From my earliest days in ministry I have been committed to work in my own backyard! I recall the first house Sheryl and I ever bought. In a little subdivision near McDonough, Georgia we bought this little lot near the back for a great price. A builder we met through the church helped us navigate the decisions and he built our first house for us. I remember the "sweat equity" we put into the house just to be able to afford it. I also remember the hours we spent working in the yard. My memory is especially clear of one occasion soon after moving in that Sheryl's family was coming for a visit. I planned and prepared for a great display of freshly planted flowers and shrubs to bring attention to OUR backyard! Just before the visit I remember the daylight fading and the cool spring air becoming almost more than my hands could bear, but nothing was going to stop the completion of the masterpiece I had planned for the centerpiece of flowers and shrubs right in the middle of the backyard!
The day came and went and other than a few very heartfelt comments about the good job we had done in the backyard, not much really was made of the hours of work that had been put in. Yet, without the hours of preparation and cleaning and building of beds, none of the plan would have ever been accomplished. In fact I have come to realize years later that the majority of my time in the yard is spent preparing the area for what is to come. The actual planting of flowers or shrubs or filling with mulch or pine straw is done rather quickly in relation to the work done ahead of time.
As a mission minded person the backyard often times is lost in the shadow of the GREAT need in the "more desperate places" around the world. I know for my own struggle with balance in this world of suffering and need and hopelessness, my backyard is often the last place I look to serve. Why is that? Why do so many of us overlook those who are nearest to where we have been planted?
You see, each of us is planted in a community, among a group of people or social network by the Father for a specific need that is present within that part of the body. That's right I said the Body! Missions has been so driven into the uttermost parts of the world that we have forgotten Jesus words that He used to help us see our primary task..." they will know you are my disciples by the way you love one another." John 13:35 I know this does not sound very missional. In fact this may sound somewhat counter-missional when seen in light of the current trend in missions that going to another context equals real missional living.
However, if we are realistic in our understanding of the local church, the majority of people whom God plants within a local church will not move away to another context in a missional surrender of their lives. Rather missional surrender will look more like daily taking up our crosses and daily living out the Gospel in the midst of the people group God has planted us. Our daily tasks will be more focused on preparing the backyard for flowers than on pinpointing the next location in the 10/40 window to travel. I also think that when I look intently into my backyard I will see the work that needs to be done to prepare the soil and remove the rocks and clear the thorns and pull up the weeds.
In 1982 God carried me on a journey that would forever change the way I see people. I journeyed to an Indian reservation in southern Arizona. There for a week I experienced a people group in my backyard that is in great need! The church is in great need on the reservation. The Body is in great need on the reservation. The Father is at work among the local church on the reservation. If this is my backyard, I should be preparing the soil and removing he rocks and pulling weeds here!
Today our ministry is serving among the Navajo Indians in western New Mexico. The need is great! The struggle for truth seems to be unlike any I have seen in our country. We served for a number of years in Arizona, yet the strength of tradition among the Navajo is much stronger and much more against "white man's religion." This is in our backyard. Right here in the US we have a people group whose number of professing Christ-followers is far below the national average for native people groups. The number of Navajo who have had an authentic encounter with a Christ-follower whose love for them showed the Gospel is a number well below that of other unreached people groups around the world. Why is this the case?
Our back yard is not just across the country in a region like New Mexico. Within the metro area of even the city I live in, Birmingham, there are large pockets of people who have no active Gospel witness or outreach. Sure there are many churches scattered across the city, yet Gospel outreach seems to be the last thing that is happening in these communities. Why is this the case?
I suggest that many of us overlook the work at home because of the extreme emphasis placed on the poor, impoverished and lost in unknown parts of the world. These are places that most of us do not really know much about. These are also places that most of us will never travel, at least not long-term. So, is it possible that the primary objective of my missional faith journey is to love the people who live the closest to me in a way that the Gospel is seen by those around me? The loving of my fellow Christ-follower becomes the focal point of my ministry within the context in which I have been planted as a result of following Jesus' words of instruction. My backyard becomes a vital part of my obedience to the Father, even more so than the utter most parts of the world. At least I think this may be the intent of the instruction so as to help me get my priorities in order.
The Gospel is shown most to the world around us by the way we love one another within the Body. We then share the Gospel best when we speak to those who live life right around us whom we have a relationship with due to the location of where we are planted. As we invest in those relationships to show and share the Gospel the Father stirs our heart for the areas beyond our backyard for a specific purpose of stretching us and shaping our lives to be more like Him in the way we love people. As we follow Him obediently He carries us into various short-term scenarios to improve our "serve" in our own backyard! So, in no way am I saying that there is no place in the plan for the Father to lead some to move their backyard to another context and invest in the lives of those unreached peoples in various unknown and remote locations. I am saying that for the most part our focus needs to be on the backyard in which we have been planted and trust that the Lord will change that in His time and in His plan in accordance with His purposes.
Just think about it...if the Body of Christ were to be so committed to loving each other with the love that Christ demonstrated right where we are all planted, the focus of most of our lives would be to simply care for and show the Gospel to those right around us. If we were to all do this in every city, town and community in which the Lord has planted Christ-followers, then locally the Gospel would be being shared, shown and responded to all across the globe. Out of this garden of growth would be raised a generation of Christ-followers that would carry the Gospel into every new community, town and city they would settle in across the globe. I think the growth of the Body would be exponential and the call of God would be very clear when He led some to go into the uttermost parts of the world!
So, what's the bottom line here..."bloom where you are planted!" Look at your backyard and get busy loving those with
whom you are in community. Show the Gospel to those around you. Share the Gospel with those who open the door to hear from you. Obey the Father when He chooses to stretch you. Follow His heart when He guides you into the world to be light and salt! Let's Reach the world and Teach the Word together as we make disciples of all nations!