Mission, Brokenness, and Celebration

Author Rev. Juan Sarmiento
Author Rev. Juan Sarmiento

The party had turned to crying.

Children, women, and men – mostly Muslims and a few Christians – who were seen as disabled or otherwise, impaired had gathered in the ancient North African Medina to celebrate the town’s first therapy center for children with motor disabilities. In that society, as in so many others, people with disabilities are often deemed unfit to participate in public gatherings or even to be in the presence of ‘important’ people. They are understood to be cursed by God and therefore unworthy of those privileges.

During the event, attendees honored the work of Dora, [1] the mission worker from Colombia credited as the founder of the center because of her role in bringing people and funds together for the completion of the project.

“We need more of these centers,” said one of the town officers in the front of the crowd. He asked Dora how she did it and where the funding came from.

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“I don’t know exactly how it was finished, but I can tell you how it got started. It started by us crying together.”
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“I don’t know exactly how it was finished, but I can tell you how it got started,” Dora told them in her broken Arabic. “It started by us crying together.” As tears began to roll down her face, she added: “If we want to see more of these centers, we need to learn to recognize the huge need that we have before each other and God.” What Dora imparted through her words was that God moved hearts to act when people gathered to lay their supplications in God’s hands. The truth is that most of the resources for the project came from the people of the town themselves. Only a fraction came from the network of Latino churches that came alongside her, supporting her in her work.

Juan Image 1Why do we send mission co-workers? Why do mission co-workers, congregations, and global church partners need each other? During a March 2014 retreat, Mark Adams, Presbyterian World Mission’s mission co-worker at the U.S.-Mexico border, offered a memorable response:

“God is bringing together the broken pieces of humanity to be God’s holy dwelling in which we experience the reality of God’s grace. We are called to join together as the body of Christ throughout the world to experience, bear witness to, and celebrate the Spirit’s transformative work. In gratitude and humility, our church, especially in brokenness, responds by sending and receiving mission co-workers both to serve and to bind us together with the church throughout the world in God’s beautiful mosaic, proclaiming the good news of God’s saving, liberating, and reconciling grace.”

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“God is bringing together the broken pieces of humanity to be God’s holy dwelling in which we experience the reality of God’s grace.”
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Mark’s words remind me how essential it is that we recognize God at work as we encounter each other in our pains as much as in our joys.

sad child public domainThe mission of the Church is to – motivated by the love of God in Christ and empowered by the Spirit – encounter the world in ways that display and declare the reign of God amidst our shared anguish and longing for wholeness. Mission is as much about sharing in human distress as it is about opening ourselves to God’s healing and enlivening action.

A sure way for the Church to be missional is by courageously recognizing itself among people experiencing different dimensions of poverty, captivity, blindness, and oppression – whoever and wherever they may be. By joining God’s relentless trajectory to those often perplexing spaces it is delivered from its distancing lassitude into fuller participation in the power of Christ and of the Spirit of the Lord that rested upon him. (See Luke 4:18) In doing that, the church is set free to proclaim and re-discover the good news.

After all, isn’t mission all about the “Most merciful and compassionate” God, broken with us and for us in Jesus Christ? Isn’t our work done in the anticipation of the joyful day when God will be fully dwelling among us and wipe away the tears from our eyes?

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Mission is as much about sharing in human distress as it is about opening ourselves to God’s healing and enlivening action.
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Juan image 2That very moment of crying together, which Dora identified as the beginning, gave impetus to the creation of 18 similar centers scattered around villages in the region. Some of the participant families, as well as trained volunteers, now identify themselves as followers of Christ. The business and government sectors of this Islamic state have taken notice of this unforeseen, dignity-affirming mobilization and have made substantive contributions of facilities and equipment. Since then, several more missionaries have joined Dora. They have come both to cry and to celebrate God’s presence.

Living missionally means partnering with God, fellow Christians, and others to see the God’s healing reign of hope, peace, and love break into very concrete realities; around the corner and around the world.

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[1] Her identity has been changed due to restrictions related to the location.

 

AUTHOR BIO: Rev. Juan Sarmiento, International Evangelism Catalyst of Presbyterian World Mission, helped launch the first evangelical organization to serve the needs of individuals who are HIV-positive in Brazil. He was a community organizer with the Hollywood-Wilshire cluster of Presbyterian churches in Los Angeles and assisted new immigrants by founding a nonprofit organization in the San Fernando Valley. A member of the American Society of Missiology, Sarmiento is currently focused on the Presbyterian Church’s critical global initiative to Train Leaders for Community Transformation around the world. 

Read more articles in this issue: What Mission is This Anyway?

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