOLLOWING JESUS INTO THE BROKEN PLACES, STUDY GUIDE
For Christians who long to serve God in broken places but aren’t sure where to start, The Mission-Centered Life speaks to the “whys” and “hows” of missional living. Bethany Ferguson shares why holistic missions are needed, how God’s grace empowers us to serve in places of need, what to do when we fail as missionaries, and how to cultivate hope in the midst of a broken world.