Last week I attended the Massanetta Middle School conference with six of our middle schoolers and another adult chaperone, and I was reminded of one of the cardinal truths of the youth conference experience: a good keynoter speaks in a way that the youth can relate to, but a great keynoter speaks so that both the youth and adults take something from it. That was certainly the case with the gentleman who spoke to us. I found his stories inspiring and his take on the scripture for week invigorating.
One thing Scott shared that really stuck with me was on our last day at the conference. He was talking about how we should constantly look for places to “engage mission” – putting our faith into practice so it’s not just talking the talk but walking the walk. Scott acknowleded that part of the problem is that we typically think “mission” entails going to some far-off place on a long trip, something that time and resources often get in the way of. That’s when he began talking about a mission field he discovered he could serve in, every single week. And as he said this, on the large screen behind him showed a picture of his local grocery store. He told us that he crafted a plan: he would visit this grocery store at least once a week, sometimes more; and that he would go out of his way to get to know the people who worked there, since most folks go in and buy groceries and leave without saying much other than a simple “thanks.” Over the course of the next six months, Scott not only got to know most of the employees there by name but know them as people too. He knew when Ed was having surgery. He offered encouraging words when Katie was going through a difficult divorce.
One particular story Scott shared really stuck with me. At some point, one of the grocery store clerks (we’ll call her Sarah) asked Scott what he did for a living. When he told Sarah he was a minister, she couldn’t believe it. When Scott asked her why, Sarah replied quickly, “Christians are the worst customers.” To his horror, she recounted how every Sunday morning, church-goers would come in dressed in their Sunday best with the worst disposition – always in a hurry, rarely polite, abrasive. It left a bad taste in her mouth about what it meant to be in church and be a Christian. Scott was glad that he had given Sarah an alternative view about what being a follower of Christ meant – all without “Bible-thumping” or even a heady theological conversation.
Well, I liked Scott’s idea so much that I’ve decided to follow his lead. So here’s the mission field I’ve chosen:
Here’s what I’m going to do: for the next six months, I’m going to go to Lowe’s at least once a week, even if I’m just buying a pack of gum. I’m going to get to know the cashiers and employees beyond the name on their nametags. As much as one can in the quick exchange at the check-out line, I’m going to strike up a casual conversation with the person working there. I’m going to learn something about them beyond the “simple pleasantries” we’re so good at here in the South. If they ask, I’ll let them know something about me beyond just being a customer. And every time I leave, I’m going to do my best to have them smiling. It may go nowhere, or it may go somewhere. But that’s the way it is with mission – you kind of put it all in God’s hands and let God do whatever God wants to.
You’ve probably already guessed this is about more than me telling you what I’m doing. Yes, I want to invite YOU to join me in taking on the local mission challenge! Here are the parameters:
- Choose a local place you frequent or can “visit” on a weekly basis – a grocery store, restaurant, convenience store, gas station, cleaners, etc. (If you already know well the people who work there, consider choosing a different place). Every person employed there is now someone you’re called to serve in your new mission field.
- Try to visit your local mission field at least once a week over the next six months.
- When you’re there, make a concentrated effort to get to know the people working there beyond their names. In the context of casual conversation over time, find out a little something about them. Where are they from? What’s their family like? What’s their story? What are their hopes and dreams; their concerns and fears?
- Attempt to leave them each time with a smile on their face and an uplifted spirit.
- Pray for them in your daily prayers.
If nothing else, this experience will help us realize that mission does not mean we have to travel far away. Nor does it mean we’re restricted to only talking about Jesus and quoting scripture. At its heart, mission means making a conscious effort to allow the love of Jesus to shine through our lives to those around us, especially those who may need it the most. Mission means “letting go and letting God” so we become part of the lives of others in ways we wouldn’t or couldn’t anticipate. Mission is something every single one of us can do, anytime, anywhere – no matter our age, no matter where we are in our journey of faith, no matter our location. All it takes, as Scott showed me, is an intentional effort on our part and allowing God to take it from there.
Here’s hoping you join me in the Local Mission Challenge. Blessings to you all!
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