Somewhere along the way many congregations in the USA began to see “missions” as what we did overseas, while “evangelism” or “discipleship” was what we did at home or in our own community. This division of ideas does not exist in the New Testament. We are called to “make disciples of all nations,” and in Acts, Luke quotes Jesus more specifically as us “being witnesses, first in Jerusalem then Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” The task is not divided between what we do at home and what we do overseas. It is one single mission and what we do here is intimately involved with what we do there (regardless of where “there” might be).
I am learning this lesson in my new ministry in Dubois, WY. This is definitely small-town USA! Less than a thousand people in the town limits with maybe 1500-2000 in the surrounding area. Most people are prosperous, but there remains many needs that the church can and should address: An aging population as most young adults leave never to come back; Too few jobs and opportunities for those young adults which leads them to abandon the town; A struggling business community that is so geared to summer tourists, it has nothing to offer the rest of the year.
But we do have some advantages! First, the oil boom left behind an excellent school and school system. With only 130 students (total) in grades k-12, this is unusual. However, we have the school now and the opportunity to train young people for both professional and trade careers. We also have a very active church community. Granted, they are kind of divided between the Evangelical and Social Justice camps, but the fact is they are already engaged with the community and have the potential to create a lot of positive change. We also have a very beautiful environment! Surrounded by the Absaroka and Wind River Mountains, we are on the main southern pathway into Yellowstone and the valley of Jackson Hole. This beauty is not just a characteristic of our scenery. Rather it is probably one of our most attractive assets. We have four seasons of sports and the potential to be a major visitor destination.
As far as spiritual needs, most of the folks who are interested in church are in church somewhere. But the unchurched seem so apathetic as to be almost impossible to reach with the Gospel. Many within the churches are very secular and church-hopping seems to be a favorite pastime here.
So, just like the mission fields of Haiti or Ecuador or anywhere else, we need not only the Good News, we need community and business development; some church discipleship to mature the folks we already have, and some form of economic stimulus to foster growth in jobs and opportunities. Sounds like real mission work! Maybe the ideas we use over there will help over here and the opportunities we try here to reach our community just might help us over there.