I found an old box a few days ago. It had some old paperwork that I no longer need, but I thought it would be a good idea to sort through and make sure nothing of value was tucked in between pages. I found two CD envelopes, stuffed with five CDs, each one marked with a different day of the week. I couldn’t remember where these had come from, so I turned on the CD player (yes, I still have one) and put in “Monday”. To my surprise, an old favorite worship song poured out of the speakers. And then a Backstreet Boys song – and then a song from a Disney movie! I realized that these were the CDs a friend of mine had made for a youth mission trip, one CD for each work team for each day of the week.
Conflict and Collaboration
That mission trip was fraught with conflict. There was a major difference in how some of the adult leaders understood the overall purpose, and this meant that they came with very different motivations and expectations. When it became clear during the first adult meeting that this was the case, the adults tried to work it out between themselves, and everyone made sure that the youth who were there to work and help people were not aware of any discord within the leadership. It was an amazing week of work. Porches were rebuilt, several wheelchair ramps were constructed, new flooring was laid, houses were painted and lots of yards were cleared up. The worship services each evening were meaningful, and youth shared how they were moved by the love of God to grow deeper in their journey with Christ and continue to help people in their home churches. That mission trip was a blessing.
In the midst of conflict and in the midst of disagreement, Christians can still work together to participate in the mission of God. Long term missionaries in the late 1800s and early 1900s often discovered that denominational or doctrinal differences at home were trivial issues on the mission field. Missionaries learned how to collaborate and support each other, to embody unity with diversity for the sake of the gospel. Out away from home, away from the intense focus of local issues, people were able to look beyond their differences and work together.
Be Imitators of God
Working together for the sake of the gospel, finding unity in diversity, working to overcome conflict for the sake of those who are working in mission, these are the ways in which Christians live out the call to speak the truth in love, to forgive, to remember that we are members one of another. Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2 was the lectionary passage in worship last Sunday, reminding us that from the very beginning of the church, humans have needed to be told again and again that we belong to each other. We are not to be Christians in isolation from one another, even if we disagree. We are to work together, forgiving each other, living in love and being imitators of God.
What an audacious thing to say! To be imitators of God! And yet this is the gospel call, to work through our conflicts and live out God’s love for all creation together. Perhaps especially because of our work in mission, we must learn over and over how to build each other up in the love of Christ. Charles Wesley’s hymn “All Praise to Our Redeeming Lord” describes the joy that can come from working together in mission:
“All praise to our redeeming Lord, who joins us by his grace, and bids us, each to each restored, together seek his face.
He bids us build each other up; and, gather into one, to our high calling’s glorious hope we hand in hand go on.
The gift which he on one bestows, we all delight to prove, the grace through every vessel flows in purest streams of love.
Even now we think and speak the same, and cordially agree, concentered all, through Jesus name, in perfect harmony.
We all partake the joy of one; the common peace we feel, a peace to sensual minds unknown, a joy unspeakable.
And if our fellowship below in Jesus be so sweet, what height of rapture shall we know when round his throne we meet!”