By Curt Devine
November 15, 2011
As I step into the church, bass booms against my chest. Neon lights reflect off the worship leader’s guitar as he sings, “There is no one like our God”—with Auto-Tune. As the song builds, my friend turns to me and says: “Doesn’t this sound amazing? They just spent $300,000 on a new sound system.”
I’m in an American megachurch, yet I can’t help but think about the Third World churches I visited this year—the ones with one Bible, no electricity and a lot of passion. Even though I want to worship, I only feel bitterness.
This past year, I went on the World Race, an 11-month missions trip to 11 countries in Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe. While I love being home with hot showers and cold air-conditioning, the transition has been rough. I can’t help but judge friends who drop $100 on a night out, thinking, “That could feed the homeless boy I met in Tanzania for a year,” or think I’m better than the Lexus driver because my Grand Am is barely worth $1,000.
Coming off the missions field can bring on all sorts of emotions from culture shock to loneliness to helplessness. But one of the most common and potentially insidious post-mission tendencies is to become a bitter, America-hating cynic.
My first day home, I went to the grocery store and found myself overwhelmed in the cereal aisle with its endless array of General Mills cartoons. We can choose from more than 50 types of deodorant, 115 kinds of toothpaste and 1,000 channels on TV.
The conflict between excess at home and scarcity abroad is a lot to handle. The temptation can be to hate America’s abundance, or forget the poverty overseas and go back to life the way it was before. The key is living within the tension. As Christy Vidrine says in her book Unearth, “There is a balance between the humility of scarcity and the peace within excess.”
James, the brother of Jesus, writes that every good gift and every perfect gift comes down from above. Therefore, the first response we should have to the excess around us is thankfulness. God has given us food, water, shopping malls and Venti Mocha Frappuccinos, even though we don’t deserve them.
Our second response should be wise stewardship. I once heard a friend say she has a closet overflowing with clothes, yet she complains she has nothing to wear. This reminded me of Jesus’ parable in which a ruler gives varying amounts of money to his servants. Some make wise investments and use the money well, while one hides his share in the ground. The master returns and reprimands the servant for doing nothing.
If we have full closets, stocked refrigerators or fat bank accounts, we should look for wise opportunities to give to others and encourage friends and family to do the same.
Another important fact to remember is the grass is always greener on the other side. When my team did ministry in Iringa, Tanzania, we partnered with a young teacher named Peter who was a little overexcited about America. He told us: “I’m so happy to be with a team from the U.S.A. I love American churches. One day I will go to America and learn so much about God!”
I stared at him in disbelief, thinking, Does he really think America has more of God than Africa? I told him most of my friends couldn’t wait to come to Africa to experience more of God’s presence. He didn’t understand.
The truth is, we are all guilty of this way of thinking. The misconception most of us buy into says community, miracles and true passion only exist in the Third World. On the other hand, much of the Third World believes effective ministry only happens with lots of money and high-tech resources. Jesus says something completely different. In Luke 17, He teaches His disciples not to listen to people who say, “Here it is” or, “There it is,” referring to the Kingdom of heaven. Rather, He says, “The Kingdom of God is in your midst.” Experiencing God’s presence has nothing to do with where you are and everything to do with how you live with those around you.
Every country poses its unique problems for those seeking God. In Ukraine, alcoholism is rampant. In Thailand, the sex industry plagues hundreds of thousands. In Tanzania, theft and crime create serious problems. Every country uniquely needs God’s grace, but the good news is He faithfully pours it out on those who seek Him, no matter the place or time.
Whether you’ve experienced extreme poverty or you simply want a change in your life, here are a few questions to ask yourself:
If you had all the time and resources to make an impact, what would you do?
Now, with the limited resources you do have, what impact can you have on your local community? What small steps can you take toward making a global change?
America is not your enemy; it’s another opportunity. You don’t have to wait for a missions trip to experience God and share His love. The adventure isn’t over just because you’re home.