Participants in our mission trip and children from the community work together to scrape and paint bleachers in Santiago.
Sometimes I think God speaks to us softly. It’s a gentle whisper, a nudge deep within us to do something. Sometimes, God speaks to us in such a clear way that it as if light is shining to show us the path.
And then sometimes, and maybe it’s just with me, God borrows a move from Gibbs on the TV show, NCIS, and God smacks me on the back of the head. Trust me, it gets my attention.
Somewhere in the middle of that missions trip to the Dominican moment, I had one of those head slap from God kind of moments.
Maybe it’s because this trip put some distance between me and what I’d been experiencing since September 2013. Somewhere in that month, I started a battle with a nasty virus that would lead me through sinus infections, bronchitis, pneumonia, an immune system crash, etc. It would lead to round after round of antibiotics and steroids. Ultimately, I had sinus surgery. To say the least, it was a very trying period of my life.
Maybe it was just that I was now in a situation where I had experienced some serious God moments (God-incidences — not coincidences!). Something in me was already opening up for this.
But it happened one day in quiet time.
I kept coming back to a variation of a quote. “The church doesn’t need a mission. The church is the mission.” It’s been said so many times and attributed to so many people that I have no clue who to credit it too. Another way of saying it is, “The church doesn’t need a mission. God’s mission has a church.”
But, there it was, in my head, and it started an inner conversation. In the situation that I found myself, how could we find a way to reach others for Christ?
We had been doing that through personal evangelism and meetings with those in the community in Santiago. We did that through Vacation Bible School. We were spending time together in worship and we were having some very profound moments of spending time with God.
But, something was tugging me in a different way.
It’s when I kept going back and saying that quote over and over again. Then, it stuck, “The church is the mission.”
During the time that we had been in Santiago, the church (translated Eternal King Congregation) had hosted us, they had worshipped with us. They were the site of the Vacation Bible School. Maybe there was a way, in our role as missionaries, to come alongside this church and give them an opportunity to reach those in their community.
So, we heard about a need for the church. The church was looking for some help with repainting its facilities. And we decided to respond.
It was an interesting experiencing to go into one of the Dominican Republic’s versions of the home improvement stores that we are used to (Lowe’s, Home Depot). But we left armed with paint, rollers, brushes, scrapers, tape and other items. We were ready to make the church the mission.
Now, I’m glad that I’m serving a church that does a lot of work on homes in the area around the church. The youth and leaders who were with us know what is involved in those kinds of projects. And they jumped in.
We scraped the paint on the bleachers and on the basketball goals. We worked to repaint the backboards and repair one of the rims. But something bigger was happening here, something bigger than all of us.
Within about 30 minutes of us starting this project, others joined in. It was children and teens from the neighborhood around the church. They were armed with scrapers, or flat rocks that we were using as scrapers. They took up paint brushes and rollers.
In a moment, I looked across the projects and it seemed like in that moment, it was an image for me of the kingdom of God. What we were doing transcended who we were. I had conversations with kids with only a limited knowledge of Spanish. We did a lot of sign language and hand motions. They followed my lead and we laughed and smiled at the moments wayward paint ended up on someone’s clothes (sometimes mine!)
I looked out at Steven Douglas, Wightman’s youth minister, and he also had a group following him from project to project. The youth who were serving as missionaries were doing the same thing.
Then other things started to happen. Others from the neighborhood began to arrive at the church. They brought coconuts and fresh mangos. Someone nearby shared with us some fried yucca. Members of the church arrived and they joined in.
One of those church members looked at me and said, in nearly perfect English, “This is a good thing. The community is excited about what is happening here today.”
In the afternoon, we would take a break from our painting to help with VBS, but we would return the next day and our helpers would return too.
Sometimes, most definitely, the church is the mission.
And maybe in that moment, I had some insight into how I view the church.
– The church’s mission is to “go” and by going, it means the church steps out from behind the walls and goes into the world. Going into the world isn’t easy and sometimes it’s messy, but it is there that are able to show what it means to love Jesus.
– The church is open to all. The church encourages people of all backgrounds to work together for a common purpose, sharing the love of Christ with the world. In those moments, we are most like the Kingdom of God. It doesn’t matter where we are in the journey of faith, there should be a place for us in the church.
– The church opens doors. By doing things that help others, by showing hospitality to the world, we open the door to sharing Christ with others.
– The church helps us to take steps to move toward Jesus. The church is a place for people to bring all that they have experienced, all of their burdens, and it is the place where we can lay them down before Christ. By sharing together in the community of faith, we have the strength to takes steps toward Jesus.
– The church doesn’t need a mission. The church is the mission.