Why do you do it? It’s a question I frequently get asked so it’s a question I ask myself every year after our trip, to make sure I am still on point. Usually those asking have an objection of some sort – generally one of the following; why go there when there’s so much to do here? Or, wouldn’t it be a better use of the money to simply send it?
I addressed the second question in a previous post so I’ll move to the first. Yes, there is much to do right here in the U.S. However, going to Africa doesn’t mean we are ignoring our own country. Several on our team also do U.S. missions in the same year. I have done countless U.S. aid trips and they represent a valuable response from the church to those in need. But the answer, quite simply, is that Jesus commands us to go – where? “Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8b). My contemporary interpretation would be, in your neighborhood, nationally and internationally.
So, we go because we believe we have been called to work alongside a wonderful missionary couple in Kenya doing various projects - see the recap of the trip in the last blog for a list of things that were accomplished. That’s a good enough reason to go, but there is another reason – one of the main reasons, for me at least. And that is so people can experience God in new and transformative ways. Let me explain.
About seven years ago I came across a book by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch titled, The Faith of Leap. It was in this book that I was first introduced to the term liminal. Liminality is defined in the book as, “the term we use to describe a threshold experience. It is composed of any or a combination of danger, marginality, disorientation, or ordeal and tends to create a space which is neither here nor there, a transitional stage between what was and what is to come. As a result, it is experienced as a place of discomfort and agitation that requires us to endure and push into what is to come.”
Richard Rohr in his excellent book, Adam’s Return, The Five Promises of Male Initiation, defines it this way, “It is when we are betwixt and between, have left one room but not yet entered the next room, any hiatus between stages of life, stages of faith, jobs, loves, or relationships. It is that graced time when we are not certain or in control, when something genuinely new can happen.” He continues, “Nothing fresh or creative will normally happen when we are inside our self-constructed comfort zones, only more of the same. Nothing original emerges from business as usual.” Wow.
This to me, sounds like the definition of Biblical faith. Almost every story in the Bible of someone being called of God involved them finding themselves in liminal space. God has spoken – and to respond means signing up for – who knows what? It is the ultimate invitation with a most uncertain outcome. You see God never gives us all the information that will be required for the journey to which He invites us. “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land I will show you” (Gen 12:1). That’s it Abraham, you will either have to say yes to this single directive or forfeit the journey altogether.
All through the scriptures God is inviting people to a journey and the promise is that He will be our guide. Abraham, Moses, Joshua and so many others. They get the invitation, the first step, and little else. If they got the whole journey up front it is doubtful that any would have gleefully signed up. Hebrews chapter 11 is a list of many of those who answered yes, to the Great Adventure.
Liminal space sounds very much like the space God calls us to when we are in relationship with Him – it is an invitation to trust the God in whom we say we believe. To trust Him means to follow Him even when we don’t know where we’re going or what the next place will look like. We have no idea what will be expected or what the outcome of our obedience will bring. It is the place of true faith. Hebrews tells us that “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb 11:6). Notice that its not unlikely or highly improbable – it is impossible to please Him. I’m not sure we believe that. We are told in Heb 10:38 that “My righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back from it My soul has no pleasure in him.” I don’t think this means necessarily that God is angry with us, it simply means that if I shrink back from a life of faith, I can only shrink back to my own understanding, thus saying, I don’t really need God, and there’s the crux of the matter.
In survey after survey, year after year it is reported that the majority of self-professing Christians don’t live any differently than those with no faith base. Does this sound ok to you? Perhaps part of the reason for this is that most of us live lives we are able to manage to a greater or lesser degree. Many of us go to a job we are familiar with and can do quite competently in our own strength. We have some sort of routine in our lives and we are doing just fine, thank you. But does this sound like the adventure that God is offering? I often say that God is waiting for us – just beyond our grasp. Just beyond our comfort zone. He wants to meet us in a liminal space so that we are completely uncomfortable and not in charge. We find this space so unfamiliar and unsettling that we begin looking for God everywhere. We need Him to show up and lead us. This is where God does His finest work of transformation. He must usually bring us to the literal end of ourselves before we are fully open to the work He wants to do in us, so that He can further His work, through us. Rohr maintains that this is the ultimate teachable space. “In some sense, it is the only teachable space.”
Since we, for the most part live quite comfortable lives in the West, we don’t regularly experience this liminal space. Occasionally we are thrust into it through some sort of unexpected crisis but barring that, we can pretty much go through life on auto pilot. But we do so at the risk of missing the very purpose for which we were created, and missing the absolute finest parts of the journey to which He is inviting us. In my opinion, part of the role of being a pastor or ministry leader is helping to intentionally create liminal space so that people can experience God in transformative ways. This is a huge reason why we go. Africa seems to be an ultimate challenge for many. It is one of those places that strikes fear in many people – even Christians, “Lord, I’ll do anything You ask, just please don’t send me to Africa.” I get it – it’s just too far out of my comfort zone. But that’s the whole point.
The idea is that Africa is so far out of most people’s comfort zone, that they will have to depend on the Lord in ways they rarely do in their day to day life in the states. And God is faithful – He always shows up – on every trip – all day, every day. And the hope, for me, is that people will realize that the same God that showed up for us in Africa wants to show up for us in America. He wants to lead us, every day into new experiences where we will need Him in order to accomplish whatever He has put before us.
So yes, this trip is about helping others, but God never works on just one side of the equation. It is also about what God wants to reveal to us about Himself and about living by faith. And hopefully the experience leads us into a deeper life with Him, day to day. Even if we never take a trip however, we can create intentional liminal spaces in many practical ways. If we tithe to our church through auto withdrawal, perhaps we should intentionally ask God each week if He would want us to give more on a given Sunday. Perhaps we could determine to become bolder in sharing our faith just to see how God moves in those situations. Maybe we begin to act on the small impulses we sometimes feel – to do something for someone or to go serve somewhere.
The possibilities are endless, but this is for sure. Whether we are in Africa or never leave our state, God delights to show up for His people. He desires to reveal Himself, often in winsome ways. He is inviting us to a Great Adventure – its called “every-day life with God” and if we truly know Him – we can only say yes, and then hang on to Him for the ride.
Its a journey you'll never regret.
Helen Keller – “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”