Why Loving My Neighbor is Harder than Supporting Missions
For the last several years, God has been challenging OMF to focus on and invest in ministry to East Asia’s peoples who are outside of East Asia. With around 20 million people with East Asian ethnic origins living in the U.S., this should be a natural part of our community’s vision and our heart. It seems like this should be easier than ministry in Asia.
We talk all the time about the sacrifice and challenges of sending missionaries to another part of the world; shouldn’t it be easier to serve people who have all the resources available here in the U.S.? Many churches are doing incredible work in these kinds of ministries, but there is still so much more to be done. What makes this so difficult?
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By James and Lisa Dougherty
In Luke 10, a man talking with Jesus reminds us of the most important commandments from the Old Testament, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
As soon as Jesus affirms this man’s answer, the man immediately looks for a loophole by asking, “Who is my neighbor?” This prompts Jesus to share the powerful story of the Good Samaritan. As Jesus compares the responses of the Priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan, there’s a shocking surprise in terms of the audience’s expectations for Jesus’ response.
Let’s not miss that there is also an ethnic and cultural twist here. Jesus challenges his audience by making a hero out of someone they expect to be part of an opposition people group. By the end of the parable Jesus challenges the man to see that “the one who showed him mercy” proved to be the true neighbor.
As we think about how this applies to loving East Asians in Asia or in the U.S., it seems that this question about being a neighbor is quite relevant. When we think of missions, this “loving your neighbor principle” often has some built-in limits.
For much of the church, missions participation comes in limited doses. It’s one part of our prayer ministry. It’s a portion of our budget and giving commitment. Missions Sundays or missions conferences happen occasionally. Short-term mission trips last a few weeks and then they end. These are all really helpful parts of missions ministry, but, because they are about people on the other side of the world, there are built-in limits.
Consider this. What if we were to take the heart we have for East Asians to experience the transforming good news about Jesus and apply that to our local area? Suddenly the limits are gone! Rather than thinking about a challenging ministry on the other side of the world, now this ministry is, literally, in our neighborhood. It’s no longer about the one missionary we sent to Asia: it’s now something for all of the church to participate in together. Our neighbors are our neighbors every day, not on occasional trips or for a few Sundays a year.
As we pray for our neighbors who come from other parts of the world, it seems possible, maybe even likely, that God will prompt us to take action in response. He will challenge us to work harder on building friendships and looking for ways to serve our East Asian neighbors. In addition to our giving towards a missionary’s support, God could show us opportunities to provide for financial needs locally. Whereas missions sometimes feels abstract and hard to relate to, loving our neighbors is incredibly personal.
This shift may be scary. For any of us to embrace a ministry need without limits comes with fear. There may be no limit to what God may ask, but there is also no limit to the potential impact that God can have through our obedience to Him. Just imagine what would happen if every church and every Christian in the U.S. decided to love their neighbors from all parts of the world.
Some have called this time in history the Era of Migration. We see that one way God is working right now is to bring people to us from all over the world while moving them from their communities and comfort zones. He is placing them geographically close to Christians and churches, but our barriers of language, culture, assumptions, and discomfort might prevent them from experiencing God’s love through His people. God has brought so many East Asians who don’t know Jesus to be our neighbors, and now He is asking us whether we will be the ones to show them His mercy.
About the authors: We are both third-culture kids with a foot in both North America and Asia. James was an aircraft mechanic and Lisa was a teacher, but we didn’t last too long in either of those jobs. Since 2006, we have spent most of our time in Asia serving together with the Asian church. We began serving as the President and Co-National Directors of OMF (U.S.) in 2019.