By: Doug Patterson
In forty years of ordained ministry I have heard countless numbers of parishioners ask, “Why do we have to send money to foreign missions when we have so many needy people right here in our own back yard?” That question exposes greedy arrogance and serves as an excuse to never give anything to anybody here or abroad, laying bare a shallow spirituality filled with fear, prejudice and exclusivity. It is also a denial of universal love and acceptance, something we’ve learned to thinly veil with a false sense of faith and patriotism.
I grew up in an era of extreme national anxiety. Some folks in our small community built bomb shelters. Air raid drills were conducted on a regular basis in our school, forcing us to crouch under our desks as protection from the destruction that was sure to come. At least that’s what we were taught to believe. The “enemy” was portrayed as dark, sinister and mysterious, and that characterization continues to this day. Too bad – and tragic. Of course I’m concerned about current national security issues, but I’ve been “saved” from the fortress policies of our government and the me-first teachings of our churches.
Travel is a great teacher. I have been to Israel, Jordan, Germany, Austria, France, Belgium, Mexico, Canada, Ireland, and Russia. Getting beyond the comfort zone, following unknown paths to unknown people, has shown me the absurdity of isolated existence and has freed my soul to live with growing creativity and happiness. As I have gotten to know persons of different cultures, nationalities and faiths I have discovered the illusory nature of the walls within which I have grown accustomed to live. As those walls crumble away this eternal truth continues to emerge: we are all one people, all seven billion plus of us, sharing one planet. We are humans!
I build guitars. Recently I attended a four-day symposium with about a hundred other luthiers, having the opportunity to build my skills and knowledge through the various workshops and lectures. One of the presenters, Dick Boak of Martin Guitar, spoke eloquently about the philosophy of our craft. He put this equation up on the screen: X + (not X) = 1. Explaining that if X represents me, then (not X) represents everybody who’s not me. Adding those two together equals an unqualified one. So, the more familiar we become with the (not X), or everybody else in the world, the more unified our world outlook becomes. What beautiful theology!
I have journeyed to Russia two times to, at least I thought, become acquainted with the excellent work of Orphan’s Tree. What I experienced and witnessed, however, was deep “beyond the walls” compassion. I have grown beyond an appreciation and tacit approval for the staff, youth, families, and translators I have met. Indeed, I now love them. And our relationships continue to grow.
There is no such thing as “foreign” mission. We, truly, are one!