A series of reflections by Rev. Mikel Hill on the meaning of missions:
Who Me, a Missionary?
Love cannot be content to see even one sinner go through this life and not come to know God in the fullness of His Church. The greater we realize from what we have been saved, the greater will be our love of God and we will pray with zeal that all might find this same salvation. To have in our hearts an echo, “God desires not the death of a sinner but that he return from his way and LIVE!”; this is what it means to be a missionary.
Every Christian is a missionary in as much as every Christian has experienced the Grace of God poured into their heart through Baptism and Chrismation. The Christian cannot help but to witness to the great things God has done for them, in their life, words, and actions. To be a missionary is simply to be a Christian. Thus, the real question is: am I a Christian?
To be a Christian is to be Christ’s christ, that is to be a follower and imitator of Christ, not only in His burial and resurrection (through Holy Baptism) but in every aspect of our life. We must each ask ourselves, “How is my life a mirror of Christ’s life?”Perhaps, we should first of all ask, “Do I even know Christ’s life and teachings?” “Do I daily read the Gospels to learn more about His life?” “Do I daily spend time in undistracted prayer to Him?” “Do I make every effort to be with Him at the services of the Church?” “Do I frequently utilize the opportunity to confess my failings to be like Christ and to see more clearly the path to becoming more like Him?”
Christ was a missionary in the fullest sense, not sparing His own life but offering it freely out of His great love for us. It is true that if even one person remained lost, Christ would have died for that one. Therefore, we who bear the name of Christian cannot do anything less than to follow in the footsteps of our Lord in His self- emptying love for the whole world. Until all are saved and brought into the healing embrace of our mother, the Church, every Christian is a missionary.
What is a Mission?
Missions exist to serve others. We should seek growth because we have something to share with non- Orthodox, not in an insular effort to survive. At the same time, while we might enjoy our little “family,” we should not harbor a selfish reluctance to open our doors and hearts to newcomers. We should come to services and events with the thought, “What can I offer, what can give, how can I support?” Our Church is a hospital, not a refuge and while we certainly need care ourselves, we are also the doctors and nurses of this hospital and seek healing primarily so that we can, in turn, heal others.
Missions engage their local culture. We each come from a particular ethnic and cultural background. This is an indelible part of who we are. However, in our effort to serve the other, we must relate and engage with the culture in which we find ourselves. This means laying aside our own cultural interests and seeking to learn about what interests them, what cultural traditions do Northern Ohioans celebrate? It is not enough to be “pan- ethnic,” missions must be “trans-ethnic.”
Missions must be faithful. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither are missions. Building a Church community takes many, many years of worship, prayer, hard work, and sacrifice. We must “count the cost,” are we willing to make the mission of St. Nikolai our first priority? Are we willing to be present, week after week, month after month, at the services and events of our community? Are we willing to fervently seek our own salvation so that we might be a saving influence on those who come to us, hurt and broken? Are we willing to be faithful, even though “success” seems a distant reality?
How do we “preach to Gospel?”
The best and surest way that each of us can “preach” the message of the Gospel to “all nations” is to struggle for our own, personal salvation in the secret of our hearts. The Great Commission is not only to proclaim that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, risen from the dead, but also to lead others to “observe all that He has commanded” through the quiet example of our own lives. Therefore, all of us who are missionaries should strive, first and foremost, to acquire the peace that “passeth all understanding,” so that “our light may shine before all men.” The missionary is guided by a single ambition: to repent and seek forgiveness for their own sins, humbling themselves and putting themselves below all others. This is the most effective “sermon” we can ever preach.
How do we do this? By frequently gathering together as a community for prayer, psalms and spiritual songs (i.e. hours, compline and vespers), teaching and exhortation (i.e. bible study, retreats, etc.), and above all else, the Divine Liturgy (on weekdays and feast days, in addition to Sundays). If we acquire some measure of God’s Grace, our interactions with others in our workplaces, our schools and our homes, will reveal Jesus Christ, who alone is the Savior of the World. With hearts made receptive through these relationships, others will seek that peace and life that they first observed in our lives and, God speaking to their hearts good things, they will desire to join our community. Growth that occurs for any other reason of than people seeking a place of repentance and salvation will be abortive.
Outreach is a natural part of “preaching the Gospel”, because outreach to those in need is the natural consequence of a life in Christ. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned is the fruit of each Christian’s personal struggle for salvation and the evidence of a healthy mission Church. Most often, outreach occurs organically with the people with whom we interact on a regular basis, as we daily strive to put other’s needs ahead of our own. Outreach is therefore manifested in a myriad of ways: from comforting a co-worker after a tragic divorce, to sacrificing fifty-dollars and an afternoon in order help a troubled young man with a job interview.
Outreach also takes the form of giving to charities. St. Nikolai supports several local charities and it’s important to know that when we put money in the collection plate, a portion of this goes to supporting local families in need. As missionaries, we should be striving to give at least 10% of our income to the Church to support Her work, including outreach to the poor.
At the same time, we also recognize that material help alone is not enough and that the greatest wealth that our Church possesses and is mandated to dispense is spiritual Grace and participation in the One Body of Christ, which is offered up “on behalf of all and for all.” We should always be eager to share this “wealth” with others.