Claire, our youngest child, has been feeling called to serve others. She has been serving guests at Walt Disney World, her dream employer, for the past year since graduating from college, yet she feels that the time is right for her to serve in a more meaningful way. So she applied for, and was accepted into, the Young Adults in Global Mission program of our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). We, as a family and a church, are sending Claire to Rwanda for a year, with her training beginning in August.
We in the ELCA believe that “doing church” is primarily about equipping people to live their faith, sending us out into the world to shape it more closely to what God wants. Church is not about comforting the already comfortable, faith is not a self-help program, and living the Gospel is never, ever, about how to get wealthy.
God calls us, in no uncertain terms, to go out, not to huddle in. Whether “out” means to work, to the store, to school or across the globe, God calls us to go as servants, not as passing-through tourists or people of privilege stooping to help the less-fortunate. We are to humbly find people where they are (physically, spiritually and emotionally), and stop to be with others, to befriend, to heal, to teach, and to testify to the greatness of God in everything we do. Because in the end, going is not about what we bring, but building relationships.
Jesus’ command to go without money or “stuff” is, for me, the most powerful Biblical statement against accumulation of unnecessary wealth. Money and stuff confer power, and power has no place but with God. We aren’t called to go regale people with what we bring, but to be vulnerable and dependent on how we, not our stuff, are received, establishing relationships in humility. Power in relationships belongs solely to God.
Like many Christian churches, being a missionary in the ELCA has evolved a long way from monks clubbing vikings over the head and baptising them while they were unconscious or traveling to distant lands to “save the heathen” natives by forcing them to conform to a Western culture. We are not sent to wield power but to walk with others in a model we call “Accompaniment”. We go to walk with others, to be invited into their lives, and to build relationships in which we share our gifts as we humbly receive theirs.
Being sent – whether around the corner or around the world – is a mindset, an acceptance in faith of God’s call to humble service. And being sent means we do not always have control over our destination. Claire has already experienced this as she was originally slated to go to the United Kingdom to tour with a theatre group that performs in prisons. Perfect, she (and we) thought, for a theatre major who has already been to Scotland. A chance to live simply, serve and add to her professional credentials. But Brexit and cooling relationships between the UK and USA have made visas harder to get, so the ELCA had to rescind the UK invitation and offer Claire a spot in Rwanda to do – we are not sure what – and live – we are not sure where. She had about 48 hours to decide.
After some tears, many prayers, and a Skype call to the program leader in Rwanda, Claire accepted this trading of the many knowns of the United Kingdom for the many unknowns of Rwanda. She had said from the outset that she was looking for something to stretch her and get her out of her comfort zone, and God apparently took her at her word. We are grateful to the Lutheran Church in Rwanda for inviting Claire in and to the ELCA for facilitating the sending.
All of us in the Heronemi clan are employed in work that serves others and serves justice, and we are grateful for the prayers we know you offer on our behalf. We humbly ask your prayers now for the people of Rwanda and for Claire’s time among them. If you are moved to support her by defraying some of the ELCA’s costs of sending her with a tax-deductible donation, here is the link.
Mark 6: 7-13
7 He called for the Twelve and sent them out in pairs. He gave them authority over unclean spirits. 8 He instructed them to take nothing for the journey except a walking stick—no bread, no bags, and no money in their belts. 9 He told them to wear sandals but not to put on two shirts. 10 He said, “Whatever house you enter, remain there until you leave that place. 11 If a place doesn’t welcome you or listen to you, as you leave, shake the dust off your feet as a witness against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should change their hearts and lives. 13 They cast out many demons, and they anointed many sick people with olive oil and healed them.