Throughout my summer trip to Italy with Operation Mobilization many years ago, we’d rotate days off, which translated into a few of us staying behind to do laundry for the team, shop for food and prepare the evening meal. We also had time during the day to read and write letters home on that marvelously thin par avion paper.
One day off, as my teammates and I hung wet laundry on the clothesline to dry in the church courtyard, we noticed two guys peering over the church gate.
“Hey, are you Americans?” one of them asked. We looked at each other. English? People other than teammates speaking English? We were overjoyed. In the small village in rural Italy, well, the only language we heard was Italian.
“And Canadian,” John answered, loyal to his homeland. By now, the five of us walked over to the gate and swung it open to these two Americans who talked like us, looked like us and had, what we would describe these days, as shared values.
We put their book satchels in the corner, and fed them lunch complete with cups of cold water. One of the guests asked if he could play the guitar that was lying around. We talked and sang earnest 70s folk songs. We invited them to stay for dinner.
Soon, the rest of the team returned. We introduced our new friends to our teammates. They’re here in Italy, just like we are. We asked them to stay for dinner.
“No,” our team leader Arnie said firmly. “They need to leave.” He pointed to their satchels. “Now.”
“But they are just like us,” we protested feebly.
Arnie shook his head in dismay at his team.
The two young men picked up their satchels and made a hasty exit, no thank-you or good-bye.
“Why did you ask them to stay?” Arnie explained, “They are not preaching the gospel. They’re Mormon missionaries.”
Oops. We learned that day that not all missionaries are like us no matter how much they look and sound like us.
Like it or not, I am still prone to the just-like-us mindset. I am more comfortable with people like me. It’s natural. You know, same-feathered birds being together.
But we weren’t in Italy to meet people like us. We were there to find people not like us and point them to Jesus.
I’ve been thinking about that lately, especially with this Explore God initiative that begins at church tomorrow. There’s an Explore God billboard on North Avenue that boldy declares: “We all have questions.”
Well, my question is do we only want people who are just like us to explore God, or are we ready to explore God with whoever—the weary, the wounded or the wanderer who might walk through our front doors or join our discussion group or live near us?
It’s easy to give the right answer when it’s theoretical, but when there are real people standing before us, well, it’s different. Are we ready?