An essay that I wrote was recently selected for an honorable mention in the School of Kingdom Writers February writing contest! Although this isn’t typical of content I normally publish on the blog, I wanted to share it with you.
The prompt was “Let’s Get Weird for Jesus,” and asked contestants to consider the following: “From the book of Acts onward, radical Christians have been weird. They’re just absurd, foolish even—doing things differently than the world around them. We want you to address how the church can and should be weird in the modern Western world. What are we doing well? How can we improve?”
I was a junior in college when I first learned that there were over seven thousand people groups that had no gospel witness among them. Up to that point, I’d been loosely thinking about becoming a missionary after graduation. I’d just returned from a semester in Argentina and, as someone fluent in Spanish, it seemed obvious that I could return to South America, where my Spanish would be put to good use.
But after learning about the need in an area known as the 10/40 Window, it only made sense that I would go to a group of people who had no other opportunity to hear the gospel.
For the next several years, I worked to that end. I spent a summer in Pasadena, California, with other missions-minded college students. We took an intensive class on world missions, where former missionaries spoke about their experiences among the tribes of Papua New Guinea, or in the furthest reaches of Mongolia. We also learned about the major unreached people groups, then visited the places where those groups worshipped or resided. We observed worship services in a mosque and several temples – Hindu, Hare Krishna, Buddhist – and toured L.A.’s Chinatown. On the weekends, we shared the gospel on Huntington Beach, Venice Beach, and the Santa Monica boardwalk. We probably would’ve preferred the term “zealous,” but looking back, we were weird. Weird for Jesus.
After that summer, I was intent on going to one the least-reached places on earth: the Muslim world. I talked about missions and dreamed about my future as a missionary. When I graduated college, I spent a year in my hometown, where I coordinated the missions class I’d taken in California at my home church.
I also contacted a mission agency that worked specifically in the Muslim world, and I began their application process to go overseas. After learning that there were more unreached Muslim people groups in India than any other country, I lasered my focus further on one of the most populous, diverse countries in the world.
Through the mission agency, I was connected with a young couple who were further along in the process than I was, and they invited me to join them for their survey trip in February of 2009. We were to spend two weeks in India’s capital, Delhi, and several surrounding villages.
My two weeks in India were amazing and overwhelming. India is an assault on the senses. In the city, there are people everywhere. At the end of the night, your nose is black inside from the pollution and dust that fill the city. The sound of the Muslim prayer call rings out over parts of the city. Vendors call and shout to entice you with their wares. There are beautiful colors and people everywhere, and incredible poverty to contend with. There are spice markets where people press so closely together that the only way to pass through is to follow in the wake of your six-foot white male travel companion, as you admire the brightly colored, aromatic spices that are piled high in the open air. The villages are less crowded but no less surprising. We marveled at a family of five squeezed on a tiny motorcycle, flying down dirt roads.
I also began to learn how to act as a single woman in a patriarchal society. My female traveling companion and I wore the traditional salwar kameez to show our respect for the local culture. One day, I received a gentle reprimand from a female missionary when I smiled and nodded at one of the elder men in the village. Eye contact between men and women was generally avoided, and even more so because I was young and foreign.
Cultural faux pas aside, everything was moving along as I had planned. There was only one problem. When I departed the United States for India, I was head-over-heels in love.
Falling in love was not part of my plan. I hoped marriage was in my future, but I wasn’t in the market for a boyfriend when I graduated college and moved back to my hometown. We met through a small group at church, and we just kept taking the next natural step in our progression of friendship, then dating.
To make a long story short, I did marry that man, and I did not return to India. Our life moved quickly. Within six weeks of my return from India, we were engaged, and six months later, we were married. Before our second anniversary, our first daughter was born, and I left my full-time job to be a stay-at-home-mom.
Missionaries have pretty much got the “weird for Jesus” thing covered. What could be weirder than asking everyone you know to support you financially, packing up your belongings, and moving to a foreign country, where you don’t speak the language or know more than a couple of people in a land of over one billion? Add to that the fact that you’ll try to create a job for yourself, tell other people about Jesus, and hopefully convince them that he is worth following. It couldn’t get any weirder; and as a still maturing twenty-two year old, I wore that weirdness as a badge of honor, a sign that I really loved Jesus.
I had spent the better part of my early twenties saying that I didn’t want to live the American Dream, with my two-point-five kids and white picket fence. And yet, that was where I found myself just a few short years later (minus the white picket fence, and plus another half a child).
Motherhood was a supposedly high calling, but I had never taken the time to consider was how very mundane it would be. I quickly came to realize, as all new parents do, that my days (and nights) would be an endless loop of diaper changes and feedings, especially in those early months. When compared to how I had imagined life as a missionary, life as a new mom in America was decidedly less…sparkly.
I loved my life, and I would have been quick to tell anyone that. I did not have any regrets, and I was never sorry that I didn’t return to India. But that still left me in the predicament of figuring out what it meant to follow Jesus in my very ordinary, everyday American life.
Shannan Martin, author of Falling Free and The Ministry of Ordinary Places often says, “What if we loved our actual neighbor?” Martin answers that question on Instagram using snippets from her ordinary life in Goshen, Indiana.
When we purchased the home where we now live, we happened to land in one of the more idyllic neighborhoods in our little town, and I love it more with each passing year. Our block often feels like a throwback to the neighborhoods of yore, where children ran barefoot through each other’s yards from sunup to sundown and parenting was a shared responsibility, with neighbors keeping an eye on each other’s kids.
In this setting, I’ve been able to forge relationships with my neighbors. I have had the opportunity to deliver meals when they need an extra hand, to pray when they are struggling, and to invite them into our home. I have, as Shannan Martin has encouraged, tried to obey Jesus by loving my actual neighbors.
I have also been on the receiving end of their kindness. We share carpool responsibilities to the local elementary school. My next-door neighbor taught me to knit. Another invited all the neighborhood kids over for her annual butterfly release. We host a giant yard sale every May. A couple of years ago, some of us organized a block party. We blocked off the street and kids sped up and down the road in Power Wheels until the sun set.
All of this brings me back to the original question – what does it mean to be weird for Jesus?
In a time and place where personal freedom and individual rights are often valued above all else, perhaps choosing to forgo those things – things about which Jesus never seemed too concerned, according to my reading of Scripture – is one of the weirdest things we can do.
What does it mean to sacrifice my personal time, freedom, and finances, so that Jesus might be glorified? When I was twenty-two, I had the misguided belief that it meant going to a foreign country, because that was what the “best,” most committed Christians did. (And if nothing else, I wanted to be among the “best.”)
When I chose a different life, I had to relearn what faithfulness, obedience, pleasing God, and service to him really meant. For some, it does mean going to the ends of the earth, that others might come to know Jesus. For me, it ultimately did not.
Jim Herrington recently spoke on the “How to Plant a Healthy Church” podcast about anxiety, burnout, and finding Sabbath in our work. He referenced a concept from Dallas Willard, saying, “When you think about your life, how would Jesus live your life? …If Jesus was a schoolteacher, how would Jesus approach students, how would he challenge the system, how would he develop disciples? …If Jesus could live your life, how would he live that life?”
What a transformative thought that was for me. It gives me the confidence to trust that where I am in my current life, and the roles I fill, are just…fine. Over a decade ago, I felt that there was a dichotomous choice to be made – go to India or get married – but it wasn’t quite like that. I have made a choice to follow Jesus, and to live as his disciple, and that can be done – it must be done – in the United States of America just as in India, or Argentina, or Italy, or China. And it must be done in and through and because of and regardless of my life circumstances.
Where I live is, ultimately, only the setting of my story. It has a profound impact on many aspects of my life and discipleship but, still – it is just a place. The call of God, to follow him, and to make disciples, is transcendent of location.
In modern-day America, to be weird is simply to do what Jesus did, and commanded us to do. To give our lives to him, in obedience and surrender. To love our neighbor – our actual neighbor, and the one on the other side of the world – as ourselves. To care for the widow and the orphan, and the oppressed among us. To share the gospel and invite people into relationship with him. To live in community with other like-minded believers, who will encourage and challenge us to keep going. To make disciples, who will continue the work of Jesus in whatever corner of the earth they find themselves.
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