It has been a little over two years since my husband, Matt, and I completed our 2 year term of service as Global Service Corp representatives with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. It seems odd to me that we have been in Atlanta longer than we served in Toronto with International Students. It seems odd because those two years in Toronto were such a pivotal period of growth and change for me. It seems odd because I thought those two years in Toronto were the beginning of a lifetime of cross-cultural missions. It seems odd because I was right. I have become a cross-cultural missionary even though God has brought my family to Atlanta. I am a missionary despite the fact I receive no paycheck and am commissioned by no sending organization. I am a missionary because I am discovering the meaning of the missional lifestyle.
To understand the change I have experienced, one needs to catch a glimpse of how my world changed. In August of 2003, my husband, 2 ½ year-old daughter and I loaded up a U-haul and travelled north from Cary, North Carolina to the Jane-Finch neighborhood of Toronto. The Jane-Finch neighborhood is notorious throughout Canada for crime, drugs, gangs and immigrants. In contrast, Cary, North Carolina is known for manicured lawns, new homes and excellent schools. I grew up in the Cary area, never living outside of North Carolina. It was an ideal childhood.
We drove into Jane-Finch and I entered a new world. The community, named for the intersection of its two major streets, has been called the Corner of 100 lands because of the diverse population of its 50,000 residents. For the first time in my life, I became a minority. As an Anglo I was a racial minority. I was also a minority as a first language English speaker. On some days, going to the local market was like shopping in Africa; on other days it felt more like an Asian city. I may have only travelled to Canada, but I was in another world.
Over the past few years, the biblical story of the Good Samaritan has taken on new meaning for me. The story is found both in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Matthew recounts in chapter 22: “An expert in the religious law asked Jesus, what is the greatest commandment? 37Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
I like Luke’s version of this story. His recount is a little different as the religious expert asks a follow-up question: “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29).
Jesus responded with the story of the Good Samaritan. Now, when I was young the word Samaritan had a good connotation to it. A Samaritan is someone who offers help…maybe when others don’t. But in Jesus’ day the word Samaritan carried a quite different connotation. Samaritans were despised. They were thought of as “less than.” After telling the story to the religious leader, Jesus asked, “Who was the neighbor?” The man responded “The one who showed mercy.” “Now go and do the same.” Jesus said. Jesus demonstrated the despised Samaritan as the neighbor; he portrayed him in a positive light. It was the religious leaders who refused to show mercy that Jesus challenged in this story.
Our neighborhoods are changing. In some areas, the deep southern accent is being replaced by the heavy accent of someone who’s second or third language is English. For some of us, perhaps, this is an uncomfortable situation. Maybe we don’t understand these new faces, new ways of dress or new faiths that have moved into our neighborhood. Things were much easier when they were familiar. But, if we fail to love our neighbor, we fail to do what Jesus considered the second greatest commandment. We miss half the point.
In Toronto, it was very easy for me to see the internationals in my midst. It is not hard to notice the world at my door in Atlanta, either. It is as if God is saying, “I’ve given you the Great Commission and you have not yet completed it, so I will bring people that need to hear the Gospel to you.”
When Matt and I transitioned to Atlanta, I was faced with a challenge. How would I live out my missions calling here?
My neighborhood had changed. In Toronto, I sat in my living room and looked out my back window to see Muslim women wearing their hijab or even a full burka file out of the community centre behind our townhome after completing ESL classes. I would see Sheik men with turbans on their head gather together, sitting on the ground in a circle and talking. I would watch an elderly lady push a cart filled with groceries from the market back to her subsidized apartment. And I would see kids from the Jane and Finch community – most of Jamaican or African descent – make their way to the community centre. They were kids that most in the city had given up on because of the neighborhood in which they lived. But I knew them as kids with big dreams of great endeavors; and as kids lured to gangs and drugs.
In Atlanta, I sit and look out my back window to see a big yard and a picket fence. No Sheik men, no Muslim women, no forgotten children. But if I look just a little farther…actually just down the street, I come to find my neighbor…Ann, an immigrant from India. She doesn’t drive. She leaves the house for work and occasionally to walk the two miles to the local pharmacy. Ann is lonely for friendship. When I go to the dry cleaner, I meet the owners…a couple, also from India. The wife is happy to talk with me and my children…she too, is lonely. When I go to my local grocery, I see three Muslim women wearing hijabs navigating the aisles. I assume that after their visit they will make their way to the local halal butcher to get their meat. When I take my daughter to soccer practice, I meet Peter and his mother…from Vietnam; Tammy and her family, from Central America. I begin to realize that even though I am no longer in the world’s most multi-cultural city, the world is still at my door.
So how do I live out a missions calling in Atlanta? I made a friend. Her name is Jean and she is a refugee from Africa. We meet once a week and I help her with her English. Next, week I will help her bake her first cake. I help her navigate her way through a foreign country that is a world away from her war-torn home and the refugee camp she and her 8 kids lived in. She longs for home. She longs for home because she is lonely for friendship and a sense of belonging. She longs for home because everything here is a new challenge…the smoke detector, the oven, the grocery store, the diversity of people, the language. She struggles to learn English…she really wants to, but her mind is full of the other three languages she speaks and she wonders if there is room for another. How do I live out a missions calling? By being a neighbor to Jean.
We know God’s heart is for all people to come to know Him. CBF field personnel are joining hand in hand with their neighbors…the most neglected, the least evangelized around our world. Will you join hands with us in continued partnership, joining hands with our neighbors…whether in Atlanta or in North Africa? We invite you to reach out to your neighbor – the internationals in your midst – and share Christ’s love with them. We invite you to expand your reach by giving to the Offering for Global Missions and by praying for CBF field personnel around the world who daily share Christ’s love with their neighbors in places we cannot be. We have been given the Great Commission and not yet completed it. How will we respond?