The Mission is God's

What comes to mind when you hear the word “missionary”? Katie and I asked this question to a group of kids a few weeks ago. A kindergartener responded with his most intense voice, squinting his eyes: “A missionary, you know, like a secret agent…on a secret mission.” We loved the response, gave the boy a fist bump for his creativity, and took a few more answers from the kids that hit a little closer to home. Meanwhile I started a mental list of all the ways I’m a lot like Ethan Hunt, Jason Bourne, and Buzz Lightyear.
That’s not our story though, because it’s God’s mission. And it’s not a secret. 
In the beginning God creates heaven and earth. God creates humans in his image and launches a mission to fill the earth with people who would know and love God, reflecting the image of the Creator. The first humans, meant to be conduits of God’s presence, hide from God’s presence when they sin. Sin means brokenness. Brokenness within oneself, causing shame. Broken relationships with other people, causing accusation. A broken relationship with creation itself. And brokenness with God, as humans fail to claim God’s image and share God’s presence. 
God wasn’t done though. He still wanted an earth that was full of God-loving people who knew whose image they were made in and would share the blessing of God’s presence with others. God still wanted to bless all the families of the earth with reconciliation. So God chooses Abraham, promises to bless him, and says that through his little family God would bless all the families of the earth. Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah and Israel—blessed to be a blessing. Through the ups and downs (often more downs than ups) of the story of Israel, from exodus and tabernacle to temple and exile, God works with, without, and in spite of his people to carry out his mission of sharing the blessing of his presence with all the families of the earth. It was never enough just to bless Abraham’s family. God intended that little family to be a light to the nations, so that salvation would reach the ends of the earth. 
That blank page between the end of Malachi and the beginning of Matthew represents a startling story. The people of God search for identity and purpose in the midst of Persian, Greek, and Roman rule. And in the most startling missionary move of all time, God joins the story in a new, unexpected way. Heaven and earth meet as God becomes human and makes his dwelling among messy, broken people. Jesus of Nazareth travels from town to town broadcasting the good news that God is in charge. God’s kingdom breaking into darkness and death means salvation, reconciliation and life. 
Jesus, in startling continuity with God’s mission from the very beginning, confronts the power of death, destruction, shame and accusation. And by lovingly accepting evil’s very worst, defeats death. The resurrection marks the beginning of the new world as God had always intended. In Jesus, God redeems the mission to bless all the families of the earth, taking the worlds’ sins on himself and bringing reconciliation to all things, enabling love, hope and healing. 
Fast-forward to the end of the story. Finally: people from every nation, tribe, family and language worshiping God. They experience the fullness of God’s presence in a new heaven and new earth, where there is no more chaos. God himself will dwell in this New Creation with his people, and there won’t be any more death, mourning, crying or pain. New Creation is full of people who would know and love God, reflecting the image of the Creator.
Mission. Accomplished.
Now, back to our chapter of the story.
Brokenness still dominates. Despair oozes. Death looms. The world’s wrongs have not yet been made right.  What Jesus began hasn’t been finished. The mission to reconcile the ends of the earth continues.
Through whom does the mission continue? Someway, somehow: through Jesus’s followers. 
Because of Jesus, reconciliation overcomes brokenness. Hope overtakes despair. Wrongs are righted. And it’s the church that carries on the mission. Christians are to be conduits of God’s presence. Jesus is still the one sustaining everything, and it’s still God’s mission, but Spirit-led people are called to live out the New Creation in the midst of an old one. 
And so Katie and I—after 5 years of married life and preparation and 5 months of dedicated time with two sending churches—are moving to a city in southern Peru at the end of the month. 
Why? Because of God’s mission.  
Our sending churches in Tullahoma, TN and Little Rock, AR understand that we’re all part of the same mission. God wants to share blessing through Christians. They send us to Peru not to be secret agents, not to be the heroes or saviors, but to open our eyes to what God has already been doing in Arequipa and to join in, as they join God in what he’s doing in their communities. 
Recognizing that it’s God’s mission, from the very beginning, and not ours, is vital. It means helping Arequipeños recognize that they are made in the image of God. It means sharing the good news that in Jesus we’ve reclaimed God’s image. And it means that together we can reflect God’s presence as the Kingdom of God continues breaking into darkness with life and light. Recognize. Reclaim. Reflect. Peruvians recognizing God’s presence among them, reclaiming it as families and communities, and reflecting it. That’s the vision that drives us. 
Some of you who have been following Team Arequipa for the last several years know the names and faces of the people who are intentionally living in the city to be a part of its reconciliation. Others (especially from the Bonne Terre, Central, Cloverdale, and Pleasant Valley churches) are just now joining in. 2014 is a big year of transition for Team Arequipa as we partner with Peruvian Christians in discerning how we can be a part of God’s kingdom coming and God’s will being done in Arequipa as it is in heaven. The mission of God is the key factor in making a responsible transition to Team Arequipa 2.0.
We’re just a couple missionaries who get to be a part of it.