The story of how I became a missionary is an odd one. Not your normal “I’ve-always-felt-a-burden-to-the-nations” calling.
I had three fears as a child. Drowning was one. Being lost in space was the second. (When I saw the trailer for “Gravity,” I nearly wet myself as I saw my childhood nightmare float across the screen.)
And my third, most terrifying of all fears was that God would call me to be a missionary.
I was an avid reader as a child and at the very emotionally mature age of seven came across a book on my parents’ bookshelf called, “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.” I curiously opened the book and was shocked to read the stories of Christians and missionaries being brutally, brutally murdered for their faith.
My little girl self was scarred. I laid awake at night imagining what I would do if I was asked to chose between being flayed and denying my faith and I would cry, because I knew I couldn’t withstand that kind of torture and would probably deny my faith.
That was my first exposure to missions.
Add to that the fact that I grew up an insanely picky eater, a child addicted to routine and stability and predictability, and I did NOT like bugs.
What did I think being a missionary was? Like most people, I thought it was someone who lived in a hut (bugs!!), ate horrible food (probably bugs!!), and who would most likely have to die for their faith by torture (maybe death by bugs!!).
Now there are people who DO live that reality as missionaries and I am blown away by the grace God has given them to serve in that capacity, but the reality is that most missions is nothing like that. The jungle hut images that most people have in their minds when they think of missions only constitutes a small percentage of what actually takes place overseas. This is what missions used to primarily be, but no longer is.
Let me paint a new reality for you.
We live in a very, very modern world. A world in which cities are exploding. A world in which people are leaving rural areas and flooding to urban ones.
In 1951, when my father and mother-in-law were children growing up in Lima, the population was 835,000. By 1981 it had reached 3,573,000. The extreme terrorism in the 1980s and early 90s led to a population explosion and by 1997, it had nearly doubled and was almost 6,000,000. Today, Lima has hit nine million and shows no sight of slowing down.(1)
And Lima isn’t the only city to experience this kind of growth. Around the world, cities are exploding with growth.
What does this mean for missions? So, so many things. But let me mention just a few.
1. More than anything else, we need urban missionaries.
People who feel called to missions need to completely change their expectations of what serving abroad looks like. Lima has NINE MILLION people. The need is HERE and in major cities around the world. We need less to go to the jungle, because the jungle is coming to us. The urban jungle is full of people in dire poverty, both spiritually and physically. Cities need to be reached like never before.
2. People who support missions need change their expectations of missionaries and support them in this new reality.
Let’s face it, it feels more exciting to support missions that is filled with the traditional images we’ve held on to. What makes for a better picture visually? A missionary eating bugs and sweating for Jesus among the nearly naked natives, or a missionary sitting down in an urban cafe, drinking coffee, mentoring young people deeply damaged by the family abuse they experienced growing up? Let me say that BOTH are needed. BOTH are valuable. BOTH are the heart of Jesus. It is critical that we value the work that all kinds of missionaries are doing, whether they are wearing grass skirts or ripped jeans.
3. Missions is becoming increasingly expensive, because urban environments simply cost more to live in.
Think of the U.S. It’s easy for us to understand that living in New York City, for example, costs significantly more than living in a farming city of northern Minnesota. The same is true overseas. This is a shocking reality for people who choose to do urban missions and can be a disincentive and huge challenge. We feel that everything overseas should just cost less – and some things do, like the insanely good food here! – but other things cost dramatically more. Of course, it’s extremely important for missionaries to stay accountable for how their funds are spent, but we must realize that their expenses will be significantly more than what missions used to cost. Support them, financially, emotionally and spiritually.
4. We need more young people in missions.
Here’s the deal. Never before in the history of the world have you been able put young people from around the world all together in a room and have them find SO much in common. Sure, they have their cultural differences, but if they are all from urban settings, there’s a great chance most of them are on Facebook or Instagram…or they send their friends Snapchats or texts on What’s App or make Vine videos…or they watch similar movies…or have a smart phone… or they’re reading some of the same world news and know about some of the same celebrities and listen to some of the same music.
Our world is shrinking and our young people get that. They can adapt in ways that previous generations would have never imagined possible.
This coming March, the Gutierrez family will celebrate five years living on the mission field. And I thank God that he brought us here. I thank God that I let go of the nightmares of my childhood that defined what I thought missions was to explore the new reality that missions is. God turned my nightmare into one of the best things that has ever happened to me.
Lima no longer feels like the mission field to me. It just feels like home.
My heart burns for the nine million people of Lima who need hope and healing and restoration and help. It is one of the greatest joys of my life that our family gets to live here and be a part of it. Is it hard? Some days, heck yeah. Life is just hard sometimes no matter where you live. But other days I just have to stop, look up to heaven with tears of joy and give thanks that God would let us be a part of his plan here.
Whether you are called to serve abroad as a missionary, called to support missions financially or called to pray for people around the world, I encourage you to open your eyes to the new thing God is doing in the earth, both where you live and abroad. I encourage you to live on mission – to live intentionally, authentically, purposefully and with a deep love for God’s people. That is the cry of my heart. I suppose that’s why we often refer ourselves as “The Gutierrez Family on Mission.”
Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, let your life be on mission.
I have a question for you. Are you a young person who feels they might be called to missions but you aren’t sure? Or do you know a young person who feels they may be called to missions?
If your heart skips a beat each time you hear the word “missions” and you’ve been wondering what it would be like to live and serve abroad for longer then a short-term missions trip, we want to invite you to apply for the missionary internship at the church we serve at, Camino de Vida, in Lima, Peru.
This past August, six young people came to Lima as Camino de Vida’s very first interns. Their lives have been rocked by what they have seen and experienced. Several of them plan on returning as full-time missionaries and several will go back to their home churches with a new and real perspective of what urban missions is and carry the adventures and lessons they’ve learned with them for the rest of their lives.
This February 2016, our second cohort begins. If you are interested in finding out more about the internship, we encourage you to visit caminodevida.com/cdvintership and begin your application process as the deadline is quickly approaching for this next semester. You can also follow us and Instagram at @intershipcdv and on the hashtag #MiCDVPeru .