Missues part 2: Redefining Poverty, the Eye of the Needle

(What’s a Missue, you ask? See my last post.)

Maybe you’ve been on a mission trip before. I have. My trips to Peru and to Nicaragua were truly the experiences that God used to get me here to Argentina. Those trips changed my worldview. I had never truly seen poverty until I had been on those trips. (If you’re interested, here are some of my posts fresh off of two of those trips: Peru 2008 and Nicaragua 2010, the trip that planted missions firmly in my heart.)

Maria and Jose (yes that's right--Mary and Joseph), some Nicaraguan believers who are some of the most spiritually rich folks I've ever met

Maria and Jose (yes that’s right–Mary and Joseph), some Nicaraguan believers who are some of the most spiritually rich folks I’ve ever met

The traditional model for a mission trip is this: Go to a remote place, serve and provide for a physical need (e.g. build a house, host a clinic, hand out shoes) and share the gospel while doing it. Provide for physical and spiritual needs. And while you’re there, endure hardships of your own: sleep on the ground, pee behind a tree, get sick from local food. I’ve done all of that. And I believe we did some real good. And yes, it changed me in the process.

When I applied to be a journeyman (that’s “journeylady” to you, thankyouverymuch) that’s what I had in mind. That’s what I knew about missions. And then I saw the job listing for Buenos Aires, a megacity, doing demographic research, and it began to change how I thought about missions.

The more I thought about it, the more the idea of urban missions started to lace itself into my concept of the Great Commission. If the idea is to reach the nations, then an international city with 13 million people is really the way to get more bang for your buck, right?

And yet, I still questioned: is it okay for me to live in a big city? What about *suffering* for the gospel? What about sleeping on the ground and peeing behind a bush? And what about the poor? Will I be able to build houses or host clinics in the big city?

Even still, one year in, as the research adds up, my concept of missions continues to change. With only two Comunas remaining out of fifteen, the research shows that the most impoverished neighborhoods in the city, the neighborhoods with slums and homelessness and high levels of crime . . . are the most churched neighborhoods in the city. While physical need remains in the city, it is the poorer areas in which the highest percentage of the population is turning to faith for fulfillment.

Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires--home to a total of zero churches

Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires–home to a total of zero churches

Contrastingly, the richest, most educated and powerful neighborhoods in the city are those with the fewest people of faith. There are less practicing Catholics, less practicing anythings. Palermo and Recoleta, the richest areas in the city each have 1 evangelical church for every 200,000 people. My experience surveying in those areas introduced me to a people who are busy, stressed out, and largely uninterested in spiritual topics. Physical poverty is a problem that the Bible clearly calls us to address, but it is a temporary state in light of the permanence and immensity of spiritual poverty. Don’t misinterpret. Yes, we should continue to address social injustices; yes, we should fight to clothe and feed orphans and widows. But we must not ignore this even more sinister albeit subtle poverty of the heart.

So how do we reach these people if we can’t build them houses or buy them medicine? What do I have to offer to this crowd, most of which are richer and more educated than I am? How do I convince a “wealthy” person of his own spiritual bankruptcy? How do we fight the enemies of greed, apathy or of pluralism when it is so convenient and so palatable? These are questions that have been around for a while. How difficult it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven!

Truly I am learning that the cushier the area of service, the harder the work.

Join me in praying for the wealthy of Buenos Aires, that they may find emptiness in riches and seek fullness in faith. Pray for missionaries in Megacities all over the world that God would present opportunities for ministry among professionals in their city.

Right now I’m trying to drum up interest for an English practice group, reading and discussing Bible passages. I covet your prayers. We’re aiming for the eye of the needle here. Pray for accuracy!

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3 thoughts on “Missues part 2: Redefining Poverty, the Eye of the Needle

  1. Thank you for writing this post! I’m currently praying about applying for the Journeyman program after I graduate next year, and praying about Argentina in particular. My only international experience is rural Nicaragua, and I’ve had similar thoughts to what you shared. I love your honesty and will certainly keep reading your blog!

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    • Awesome! Thanks for reading. 🙂
      Here’s my completely unsolicited advice: Even if you’re not sure, apply anyway. Go to the job conference, see what’s available, if anything calls out to you. Applying doesn’t commit you to going and since the application process is so long, you’ll have time to decide. Who knows, you might be replacing me when my term is up next year! 😉

      Like

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