By Scott Armstrong
I have been reflecting recently on the way that we evaluate and train our Genesis missionaries. As a team, we tinker with the content of our workshops and attempt to provide hands-on experience that will also prepare them for their two years in a different culture and in an explicitly urban context. However, the thing that keeps coming to my head is: What good is training if the missionaries do not have a deep desire to love the downcast and brokenhearted around them? That is something we cannot teach or motivate into them.
The great news is that, in almost every case, our Genesis missionaries are passionate about serving others. This is not a service that comes on their own terms or with their own demands; they all possess a profound love of God and neighbor. I have recently heard stories of our missionaries arduously cleaning entire apartment complexes in nearly 100º heat, holding sick and malnourished children, and embracing and weeping with abandoned single mothers. This type of ministry requires a compassionate willingness to walk with any needy person through every hellish thing they are going through.
I recently read this surprising story from G.K. Chesterton, the renowned Christian thinker and writer:
“A man who was entirely careless of spiritual affairs died and went to hell. And he was much missed on earth by his old friends. His business agent went down to the gates of hell to see if there was any chance of bringing him back. But though he pleaded for the gates to be opened, the iron bars never yielded. His priest also went and argued: ‘He was not really a bad fellow, given time he would have matured. Let him out, please!’ The gates remained stubbornly shut against all their voices. Finally, his mother came; she did not beg for his release. Quietly, and with a strange catch in her voice, she said to Satan: ‘Let me in.’ Immediately the great doors swung open upon their hinges. For love goes down through the gates of hell and there redeems the dead.” (Quoted in Ronald Rolheiser’s The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality)
Our missionaries have not signed up for an easy assignment, and they certainly know they will not be on a two-year vacation. There is something else that calls them to the lost, the last, and the least. Evaluation and training are essential, but when I receive reports like I have recently from their work in the urban landscapes of our region, I know something deeper than basic training has compelled them. God’s love has taken them to the gates of hell, and they have asked to enter. And because of it, God is transforming hell into heaven right in the heart of those cities.