A few weeks ago, sitting in the office of my probation officer, we began a conversation much like we do each visit, about current global events/disasters/atrocities, which inevitably leads to the big question, “What really is God’s perspective on it all?”
In December last year, I participated on a seven-day trip to Puerto Rico with YWAM Tyler, where myself and two others went with a relief focus caused by Hurricane Maria. The situation was worse than we anticipated. The day we arrived marked 90 days since Maria struck, and for 45% of the island, this meant the 90th day without electricity. It was hard to overlook the debris and trash, the congested traffic due to traffic lights being gone, and the leveled neighborhoods to imagine what San Juan, a top ten tourist destination, looked like before. But, in the midst of it all, God was moving.
A few days after returning from Puerto Rico, I met with my probation officer. For the sake of the story, I will call him "Steve." Similar to the other four probation officers I have had, he has a tendency to view life with skepticism and analyzes situations critically. Much of that outlook can be attributed to the environment he works in and often times the difficult people he’s interacting with. However, he loves telling stories of the individuals he has “helped” throughout twenty years of being a probation officer. I have slowly gained trust with him, and we have developed a friendship over the past year. My trips to refugee camps in Greece or homeless camps in Lubbock, TX have reminded him that there is the ability for an “addict” to experience restoration and have a life transformed. And frankly, he is fascinated with all I have shared about what God is doing globally.
I walked into Steve’s office and started with small talk, as I waited for an open door to share the Jesus-lining hope I found in Puerto Rico. He started by bringing up a recent conversation with his mother-in-law about her donations to a distant, non-profit that is feeding children in Africa. Of course, attached to that conversation were negative, skeptical notions. However, he followed it with a nice compliment, “That’s what I like about your organization, you have a good balance of taking care of the need here, too.” Steve is well aware of the nations I’ve been to and the time I’ve spent out of the country this past year, but this common response from Christian’s in America was the opening I was looking for!
I began explaining my perspective through my experiences. “Although I had life-changing moments in those nations, there have also been life-altering encounters at the homeless camps of Lubbock, unforgettable conversations on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, and exciting opportunites to share about God at Shiloh Ministries in Houston.. You see, Steve, those moments are held with the same value and admiration in my eyes as anything I have experienced abroad. And the reason is because of the common denominator they share ~ an absence of God. The significance and urgency for people not pursuing Jesus here in Tyler, TX is no different than a man unreached in Indonesia.” That concept took Steve aback. There I was, someone who had admitted already to a personal dream of being a full-time missionary in a foreign country, but now was confessing: the impact felt is identical, no matter where you are. Essentially, I was conceding, the need is overwhelming in America, too.
But, I continued.
Steve has a background in Christianity, is aware of Jesus’s philosophies, and like most in the Bible-saturated community we live in, knows the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations. For Steve, there is no disputing, it’s not a bad idea to go drill water wells where there isn’t water, but like most American Christians, as creatures of this culture, tendencies always come back to our needs ~ America’s needs. I continued with my perspective that was shaped by wrestling with God. “Steve, did you know that in America alone over $10 billion is spent on church buildings each year? And the amount of real estate alone that is owned by churches in the United States is worth over $230 billion.” This astounded him (and myself each time I consider).
I boiled it down. “Steve, truthfully, I believe there are enough resources to care for the spiritual health of America. But, I have not found it to be the case in the countries I have visited.” The light bulb went off. He understood three things that he had not before. 1) I was not thrill seeking or valuing foreigners more than my neighbors. It is God’s agenda that leads me, which is people-centered, all over the world. 2) Praise the LORD for supporters (such as his mother-in-law) of the people in these shattered areas! Who else is going to help? 3) There were ample resources within the American church to care for Americans, which importantly lead to his responsibility as an American believer.
I don't know if Steve had ever heard an explanation of why it's important to help people outside of America or if he even had ever sought an explanation out, but I do know he had a perspective change that day. The paradigm shift from the usual hopeless lens he sees situations through was hugely significant, but most exciting for me was the third revelation he had that day about his responsibility. I believe with every revelation the LORD gives us, attached is a “call-to-action,” and Steve heard it that day. As I left he said, “Thank you for that, Anthony, I feel rejuvenated. I am going to chew on this conversation and share it with my wife. I am going to pay it forward.”
I told him the first thing I was going to ask when I see him in January was, “What did you do with what God showed you?”
Missionary training through YWAM Tyler's DTS tremendously impacted Anthony's life and worldview. His influence on others to really know God is making a difference. If you're looking for life-change yourself and want to discover your part in global missions, join us at YWAM Tyler.