A Story of Nationalism and Christian Missions

It was the spring of 2002, my last year as an undergraduate student at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas. My views on war we very different then and I was very supportive of the United States invasion of Afghanistan. I also met regularly with other students who were interested in Christian missions. For some it was domestic missions while others had dreams of serving God as a missionary around the globe.

I don’t recall the student’s name, I just know that it was a girl who was part of a mission team forming that would move to somewhere in Africa. I don’t know if the team ever did launch or not. What I remember was the disappointing story that this one particular girl told. Her story was the first time that I began to sense that there was a problem with nationalism among American Christianity.

The young student was upset. Her brother, who was a year older than her, had enlisted in the Marines and was preparing to begin basic training during the summer of 2002. Even knowing that this would likely mean that her brother would wind up fighting in the Middle East for War on Terror, which would place his own life in peril, her parents were very supportive of his decision. Rightfully, this girls brother was being lauded for his decision to place his college education on hold and serve his country as a wartime military soldier.

Yet the girl was upset. While she was very supportive of her brother’s decision to enlist in the Marines, she had received a different calling in life. After some time of praying and discerning God’s calling for her life with some friends of hers, she believed that God was calling her to serve as a missionary and as a result she committed herself to a team preparing for mission work in Africa. All seemed great except for one problem.

Her decision to pursue mission work in Africa was not a decision her Christian parents were supportive of. The reasons seemed to be concerns about her own safety to the fact that mission work is not a very wise choice of vocation from an economical standpoint.

Since I never spoke to the girls parents, it is hard to know why exactly they were unsupportive of their daughters decision. For all I know it could be merely the shock and the reasons this girl spoke of being just more of a gut reaction. Whatever the case, it is still tragic. I’ve heard similar stories told by others and they are all tragic.

Regardless of how patriotic we are…

  • When we as Christians value service to our nation over service to God, the gospel is failing in us.
  • When we as Christian parents are proud of our children’s decision to join the military but criticize and condemn their decision to serve as Christian missionaries, the gospel is failing in us.
  • When we laud a military soldier as a “hero” but in unspoken ways treat the decision to serve God as a missionary as foolish, the gospel is failing in us.

This post is not meant in any way to slander men and women who serve their country in the military or any other form of civil service. My point is simply to point out that something is wrong when Christians value service to the nation over service to God.

May the church pray for those men and women who serve their country and do so honorably while facing grave danger, that they will return safely to their families. May the church also pray that God raises up more missionaries among us, that we encourage and support them to serve God faithfully even if such service calls them to martyrdom.

4 responses to “A Story of Nationalism and Christian Missions

  1. In my experience people who support service in the military rarely support service for Christ among other nations. Their focus is nationalist rather than the world forcus of Jesus. If they support foreign mission work at all, it is only because it will promote their own country. Notice the phrasing. This is not just true of the U.S., it is true of all earthly nations. We are either citizens of the Kingdom of God or we serve the kingdoms of this world.

    • sadly, i think wes is right. the Gospel is along side McDonalds and Democracy as American exports that “make the world better” in many eyes

  2. Good point. However, I can think of two possible reasons why this situation might arise. First, in the parent’s minds, their son is choosing a career with which he can support himself (although that’s clearly debatable) while the daughter is choosing a career that will make it difficult for her to support herself. Second, a lot of people are uneasy and uncertain about the role of women in foreign mission work. The parents might have been more supportive if she were married.

    • Jenny,

      Thanks for stopping by the blog and commenting. I think parents do sometimes wonder how someone called to mission work can be supported financially, when it is a vocation that is very difficult to be self-supportive. My hope though is that all parties would trust God to provide that support.

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