Mission Zone 5: A Permaculture Metaphor for Mission, pt 5

**For the last several weeks I have been exploring how the idea of growing zones in Permaculture farming could help us reimagine the way in which we participate in the mission of God. I introduced the metaphor in Part 1. In Part 2 I talked about Zone 0; in Part 3 I looked at Zones 1 and 2; and in Part 4 I discussed Zones 3 and 4. Today we'll wrap it up with Zone 5.**

In Permaculture farming, Zone 5 is an unmanaged wild natural ecosystem. It is land that is left wild and free of human control. It's wilderness. It's a space where we can get away from trying to make nature do what we want it to. Instead we allow it to teach us. We observe and learn; we slow down and think; we pray and reconnect. It's typically at the outer edge of the farm, but it can extend inward closer to the home as well.

Mission Zone 5, then, is anywhere outside of probably a 200 or so mile radius of you. It is most definitely anywhere that feels cross-culture...even in our own nation...or city.

I first experienced Mission Zone 5 when I was 15. I spent two months on a short term mission trip in the African county of Guinea where my whole life was turned upside down. Christian mission was by no means outside of my experience. My parents were missionaries and I was born in the country of Mexico. My whole life had been intimately connected to Christian mission. My varied experiences in the Sierra Madre Mountains among rural Mexicans, Tepehuan and Tarahumara Indians and in the large city of Chihuahua all formed my faith and view of the world. But it wasn't until I got out of my own context and into another that I was captured by Jesus' great love for the world. I was on a "mission trip", but it was really me who was changed. Though I'm sure I had some small impact on the community I was a part of for those two months, I would be very surprised if that impact has had any lasting influence. What God did in me, however, over those two months of praying, working, learning, listening, exploring and going at a completely different pace continues to impact me today! I would even argue that everything I do today in my life and ministry found their beginning on that trip.

Over the years as a youth pastor, pastor and missionary, I have become more and more convinced that the purpose of Mission Zone 5 is just what it was in my experience as a teenager. Mission Zone 5 is a place to learn, observe, reflect, slow down, think. It is a place where we stop trying to change things, but instead allow ourselves to be changed.

The implications of this are huge! If we started to view areas outside of our region and cross culture situations as opportunities to learn and be changed, then the way we organize our mission activity around the world would be drastically different. Rather than "bring Jesus to those people" or show up with our solutions to fix problems, we would come humbly with a deeper sense of honor for the other, dependence on Jesus and a laying aside of the power that we so often impose on others.

The tragic thing is that most Christians define all of mission as the places that ought to be Zone 5; as something we do outside of our context, not in it! It's over the ocean. Another country. Another culture. Another state, at least. And have we got a solution for you! We can fix your health problems. We can solve your political challenges. We know the answer to your relationship breakdowns. We have solutions to your poverty. We can tell you how to get to Heaven. It usually carries a healthy dose of imperialism and arrogance with it. When we treat spaces that should be entered humbly as learners as though we carry the answers and solutions, we create all kinds of problems. Not least of these has been the destruction of cultures and even civilizations. The Permaculture Metaphor teaches us that a cross-culture situation must remain a Zone 5 place of learning and reflection until we have learned to inhabit and dwell in that place as "one of". Only then can it truly become a Zone 1 place for us.

So what are some practices that can help us honor Zone 5 for what it is?

1. Rethink how we do short term mission trips. Perhaps consider renaming and restructuring them as service-learning trips. At the least, we must wrestle with the negative impacts these trips often have on the host community.

2. Practice humility. Humility will go a long way in every aspect of life, but in Zone 5, it is paramount. We may bring some skills to bear, but we are not the experts! Any solutions we offer that does not come from the community itself will be, at best, dependent on our continued involvement. The host community are the ones who are the experts!

3. Learn how to listen well. Become a student of the places and people you seek to serve. Develop skills like Asset Based Community Development and Spiritual Mapping. Our Neighborhood Ecology Learning Lab would be a great place to start!

4. Lay aside your agendas and be willing to be led and taught by those you're serving.

5. Go Slow. If you truly seek to participate in God's mission in a Zone 5, then you'll have to take the time to fully incarnate into that place until it is no longer a Zone 5 for you, but a Zone 1. Even so, you will likely always be an outsider, and anything you do must be done with great humility!


Putting it all together, this Permaculture Metaphor transforms much of how the Church participates in God's mission. It teaches us that Place matters. It teaches us humility. It reminds us to be more intentional in how we love our actual neighbors. It challenges us to lay aside our imperialistic tendencies and take up more collaborative and contextualized methods. It grounds us in our finite humanity and guards us against deceptive ego boosters. It calls us back to the way of Jesus, the incarnate one who "moved into the neighborhood". It invites us to the practice of self-care and even shows us how the starting point for mission is our response to the transforming work of Christ within us. May it be so.

Grace + Peace

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