A friend of mine recently moved far away to serve the poor and needy and destitute with the love of Christ. As I was thinking about his move, and the passion he has for reaching a certain segment of people, I considered one bothersome fact: the town my friend had lived in for several years and which he had just left, also had many poor, needy, destitute people who would have benefited greatly from what he wants to do for the people at his new location. And I know that that fact has not been lost on some of the well-meaning people in his life who have questioned his decision to move away. The reality is, he never really invested a huge amount of time or energy serving the poor and marginalized where he had just lived. Yet upon arrival in his new locale, he rolled up his sleeves, and immediately got to work – and is already seeing good fruit come of it.
So what to think about my friend then? And not only him, but what of the people who adopt overseas children when there are plenty of children in our own country [insert your own country here] who need adoption? And what about overseas Christian workers? I can’t even count the number of times I have heard people object to someone’s dream or compulsion to move abroad for the sake of the gospel, demanding instead, “There are plenty of people here you could be reaching!”
I’ve pondered this. Standard retorts could apply: the number of Christians already available to do work here, vs. the number of people needed to do work there. But then, what about raising up indigenous workers instead of sending people to another place at great expense? (And hey, I’m not knocking it, that is a definite strategy that has definite merits.) But what of my friend: should he be suspect on some level of some impropriety or illegitimacy for going “somewhere else” to help the broken, instead of pouring that energy and passion right into where he was already at? What of the virtue oft-heard: “Bloom where you are planted?”
I’ve given that a lot of thought recently. Words like “Bloom where you are planted,” have a way of taking on a life of their own, becoming almost gospel law in the process. And when something like that starts to occur, it’s time to examine the thought and see if it’s actually the way God thinks.
And lo and behold, one can make a great Biblical case for investing yourself and passion right where you are. “Love your neighbor” has often been infered to mean, “the person next to you, on a mundane, daily basis.” Let’s not overcomplicate that, right? After all, the simple meaning of the word “neighbor” really seems to suggest the exact opposite of, “the person who lives really far away.” There is also the Biblical injunction from Jeremiah 29 about seeking the welfare of the city in which one finds oneself, and praying for it. That text gets a whole lot of mileage from various pulpits in reference to this very topic. And last, but not least, there is the example of the guy that Jesus healed and delivered of demons in Luke 8:38; he begged Jesus to go with him wherever He might go. But Jesus instead told the man, “Go home, and tell people what God did for you.” In that act, Jesus seems to put to death any sensibility the man had about there being something noble or spiritual about wandering around, even though Jesus Himself was doing just that.
But, the view that these examples support the “bloom where you are planted” meme is only how it appears at first glance.
For while “neighbor” might otherwise connote people who live near you, Jesus’s major parable on the topic of what it really means to “be a neighbor” involved….a traveler, not a local guy. Yep – someone who went out of their way for someone foreign to them, and foreign to their geography. One of the necessary take-aways from the story of the good Samaritan necessarily has to be that the love was shown to someone OUTSIDE the home circle, and while the story was most certainly not intended as a statement about geography directly, the reasonable logic to consider is that the opportunity to be that kind of radical, cross-cultural, boundary breaking loving neighbor, could not have occurred if the Samaritan had simply stayed in his own home area.
And the Jeremiah 29 injunction to seek the peace of the city in which one finds oneself, well, that was written to those who had been driven out of their home area, into a place that was foreign to them. While all believers are foreigners and pilgrims on this earth, being citizens of a Heavenly Kingdom, this can not be the only application of this reality in this verse. For the Israelites-in-exile, every day they tried to love the city they found themselves in was a constant reminder that it wasn’t actually THEIR city. God had thrown their lot, and their welfare, in with the welfare of this foreign place He had driven them – and in that place, the Israelites became intercessors, offering up their prayers and their energies for a place that was not their home, a place that was not of their own heritage and culture.
So what about the guy that Jesus told to, “Go home,” and tell his own people what God had done for him? Well, this one is legit. The guy really did get sent, probably to the very place where he was born and raised. There’s no traveling abroad happening here…unless…. Unless you take into account the fact that Jesus Himself had traveled out of his own Jewish territory to get there in Gentile territory to begin with, and that perhaps there was in that action an exchange: Jesus had reached out of His own home zone in order that the man might stay in his. Perhaps. I’m not saying this exchange indeed the case, but to me it does seem plausible.
Anyway, here’s the rest of the Biblical story on “Blooming where you are planted – the other verses on this topic that don’t paint quite the same, “think locally” sort of message, even on the surface:
Luke 4:23-28 ESV:
“What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath.“
It’s interesting to see how passionate people can get about their bias that the anointed and shining people from their own area, stay focused on their own area. Nazareth-ites were “filled with wrath” that Jesus had invested his best miracles elsewhere, and dared to justify it. And what a justification! Elijah and Elisha’s miracles both ignored the local people that could have used those miracles, and instead took them extra-locally, or at the very least, to the local foreigners instead of the true locals. In this example Jesus spoke a huge spiritual principle: “No prophet is acceptable in his hometown.” If that doesn’t give *prophets* of whatever sort a heads up about where their true ministry efforts ought to be aimed, I’m not sure Jesus could have made it any clearer.
Except that… He did. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all repeat the same thing essentially:
“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.”
There is an implication, so loud, so glaring in this verse, that Jesus expected His followers to leave their homes and birthplaces and families – it is hardly something one could consider “implied” instead of shouted. And there is no verse to balance it out and make sure it is understood that this wouldn’t be normative. There is no verse that says, “And everyone who is called to stay, I will bless them too.” It’s hard to argue from silence so I’m really not trying to make a case that the Lord *won’t* bless people who stay, but at the same time, if we’re honest we do tend to speak and act like that verse is in there – which unfortunately, it isn’t.
True enough, we can think back to the demoniac Jesus healed and know that SOMETIMES people are told to stay. That example is there, and it is legitimate. But it’s just not repeated as oft and as loud as we’d like, or as oft and as loud as the example of leaving. Can we be honest enough to admit that at the very least we need to stop holding “Bloom where you are planted” over peoples’ heads – that what we hold to be the rule, is really the exception…and what we paint as the exception, is more often the rule? I’m really not trying to guilt anyone reading this into feeling some obligation to get up and go somewhere just for the sake of going, but rather, I’m just trying to make a case that all the clamor AGAINST people who do sense a call to go, needs to give way to a certain degree of perception among one another that this very often IS the Lord’s way for His messengers – to GO somewhere else to really be released into fully blooming or planting.
Finally, there is a symbolic meaning worth touching on represented by the gift of tongues being a part of the initial and ongoing preaching of the gospel.
I think of the verse, “For by people of strange lips and with a foreign tongue the Lord will speak to this people” from Isaiah 28:11. Now, in the initial presentation of this verse, it is not directly talking about the gospel being preached. But this verse functions prophetically towards the New Testament, seen where Paul extends the meaning of this verse when he quotes it again in 1 Corinthians 14, in that instance using it to refer to the supernatural gift of speaking in tongues. There is a lot to say about what this verse means in Paul’s context in his epistle, but I want to draw out one thing from both of these examples of this verse: that there is something accompanying the gospel, in a prophetic sign, that the message from God comes to a people whose speech is not native. This is not a requirement – it is not as though people cannot share the gospel in their own language with their own kindred. But that there is nonetheless something suggested in prophetic scripture and the prophetic picture created by tongues being a gift of the Spirit, that the gospel is meant to be carried at some time or another by foreigners to the people it is intended.
There is an expression of God’s heart in this. If people only ever went to their own kin, their own town, their own country, there is a message of love and of the gospel spanning across every boundary imaginable that wouldn’t be seen or heard quite as poignantly. There is the example of Jesus, leaving His place of glory with the Father in Heaven, to come to Earth forsaking His riches and comfort for us. Of course these were restored to Him after all was accomplished, but in the immediate sense, He was a go-er. And so He requires other go-ers to really express, in their own going, the fullest measure of His person and ways. There is a redemption and incarnation demonstrated when people “go” to those to whom they have to go to great lengths to love, that can be a unique expression of the gospel in a way that “blooming where you are planted” might not always put on display to the same degree of fulness. So God uses that act, and He calls people to walk that out for His message and His purposes.
That is not to say that those tirelessly laboring in the trenches of their own city should in any way not be valued and honored in the body of Christ. But lest we continually elevate that example out of a misplaced sensibility of what is owed to one’s own area, and a failure to perceive the ways of the Lord in calling someone to go elsewhere, I just wanted to write and encourage us to value the goers…and not make it harder for them to believe in the call of God upon their souls.
December 3, 2014 at 5:39 pm
I think there’s something of a “leaving of Egypt” that the calling out to another place symbolizes. We also see in God’s calling out Abram from Ur, not to mention Lazarus from the grave….
Probably just my imagination, but there could be a “dying to self” (or, the things that we attach ourselves to) at work here….
Too, “symbolizes” may be the wrong word. Something actually happens to you when you leave the familiar….
December 3, 2014 at 5:46 pm
I think there are many advantages that an outsider has in spreading the good news in a place that is not their home. It helps us see how Big our God is. In many parts of the world there are minority people groups (UPGs) that have only heard of Jesus in the context of the religion of the majority who gave oppressed them. They need to hear from a foreigner because simply put there is no one else who could do it. We should also not underestimate what God does in the life of the person he sends into an unfamiliar context. After all, He is much more concerned with us knowing Him than what we can do for him.
One other thing is how the Spirit sending us to other locations is a small scale reminder and imitation of Jesus’ incarnation.
We’ll written Heather, thank you 🙂
And, just so I’m not misunderstood I also support those who minister in their home community.
December 3, 2014 at 5:50 pm
I was thinking about your friend frm the first paragraph. Maybe his time of service overseas is what God is going to use to develop compassion in him for the needy in his place of origin, or wherever he ends up. I know that happened for me.
December 5, 2014 at 4:32 am
I like this article. I think it has some really cool points, ones that I have never considered before. Thanks for the tag and the read!
April 12, 2016 at 9:21 pm
So glad you referred to the ‘only in his own hometown’ one, since that was in my mind from the start. Many ways to look at it, yes! I originally believed I had a calling to go into Bible translation, and that was one thing there was no need for in an English-speaking country – I think 50+ translations is enough for now lol. Added to that was belonging to a true blue evangelical church where, even after my Bible College full-time diploma, I did not meet the criteria of ‘short hair and a nice suit and tie’ that was vital to be ‘considered for the ministry’! My recent tattoos have sealed that one tight!! I must be a prophet 🙂
There was a group of ‘missionaries’ who came from the US to our little province of Northern Ireland to establish a church; a close friend got involved with them. Leaving aside the grave doubts I had about their founder and their motives, the very idea that God would send people to a country where we already have churches of every shape and size on every street corner just didn’t ring true with me. But who am I to question their own call?
I remember the ministry of Keith Green from when I first followed Jesus in 1979. His last posthumous album was ‘Jesus commands us to go’ with recordings of him preaching how he believed that ‘it should be the exception if we stay’ – there is certainly a case for not staying if we live in a country already ‘saturated’ with the gospel, but those who DO stay must be prepared to leave comforts behind and reach out in sacrificial ways anyway; someone worked out that were every Christian church in the US to have just one family adopt one native orphan, the American orphanages would be empty!
April 21, 2017 at 6:39 pm
I’m not sure the USA even HAS orphanages…. but yes, I’m not arguing against caring for one’s local orphans or area…and I also at times question whether people should go to places (like your area of Ireland) to plant churches where there already are some. But I guess my main point is to let people hear God. We need people ministering to others in their own local area, and we need people to go. But we shouldn’t be so obsessed with one or the other that we can’t make plenty of room for people to do both.