Taking the 'I' Out of Mission: Why Doing Justice Together Matters

On Tuesdays and Thursdays YOUR VOICE features political commentary from students and young professionals.

Several months ago I traveled to Mexico with a group of high school students from my church. While there, we heard story after story that reminded me of the factors that push people to immigrate to the United States. Factors like corruption in the government, chronic unemployment, addiction and abuse are taking a toll on the communities we visited. Hearing about this toll reminded me that the task of the Church is to live into the Great Commission in ways that address these factors.

What does it mean to be a missional church? It means doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God. Short-term missions have huge potential to impact how we live out the biblical mandate to do justice in our communities in North America. Particularly, they can empower us to live alongside, serve with, and advocate for immigrants in our communities.

Short-term missions serve as a mountain-top experience in the life of many Christian young people. These experiences are often eye-opening, challenging, and ignite a passion to serve. So how can we leverage the impact of these “mountain-top” experiences in our communities upon returning home? I would argue that, following our trip to the mountain-top, we tend to fall into two pits.

First, we often think of the Christian walk as a personal endeavor. We set personal goals. We try doing something new only to have it fall away within a few months, if not days. We mistakenly think we have to do whatever we do on our own.

Pope Francis recently said that there is no such thing as “free agents” when it comes to faith. It’s tempting to think we can be Christians without the Church. However, the sense of belonging that Church gives us cannot be ignored. Not only do we need God, but He also uses us to serve as His hands and feet in the world. Abraham’s family was blessed to be a blessing. The Church was chosen to represent Christ to others. Why do we try to do this on our own?

In my attempt to challenge the young people from my church to live out their faith, I asked them each to set personal goals for how they can do that. I soon realized my error and scrapped that request, instead, calling them to work together to develop a plan of action. Doing justice—like worship, prayer, bible study, or any other component of the Christian life—cannot be delegated to anyone else. We are the Church on a mission, God’s mission, and it’s time we lived like it.  

Second, we often neglect a critical element of being the Church on a mission: doing justice. When we talked about how to take home our learning from the trip, most of us went to how we “walk humbly with God.” Some delved into ways we could serve others, or what I would call “loving mercy.” But where our minds seldom went was to how we could “do justice.” I think that is because most of us have failed to learn from our faith communities how to work to change broken public justice systems.  

In Mexico, we heard story after story that illustrated for us the “push” factors for immigrating to the United States. Poverty, abuse, and injustice overwhelm the Church in many communities. But those forces are not only at work south of the American border; they are also at work here. As Christians, we can have an impact in our own communities by seeking justice for immigrants—for families separated by policies in desperate need for reform, for minors being held in detention centers, for workers that our economy depends upon who cannot obtain driver’s licenses.

One way the young people from my church have followed up on our mission trip is by showing the film The Stranger. Produced by the Evangelical Immigration Table, the film tells the stories of three families in the United States touched by immigration and explains why Christians are calling for reform in the immigration system. We followed the showing with a discussion where talked about how we can connect with the immigrants in our community to offer them support and advocate on their behalf.

Many of us are uncomfortable with the term “mission” because it evokes a sense that what we are doing is more about us than about the people we encounter, more about our ideals than adopting a posture of humility and genuinely seeking to learn from and serve alongside others. But I also want to fight to redeem the term “mission”. God is the one who takes what sin has made ugly and makes it beautiful again.

When we find unity in our diversity, when we take seriously the command to do justice, and when we love our neighbor because we recognize the image of God in them, we are being the Church. The Church has the power to leverage the impact of these “mountain-top” experiences overseas to live out the great commission in our communities. The Church that takes seriously the mission of God will do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God—together.

- Shannon Jammal-Hollemans is the Project Developer and Team Leader at the Office of Social Justice, Christian Reformed Church in North America.