The following are excerpts (by Fox Rawlings) from the transcript of Miriam’s presentation at our Mission Conference in February.
Missionary in the Community. I’ll never forget when we first moved to Lake Wales, Florence Nelson was charged with helping me choose carpet for our bedroom/sitting room. Florence explained to me that we would first check out the local carpet shops. If we could not find what we needed there we would then go to Winter Haven – or farther, if necessary. Florence taught me a lesson I have never forgotten. It was a respect and support for our local merchants. And, of course, it goes farther than that – it is also connecting with those people who serve the community in a variety of ways: post office, bakery, restaurant owners and workers, teachers and their aides, shop owners and their staff, florists – that assortment of people with whom we have cast our lot by virtue of their working and serving the community.
Biking distance from our small downtown, we gradually became acquainted with the people who served the local community. And as we came alongside these people with whom we have regular contact we began to learn of their dreams and their struggles:
- Kenny – the antique dealer who found a “home” in an Episcopalian church” after years of aimless wandering, spiritually
- Ron – trying to make a “go’ of a business in a local coffee shop while dealing with the teen daughter from his second marriage
- Melissa – the orchid lady who vowed she would not celebrate Christmas until her husband was released from prison – her 12th Christmas-less year
Missionary to Mt. Dora? Am I taking myself too seriously? I have no delusion of my significance. But, who knows, even a hug, a tear, a prayer, a listening ear – may bring a bit of the light and life and love of Jesus to a needy person in one small town.
What is my Mission Field? I think it could be safely said that church, neighborhood, community is a given for any believer. A starting point for connection – that hopefully, prayerfully would lead to something more. I prayed, as did Dave, that God would lead me specifically to people with spiritual need – with whom He wanted me to connect and engage… who were in search of meaning… who might be open to my sharing my faith in Jesus. I prayed specifically – and waited. Let me briefly share one situation that I believed God brought into my life in answer to that prayer: my mission field. Or was it?!
Toby came into our lives when we needed bookshelves and he needed a job. His goal to make 1 million dollars by the age of 40 – buying, restoring, selling old homes – came to a screeching stop when he was hospitalized by a life-threatening illness (pancreatitis) and a tanking house market. We were his first job – from contractor to carpenter – after leaving the hospital. A changed life: a new start: no more drinking – ever, if he wanted to live and a new relationship, commitment a new concept for him. Last week he came by to fix some screens for us. When he refused to accept pay for purchasing new screen to say nothing of his time, his answer completely surprised me: “I will ever be indebted to you and Dave. You will never know what you meant to me when you came into my life.” And he’s right. I don’t know…
And that is exactly where I want to lead us and leave us when it comes to the question of “being a missionary every minute.” We don’t know to whom or where it will lead us. Or who we just have inadvertently touched as we intentionally sought to be “a missionary in Mt. Dora” – or Lake Wales or anywhere we may go or be.
Fact is, I really don’t know what the outcome will be of any of my conscious efforts to be a missionary in Mt. Dora. But I do know this: I am called to be a missionary here and now – wherever I am placed. And guess what? So are you. We compare our lives with people who have made the ultimate sacrifice – or at least commitment to go to the foreign field. That is God’s call to them. They must be faithful to that call – and we must support them with our prayers, letters, emails, hospitality, finances. But we still must be missionaries in the plot of ground given to us. Often, in the process, we find that we receive more from these people than we give – but what we have to give is of eternal consequence.
Being a missionary is not optional. It is a mandate. For all believers – wherever we are. Scripture: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19,20.)
Because we can’t do everything does not mean we can’t do something. As Henri Nouwen wrote: “A need does not constitute a call.” We must do something.
This past Sunday, I observed a “missionary in the pew” – as I have chosen to call mission within the church. Ruth placed flowers in the church in memory of her husband – then added “and in honor of Lucille Piper” – a 91 year old choir member who is just about as crusty a human being as you might ever meet. Cynical and sharp-tongued. After the service, in the choir room, Lucille first realized this that the flowers honored her, she having missed reading it in the church bulletin. She broke down and sobbed and sobbed. “I can’t believe that anyone would do this for me.” Then she looked at Ruth – pointing her finger at her she said: “You are love incarnate.”
When it comes to the question, “What does the mission field look like upon retirement from our church and entry into another community?” I feel like I am preaching to the choir. You are my teachers! My only counsel would be 3-fold:
- to “keep on keeping on”
- to be intentional in being willing to be God’s hands and feet and heart – to connect & engage
- to consider the “concentric circles of caring” – my personal interpretation of the Gospel Mandate asking: Who is my Jerusalem? Who is my Judea? Samaria? And how do I support a witness to Jesus “to the ends of the earth?”
Sometimes, in tending to the inner circle – moms with babies or adults with aging parents – we have little time or energy to go beyond to the next circle of caring. We may have reached a point in our own lives where we are confined to home by own limitations. But we can still reach beyond the limits of our walls: through our prayers.
The challenge I leave with you is the one we have given ourselves during this new chapter in our lives: Offer each day – intentionally to God for His Purpose. Willing to do His will – whatever that may be. You know the names of those who people your lives – God knows the names of those people He will put in your path. A Muslim couple… Robin… Melissa… Toby … I don’t know what, if any impact, my tiny flicker of light may bring to them. God may have in mind something quite different. All He asks of me – of you – is to be to be willing and faithful to connect and engage in the name of Christ – intentionally: today.
I conclude with a covenant written by Paul Tournier in his book, The Adventure of Living:
“What I have to do is to put my signature at the foot of a blank page of which I will accept whatever God wishes to write. I cannot predict what He will put on this contract as my life proceeds – but I give my signature today.” Adventure of Living