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Sunday, July 02, 2006

Some Thoughts From My Dominican Republic Trip

Finally, I'm getting around to posting some thoughts I took away from the Dominican Republic Trip and Kosmos conference. Here they are, neatly organized for the sake of anyone who might read this:

Of course, the main thing that anyone says when they've returned from a third-world country is "It was so sad how poor the people were," or something along those lines. To be honest, I left the Dominican Republic wondering whether this attitude isn't, to some degree, cultural hubris. The questions on my mind as we went through the villages was, "Would these people be considered poor in this culture?" and "What is poverty?"

As an example of this idea, I recalled a story I heard from a missionary in another country who had made some comment about someone being poor, and the person she was talking to responded, "They're not poor; they've got a house over their heads, food to eat, and clothing to wear." In the USA, they might still be considered poor, but in that country, they were doing just fine. Given that, as I've heard, even many homeless in the USA are better off than people in other countries, I wonder if we may have a very skewed idea of poverty.

Not that I'm denying that actual poverty exists, either in the USA or abroad. Neither am I denying that we ought to help those who are "less fortunate." I think compassion for the poor is not only a good thing, but something Christians are commanded to have. The problem that I have is with the idea that the American lifestyle is, or ought to be, the norm for the whole world.

As far as what ought to be the "norm," the measure by which we determine poverty, I don't yet know.

Being Missional
Obviously, this being a missions conference, we talked a lot about missions—particularly, overseas missions. The whole point of the conference was to expose people to the idea of career missions. I was happy, however, to hear some of the speakers make a point to say that missions begins at home. Not everyone is called to go to some other place to be a missionary; we are all missionaies within our respective spheres of influence.

This week reminded me that I need to be a more faithful witness for Christ. What this means is that, first of all, obviously, I need to be willing to share the Gospel whenever I get the chance. This seems like a pretty basic thing, but it's really amazing how, for some reason, it can be scary at times to speak about Jesus in a reverent manner. Very often, I know I have kept silence when I should have spoken in some manner. God have mercy on me.

Secondly, I need to take to heart the words of St. Francis of Assisi, "Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary, use words." I need to be one in whom others see Christ. This only comes with being conformed to His image, which is difficult to do at times, because of that annoying call to die. Nevertheless, it is what I must do—what I really want to do. I need to be conformed to Christ's image, so that my life may serve as a testimony to His love, holiness, etc. God, give me grace.

Thirdly, I need to get out of the saltshaker, so to speak. It's kind of hard to be a missionary who doesn't really encounter people who have yet to believe. It's kind of hard to bring the light of Christ into the darkness when we won't leave the torch. It's kind of hard for salt to season the meat if the salt won't leave the shaker. I saw a neat illustration of this idea in the pilot episode of Firefly the other day, which I'll expand upon more in another post.

Patriotism and a Global Perspective
The idea of patriotism and having a global perspective came up a few times in conversation during the week, and there were a couple things I noticed:

One thing that a number of people mentioned at our "reflection time" at the end of the week was how it was surprising to run into some Dominicans and discover that they're not only already Christians, but rather passionate Christians. The discussion then turned to how we so often associate "missionary" with "white American," and how wrong of an idea that is (I've heard South Korea sends out more missionaries than the USA). I was reminded of a bumper sticker a friend of mine once had on her car that said, "God is not an American."

Christianity itself is a cross-cultural religion. Certainly, some churches have become "nationalized" over time, and that may not necessarily be wrong, but what is wrong is when we begin to associate "Christian" with "American" or "British" or "Germain" or "Russian" or whatever else.

At the same time, however, I have been bothered a bit by the almost anti-American sentiments I've heard some Christians express. It's interesting that people I've met from other countries tend to be rather proud of their homelands, yet we often seem almost ashamed we're Americans.

Now, I'm not one to withhold criticisms of our Nation, our society, etc., but I do so not because I'm ashamed of our country, or because it's fashionable to criticize our country, but because I care about our country and our society. For all it's failings, this is a great country. Do I hold our nation up as an exemplar for every nation, everywhere? Certainly not. But am I glad that I was born and raised in America? Yes, I am.

Contentment and Gratitude
Finally, I learned a little about contentment and gratitude. On this trip, there were a number of things to complain about. Hotel service wasn't too great at the resort, the conference schedule was so packed, there was almost no time to rest. The list goes on and on. Then, one day, in my devotional, I read Jesus saying that the Father makes the sun to shine on the evil and on the good, and makes the rain to fall on the just and on the unjust.

As I thought on that passage, I was reminded that everything I have, even the very fact that I exist, is by the grace of God. I did not deserve to be created, and I did not deserve to be born. As another parable Jesus told says, a servent is not rewarded because he did what was commanded, so Jesus taught us, when we have done all that has been commanded of us, to say, "I am an unprofitable servant, for I have only done that which was commanded of me."

If I am to say this when I've kept all Christ's commandments, what am I to say when I have failed? And, so, I have done nothing to deserve existance. I exist, breathe, move, live, eat, and drink, and all other things, by the free grace of God. If I truly believe that, then my life should be one of gratitude.

So, those are some of my thoughts from the trip. And, now, I must get into bed.

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