God of which city?

You’re the God of this City
You’re the King of these people
You’re the Lord of this nation
You are

For greater things have yet to come
And greater things are still to be done in this City
Greater thing have yet to come
And greater things are still to be done in this City
(Chris Tomlin)

Do you sing this at church? Songs like this are fantastic for energising us to see ourselves as part of God’s mission, wherever we are. God is at work where you live too!

But do you notice how the mission is conceived? It’s about ‘this city’. You may have heard the catch cries of various church planting movements, along the lines of ‘Jesus loves Sydney’; ‘Win Melbourne for Christ’; ‘Bring the gospel to Adelaide’. There’s a rightness to this: for too long, the west has seen the ‘mission field’ as ‘deepest darkest Africa’ or the exotic Orient, and ignored home.

In 1851 Queen Victoria was telling the chiefs of Abeokuta in southwest Nigeria that ‘England has become great and happy by the knowledge of the true God and Jesus Christ’ at a time when bloodthirsty African kings were slaughtering each others’ people. She neglected to mention that in Birmingham, one in three people lived in poverty, crime was on the increase, and riots were being put down by military force.

We can no longer afford this sort of attitude, not only because we recognise it as racist and culturally superior, but also because in Australia today, you need only turn up to your workplace or local mothers’ group to meet those who do not know Jesus. No longer is the ‘mission field’ something faraway or in another culture: it’s right in front of us in ‘ordinary’, white, English-speaking Australia.

There are several advantages to doing mission in Australia. You speak the language, you know the culture, you belong to existing networks and supports. And, although it sounds counterintuitive, it can even be cheaper to live in Australia once you take plane flights and Medicare into account. But most of all, Australia is simply where you are! Rather than taking years to understand another culture or work up fluency in another language, you already have a wealth of knowledge and skills that are God’s gifts to be used in his service wherever he has put you.

You don’t have to go overseas to find ‘the lost’ and there are plenty of good reasons to do mission in Australia. What then ought to be our attitude towards the faraway places? Shall we leave Melbourne to the Melbournians, China to the Chinese and Tanzania to the Tanzanians? Here I offer just four reasons to engage with ‘world mission’.

First, there are some who have even less access to the gospel than Australians! While it’s true that many people in Australia have never entered a church, there are places in the world where there are no churches to enter, or where those churches no longer speak of Jesus. If you see the needs in Australia as urgent, spare a thought for those who do not even have the opportunity to meet Jesus through his people.

Second, mission history compels us to be involved. For better or worse, much western mission of the past was tied up with neo-colonial economic interests, and today this has often negative implications for the state of the church. For example, one Indian student attributes a lack of effective leadership in his nation’s church in part to a failure on the part of missionaries to nurture faith after conversion. Failures of the past are not reversed by our indifference today. We can, however, seek engagement through mutual respect and partnership.

Third, we can build each other up. Discipleship and theological education are strengths of the Australian church. This reputation was one of the reasons we were invited by Tanzanians to work with university students in Dodoma. A challenge to me has been encountering the sheer energy of pastors and student leaders here. When my husband and I are ready to collapse at home, these Christian leaders are visiting the sick, praying with the downhearted and mobilising for more evangelism. I have never seen such other-centredness and it challenges my ideas about privacy and individualism. Engaging with Christians overseas enriches the Australian church.

Fourth, we will spend eternity among a multitude of nations. Confining ourselves to our own culture neither prepares us for this nor embodies the realities of the kingdom of God. We must start living now what we will spend the rest of the ages doing!

This is not about getting more missionaries to go overseas. After all, even if you confine yourself just to your city, you’ll have no shortage of opportunities to engage cross-culturally. Do you know the young Nepali workers or Chinese exchange students or Sudanese refugees or Iranian immigrants or Sri Lankan families of your city? What might you have to offer one another? What can they tell you of the world beyond Australia?

It’s also not about compelling you to go overseas, because you can be part of an overseas team without ever leaving Australia. In the world of blogs and social media, it’s easier than ever to be affected by the people your church’s missionaries work amongst. The more you hear from missionaries and support them, the richer your experience of reaching your city will be.

This is about choosing to engage with those beyond our immediate horizons. The God who loves your city is the same God who made the whole world. Yes, he sees your city, but he doesn’t only see your city. Will you set your sights on the other places too? As you work in your part of his world, will you choose to see what God sees?

Tamie Davis lives in Tanzania. She is a partner with CMS Australia and writes at http://meetjesusatuni.com

Featured image: used under creative commons licence, from Flickr/anabadili