A few months ago I was talking with my friend Jonathan Dodd (Keipos.org) about farming and mission. Something that I've long believed about Christian missions is that, by and large, the Church has it backwards. Mission is something we do "over there" while we tend to pass over the opportunities for mission in our own back yard. Sadly, this mentality leads to all sorts of problems when wealthy and powerful western churches show up for a few weeks on a mission trip. And for the long term missionaries who follow God's call to settle in a new city or country, it can be a bit of a jolt when they realize mission is no longer "over there" but now in their own back yard. Now what do they do when very little of their training formed them to live faithfully among their neighbors?
In my early 20's I began to realize that the short term trip usually has a far deeper impact on the person making the trip than it does on the folks they are attempting to serve. I began to wonder: maybe that's the point of a short term trip--to inspire and transform our hearts so that we will become more in tune to God's movements in our own neighborhoods and cities? So, when Jonathan shared this metaphor, it instantly resonated.
In permaculture farm design the goal is to mimic nature as much as possible. One of the things they talk about is the growing zones around your home. The basic principle is that you want to plant the things that require the most tending closer to your home and the things that require the least tending further from your home. And zone 5, the one farthest from your home, is unmanaged space for inspiration and meditation. Its a place for listening and learning.
If we were to apply this zone thinking to Christian mission, it would turn the whole enterprise on its head!
Suddenly, the most important place of mission becomes the people inside of zone 0--US! In fact, this changes the whole definition of mission from a message about God that we take to some foreign place, and redefines it as the invitation and transformation that God is at work completing in our own hearts and minds! Our role is to listen and respond in obedience. This role does not change as we move out through the zones. What does change is the amount of time and tending we give at each zone.
Over the next few weeks I will be unpacking the implications of this metaphor for Christian mission in our neighborhoods, cities and world. But for now, I leave you with this question: What does this metaphor stir in your own mind as you consider the ways you have participated in God's mission over the years?
~Grace + Peace~