Yesterday I had the great pleasure of meeting missionaries Peter Noonan and his wife, Rachel. A mutual friend from College Church - veteran missionary Don Lundgren - linked us up. As it turns out, Peter and I have a number of friends in common from the Barn and beyond. He and they were a part of a now-defunct church in Amherst called Agape Fellowship. As the saying goes "it's a small world."
Striking to me in meeting and talking with them was the fact they are missionaries to the Middle East: Egypt, Kuwait, and especially Iraq, their current post. I was fascinated to hear their stories of working in Muslim cultures, and living as Christians in a troubled part of the world (although Peter said more than once it appeared to him inner city ministry in the US is equal to or more dangerous than ministry in the Middle East). We talked much of the unique challenges they face in bringing the Gospel to people who can be killed for converting.
Most fruitful was our conversation about the contextualizing of ministry to the people and place in which one lives. I am well aware of this principle, but hearing their experience of negotiating thew subtleties of Arab culture in the countries they lived was instructive. The Noonen's reinforced the reality that patience and perseverance are necessary for engaging people through the lens of their cultural norms. We have had to learn Northampton culture to even begin having any sort of impact on people here. We are still learning nuances and shadings.
My experience with them reminded me that I have always been humbled by Christians called to leave the easy familiarity of their own culture to minister in foreign lands. To a person, these folks demonstrate a humility and authenticity which marks them as followers of Jesus. They have sacrificed for the Kingdom often at great cost. And yet they have a vitality of faith and love for God quite winsome and charming. They seem cut from another cloth while they are also very much you and me in our ordinariness.
We talked for an hour and a half, after which I felt bouyed and encouraged about our challenging mission in Northampton. The Noonan's faith and vibrancy was a breath of fresh air.
Grace paid a visit yesterday.
As did some gut-checks: Am I willing to leave everything to serve Christ's redemptive Kingdom, sparing no cost and joyfully embracing sacrifice to bring the Gospel into the lives of the people here? Can I be single-hearted in devotion to making him known? Would I embrace death in order to do that? Am I all talk and all show, artifice enfleshed? Do I protect rules of engagement that preserve comfort and control? Or am I just a 60 year-old weenie satisfied with going about on the surface of this mission?
All good questions . . . They remind me:
Gut-checks are blessings.
Gut-checks reveal counterfeit loyalities.
Gut-checks show the true condition of the heart.
Gut-checks cut through posturing and lip-service.
Gut-checks make us spiritually naked pinpointing flab and flaws.
Gut-checks offer the best chance live past mediocrity and superficiality.
Gut-checks get us to the sobering truth of our deepest loyalties.
A simple conversation I didn't realize I would be having a few days prior refocused me a bit. It re-tethered me to why I am here in the first place. Their example became my missional GPS.