Yesterday I talked about world missions with the desire to preach the World until the whole world hears. But doesn't the "whole world" include the world right outside our doors? Take my co-worker, whom I mentioned organizes mission trips to Russia and Mexico. During his 4-5 hour drive on the way down to Mexico, he will drive by on the order of ten million first-generation Mexicans. Most of us will never get the chance to take a missions trip, but how hard would it be to board a bus to the inner-city?
Last week I had the blessed opportunity to visit the headquarters of World Impact and take a tour of their Teen Center. I find it funny that an urban missions organization calls itself "World" Impact and is headquartered in the heart of Los Angeles. Until I consider the above. The truth is, the whole world is represented in LA, so I can spread the gospel to the "whole world" by driving only an hour or so. I like World Impact's vision: they consider urban areas a mission field, "missionaries" move-in to run their programs, and they plant house churches in blighted neighborhoods where they then train up local pastors and lay-leaders. An inspiring model, quite honestly. In the process they've opened up schools, recreation centers, and medical clinics just as you would on the foreign mission field.
Completely coincidentally, I had the opportunity to hear World Impact's founder, Dr. Keith Phillips, speak at a National Day of Prayer function. His short talk blew my socks off. He started by himself in Watts in the mid 60's. (think about that for a second) Once he realized the Projects were too tall a task for only him, he solicited the help of Biola University and soon he and 300 students were reaching out to more than 3000 inner-city youth.
If your vision has been focused on the mission field overseas, consider: in LA 45,000 people slept in garages in want of a home while 45,000 more slept on the street in want of a garage (citing Dr. Phillips' numbers to the best of my recollection). A million and a third people in the inner-city of LA do not have access to a hospital. On average, most children who grow up in the inner-city will never travel further than five miles from where they were born. Those stats stirred my heart and Dr. Phillips didn't even mention crime rates, average income, the number of children growing up without fathers and mothers without husbands (the modern-day orphan and widow), the ridiculously low life expectancy, and I could go on and on.
Yes, foreign missions are important. And if we don't have the opportunity to go, we should generously give what we can to support those who do. But at the same time, we cannot neglect the needs right in front of us.
"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." (James 1:27)