A different sort of challenge

June 8, 2011 | Viewpoints | Number 12
Phil Wagler |

A few months ago our four-year-old daughter was overheard singing a song with only one line, which she repeated irritatingly till my patient wife didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Our little fireball of estrogen was singing a song of her own creation ripe with ironic truth: “I’m a different sort of challenge.” Amen, little sister.

We are all different sorts of challenges. I am one, you are one, and if we open our eyes we see we are communities of Jesus-followers in the midst of a whole host of unique challenges. The urban is not the suburban is not the rural. In fact, even supposedly similar places end up being starkly unique. Montreal and Vancouver are both cities, but it would be foolish to say they are therefore the same. Rural Saskatchewan and rural Newfoundland are both in the “country,” but no one would be so dumb as to say they are parallel universes.

Even neighbouring communities can be completely unique. I once lived in Ayr, Ont., which, as a community that rolled out the haggis to celebrate its Scottish heritage, was just up the road from Paris. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to sniff that there are different histories, DNA and challenges at work there. Sure, the passage of time brings change, just like a four-year-old will not always bring four-year old challenges. But even new realities for a locale—like a sleepy village becoming a bedroom community—create challenges that cannot be ignored. This dynamic is easily forgotten by churches, and especially churches with a long history in a community that has developed an unhelpful immunity to change.

When the church sends missionaries from one locale to another, we assume they will learn to think like a landed immigrant in that culture. They will think like a missionary and learn the language, adapt, and build friendships and understandable and credible bridges across a river of different challenges. In fact, any missionaries who fail to do this will simply not make an impact. They will, in reality, not even be missionaries.

The same must be said about the church as it now finds itself in Canada. A recent National Post article states, “Evangelical Christian children of immigrants feel they cannot openly practise their religion, and worry that Christianity is no longer a guiding force in Canadian society, while Muslims say they are free to follow their faith in this country but face other forms of discrimination.” The study reveals a number of interesting trends in Canadian culture, but at the very least it should make us aware that, whether we’ve been in Canada for a short time or a long one, we are all living in the epicentre of a different sort of challenge.

This can—but must not—elicit fear. Fear, of course, will be sure-fire proof we have ceased living and thinking like missionaries. In fact, if this current challenge arouses fear it should make you very afraid that you have sacrificed the missionary call of Jesus and the church, which is sent as a beacon of hope into whatever challenging reality is set before it, for a closed, protectionist society of the religiously comatose.

Very clearly this historical moment presents a different sort of challenge. The times invite us to think and live like missionaries yet again, or perhaps for the first time.

Phil Wagler (phil_wagler@yahoo.ca) is learning much about the unique challenges of thinking like a missionary in Surrey, B.C. He is the author of Kingdom Culture.

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