What do you think of when I say the word “missionaries”? Do you think of people trekking through the rain forests of South America taking the gospel to the natives? Do you think of people in the African desert sharing God’s words and basic human essentials? Both are valid, very real descriptions. However, there are mission fields closer to our version of “normal.”
I am privileged to have spent a great deal of my life through college with many people who are missionaries serving on college campuses throughout the state of Ohio, as well as in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and Sheffield, England. Granted, these aren’t the first places that come to mind when the word “missionary” is uttered, but from what I am learning they are places where missionaries are desperately needed.
The culture of Amsterdam is pretty well known the world over as a party-goer’s paradise. From legalized ma-rij-uana to the red-light district, they pretty much do it all, with a noticeable absence of religion. For all of this immorality, it seems that there is a general apathy toward Christianity (as well as religion in general). This is in direct contrast to my understanding of the mission field in England.
I learned during a recent conversation with my friend who is serving in Sheffield that the English are essentially openly hostile to anyone who follows any religion. In fact, religion is taught in the public schools as an expression of culture and nothing more. Through this education, children are exposed to (and encouraged to participate in) religious celebrations of all religions, again strictly as a way of learning about a particular nation’s culture. My shock and “holy-cow-can-you-imagine…” reactions aside, this conversation reinforced something very important to me: Whether or not we are missionaries by profession, we must be missionaries by practice.
As a mother to two little boys, my home and my community are my mission field. Foremost, it is my job (and my husband’s too, of course) to make sure that they grow up into godly men. After that, I need to consider all of the lives that I’ll touch in some way as a result of mothering these two little boys. Through people that we meet at playgroups, story times, activities and sports, their friends as they grow into older boys and young men, my mission field, and that of any parent, is vast.
Parenting is only one example of how we are all called to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19 – NIV). Consider this next time you hear the word missionary: Where is your mission field? You likely don’t need to look much farther than your own front door.
Photo by Jason Trommeter
Wendy, I am with you all the way on parenting as mission and loved this aspect of your post! I must state though that although I understand what your friend in Sheffield may be facing, I too live & minister in a northern English town and no one has ever been openly hostile about my religion to me. Not every school holds daily worship but one of our church’s missions is to ensure that every child knows about Jesus. My children attend a Christian faith school where they attend morning worship AND learn about other cultures and faiths and their celebrations. I know so many tolerant, loving English people and although we may not all follow one of the world faiths, may be cynical, sceptical, sarcastic and so on, neither are we all openly hostile to religion and in survey after survey, the majority of English people claim to be religious themselves (even though they may not regularly attend a place of worship.) OK – piece said. (The Queen was in Sheffield today, by the way, and my friend who is studying theology at their University there saw her!)
Thank you so much for another (much more encouraging!) perspective on what’s happening spiritually in England. My sincere apologies for generalizing an entire nation based on the experiences of one person in one city. In retrospect, that was probably not wise of me. I pray that your life and ministry in England is a pleasant and successful one, regardless of whatever may challenge you.