Somewhere in the process of telling people what we are doing (becoming missionaries) and where we are going (Italy), a friend gave me a sympathetic look. “Italy is not a sexy mission field,” they sighed.
A sexy mission field? I thought, alarmed that these words could find themselves so closely together in a sentence. One being an adjective describing the other. And, even more surprising is that I have had this same conversation more than once.
First, it’s disturbing how sexy has worked its way into describing the work of the missionary. I should have known this would happen. Its been turning up in odd places for centuries. I was actually thinking the missionary life was the best place to hide from sexy but I was wrong. It slapped me with a grin during this conversation about making disciples.
Second, saying Italy is not sexy as a place where a missionary family would serve is to indicate there are sexier places. And, the question then becomes, “Are we having a serious conversation about choosing where you will go as a missionary based upon appeal?” That’s what we’re talking about.
I’m going to speak up for my friend here. They were not saying this to judge me or to convince me to do something sexier. They were speaking from experience. From years on the field. And, years of communicating their story to church people had taught them this lesson: People generally do not support a ministry that doesn’t entice or engage them in some way on a basic level.
This is as true for me as it is for anyone. Countless ministries have been given stage at our church over the years, and I left without visiting any of their tables. Their ministries were of course meeting legitimate needs, but I personally wasn’t enticed. Then, recently I stood in the commons after a service passionately engaged with someone who had shared with us a creative way his ministry was reaching people and changing lives. Could I say his ministry was sexier than all the others?
My friend indicated it was easier to see the need in other countries. Poverty. War-torn environments. Lack of access to the gospel. Political oppression. For many American churchgoers, Italy doesn’t seem to be touched by these atrocities. It seems like a lovely place to stay on a layover to a desperately needful area, perhaps in the Middle East. But, as a mission field, Italy appears for many to be less sexy.
But, let’s consider the reason for missions. What did Jesus call us to do? How has the message of Jesus traveled to the unreached corners of the world, including Italy? Did the first missionaries have anything attractive in mind? Were they looking for ways to sell their endeavor to their friends back home?
Making disciples. Engaging people anywhere in the world with the person of Jesus and building a relationship. Following Jesus and teaching others to follow Jesus. When did this become less marketable than other missions work.
Making disciples is the work of the missionary, above all. Whether that comes through acts of service or a series of conversations is secondary. The beauty of missions is that the fields are ripe unto harvest. That means there are needs in every part of the world to hear the Gospel.
I’m actually very thankful to the friend who got me to thinking about this. I hope they didn’t click this blog title and spew their coffee, thinking I misread them or misrepresented them in any way.
Their wisdom and well-placed encouragement has been motivating during this season of preparation. Their use of the word sexy was only a challenge to me to communicate well the supreme need to making disciples.