“You’ll see change…in about 10 years.”
Commitment is not a cultural value. Wanna be radical? Commit to a neighborhood for 10 years! Every generation has its good and every generation has its bad. One of the great things about my generation is our global awareness. With the Internet and all, the world has shrunk into a global neighborhood. Folks are aware of what’s happening in Uganda and East Timor. Young folks care about who made their clothes and where their bananas come from and how much the folks who grew their coffee got paid. But there is also a sort of missional ADD. Young people want to do everything…for three months. They want to go to Africa. They want to do Mission Year, and City Year, AmeriCorps, Peace Crops, Jesuit Volunteer Corps. They want to do Teach for America and be an intern here and an apprentice there. But it can be very parasitical. They glean all this knowledge and experience but can end up doing internships until they’re 40! Then they are ready to retire! Incidentally, these short-term experiences have to lead to long-term commitment. Otherwise, you end up running around from experience to experience and doing all sorts of little projects that are great for your own formation and sense of meaning, but they have very little lasting fruit or enduring impact on anyone else.
Many of us have a natural tendency of jumping from job to job, trying to work our way up the corporate ladder and improve place in life life.
Forget “Generation X.” We’ve become an “ADD generation,” full of aspirations but no attention span to see many of them through to completion.
We’ve grown up on Youtube and Netflix.
We skip commercials and we listen to podcasts sped up.
We multitask everything, even our friends.
Our employers worry -and rightfully so- about our staying power.
We get restless if we stay in one place too long, and that leads to a sense of unsettledness.
A loss of community.
A search for deep friendships and meaning.
We want to get past the surface.
We want to be more than casual acquaintances. But before we can get to that point, we’re ready to throw in the towel and move on to the next thing.
I loved visiting Haiti, but I was only there for a week and a half.
One of the best parts was the other women that I met while there. They were there to learn the language. They were putting down roots.
One of them lived there full-time, and the others visited regularly. By coming often they were able to build relationships, orphanages, and schools.
It was one thing for me to make new Haitian friends – but it was quite another to walk down the street and hear villagers yell my friend’s name and give her huge hugs.
That’s the power of staying.
Is there value in visiting?
But there is only so much you can do on a short-term trip. I’ve accepted that the biggest change that will happen on short-term missions is within myself.
Going has the power to change me.
Staying has the power to change the community.
The Power of Returning
Sometimes people need to leave the neighborhood where they grew up in order to learn new skills and then bring it back to their community.
It can be difficult, I’m sure, once you’ve broken the cycle of poverty to willingly return to that place. It can be tempting to act like that is no longer a part of you.
I’ll use Haiti as an example again. Many Haitians feel trapped, but every now and then an opportunity opens up for them to leave and study elsewhere.
This happened for one young man I met. He became a doctor and could have struck it rich, but he returned instead to offer quality medical care in his home country.
“Haiti needs me.”
Now he runs his practice the village of Monwi and donates his spare time to visit orphanages and do free checkups.
It might not make a whole lot of logical sense, but it makes a lot of sense in the Kingdom of God.
I can’t help but think about the movie The Lion King every time this topic comes up. Simba had it good in the jungle with Timon and Pumbaa. He wasn’t worried about anyone but himself, and it was working out for him pretty good. Hakuna matata, right?
But when Nala found Simba and reminded him of trouble at home he dropped everything and went back.
Or the story of Moses returning to Egypt after he’d been banished to the desert. He didn’t do too bad in the desert – he even found a wife and a profession as a shepherd.
The story could have ended there, but it didn’t. God wasn’t done with him.
Moses risked his family, his life, and his freedom to obey God’s call to Egypt.
Couldn’t all those Israelite slaves have banded together and figured out their own road to freedom? I don’t know, but it was God’s plan to use Moses and his obedience led the Israelite nation to the Promised Land.
That’s the power of returning.
Good things take time. Good things are worth investing in – not just physically, but relationally.
One of the biggest examples of staying power in relationships is marriage.
Marriage has the potential to be our deepest, most important relationship on this earth. Not because there’s anything especially spectacular about you or your spouse, but because of your lifetime commitment to each other.
We’ve sadly seen so many marriages fail. People are human and people can fail each other.
But Josh and I have personally grown closer together as we create goals and move toward them as life teammates.
We’ve matured and changed a lot in six years and it’s exciting.
We’ve made it through some difficult phases already and it’s made us stronger as a result.
Or think of a fruit tree as an investment in something long-term. They don’t bear fruit until the third year, but if you never plant them because you’re unwilling to wait, you miss out on the fruit.
If you just make the investment, three years can go by quickly.
How many different types of trees have you planted?
We’ve planted a lot of different types of trees and it’s cool to see those trees bearing fruit now.
Stay Where He Has You
It’s easy to get impatient when life is slow. I’m one of those people who thinks change is exciting, so staying the course isn’t always the easiest thing to do.
Jill Briscoe says God’s words to her as a young lady were: Go where you’re sent, stay where you’re put, and give what you’ve got until you’re done.
Go and stay.
Both are true.
When God wants you to move, he’ll tell you.
God speaks to people in the Bible a lot telling them it’s time to get moving.
He speaks through a burning bush telling Moses to return to Egypt.
He tells Jonah to go to Nineveh even though it’s the last place in the world he wants to go.
Jesus sends disciples into all the world in the Great Commission.
Several times in my own life, God has told me it’s time to pack up and get moving.
When this happens it’s important to obey.
However, it’s by staying put that we’re able to invest in relationships and plant seeds that will one day bloom into something bigger.
I believe we’re all called to make disciples of all nations – but that calling can be fulfilled in several ways.
Sometimes we fulfill the Great Commission by going and sometimes we fulfill it by staying.
One thing I’ve learned from being in St. Louis and working with refugees and international students is that the nations are already here.
It’s not always necessary to uproot your life in order to make disciples -and yes- even minister to the nations.
As a matter of fact, one of the exciting things I learned from ISI training is that most of the international students in the US are coming from the 10×40 Window (this area includes West Asia, Central Asia, South Asia, East Asia and much of Southeast Asia.)
The nations that are hardest to reach with missionaries are coming to us! In fact, they’re already here!
There’s no guarantees in life. Sometimes life throws you a curve and you don’t get to see the outcome of your investments.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t invest anyway and trust that God will see it through.
I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.
1 Corinthians 3:6-7
This is a great reminder that it isn’t really about us – but about God doing the work in us and through us.
Because of the long-term investments that we’ve already made, Josh and I are excited to get older. To see the outcome of the trees we’ve planted.
We’re excited to stay in St. Louis as long as we’re called and see the trees we’ve planted bear fruit.
And yes, it’s all God making it grow. Not us.
It’s tempting to run from one thing to the next, but it’s more exciting to stay where God has put us and watch those investments play out in our city, our church, our neighborhood.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.