One day in the middle of a meeting about strategy, where leaders from several nations were debating new work plans, all of the sudden I felt tired. I stopped hearing meaning in the terms, christian movement, church growth, kingdom and the terms that belong to our missionary/church glossary. I decided that day, that I do not like the word nations anymore, that I can’t stand the phrases unreached peoples, ethnic groups, missionary enterprise, anything that dehumanize the very human task we have before us.
I felt that I could be more honest with God, if I worried about people. The Mary, the Suzzannes, the Peters, from all places, they are the ones who capture my heart. Recently a terrible earthquake happened in one of the places I am planning to work this year. The earthquake caused a 6 feet tsunami and an entire island was devastated.
More than 80 homes were destroyed. Mary-s, Peters, and their sons disappeared. They are all my neighbors. I imagine their affliction their pain their anguish, the feeling of total impotence before the greatness of sea in fury. We are all perplexed before tragedy. It’s possible that an entire population of a language disappeared.
Every language that ceases existing is a grandma that died without ever having heard the phrase “God loves you” in their ear, or never heard the grandson scream; “I want a hug!”- in the same language that she screamed at her own grandma.
Personalizing the nations, I feel capable of praying for them again. My prayer cries, my prayer has feelings. I am not praying anymore for the “lost” and the “souls” of the “nation” or the “40 unreached languages”. I am praying for people.
For many years I have worked with contextualization of theology. I arrived now to the conclusion that Jesus is able to contextualize himself. The truth-person Jesus Christ goes beyond conceptual communication and communicates his incarnated personhood to the peoples that he visits. Jesus makes sense by himself because he is Christ-man. His stories incarnate in personal hopes and personal realities.
He becomes an unbearded Jesus to the Amazonian Indians, a Jesus with negroid features crooked legs and skinny body for the Papua New Guinea peoples. Jesus is tall and strong for the Samoans. It does not matter how he looks like, he is capable to communicate himself, his same wonderful nature.
What in the beginning of my mission seemed to me to be complex, difficult even the impossible the task to communicate the gospel to other people groups so different in the end revealed itself to be easier than what I was expecting. It was the God-man speaking to his peoples.
Our Christian society deepened on its systematized Gospel for so long. We use religious words to refer to the basic task left to us by Christ. “If you are loved by me, love others. Love those who I love…” - He said to us in many ways.
In our Christian meetings the clichés pile up over the table and suddenly everything becomes disposable. If you have a call to the “church” you don’t to have a call to “missions” and vice-versa. Unfortunately people do not cease to be people if they are distant from us, or close to us. Many people believe they have a call to the “nations”and they do not pray or care for the ones nearby. It’s easy to ignore pains if this pain has a name without color or smell. Religious terms work like emotional shields, sad psychological techniques to keep emotional distance.
My heart goes to Milena, a housewife mother of two small kids, who works full time as a government employee for a minimum wage, in her little island-country. She studies online to get a teacher’s certificate and dedicates her weekends to translate biblical portions to her language, spoken by only 200 people. Her kitchen smells like fish, she smells like sweat. Jesus does not know her as a “native translator for the Sonsorol people group of Palau. Her life has color, smells, smiles and tears. She deserves more from us than religious labels.