I’ve heard this phrase thrown around a lot, and it breaks my heart. Partly because I’m so defensive of first world/Western Europe missions and partly because I feel like it’s such a closed minded thing to say, assuming you can control where God would send you, because at the moment you don’t feel a specific call to that place.
Most of the time we have no idea what doing ministry somewhere would look like unless we have actually done ministry there. How can we choose to cross a place or people group off of our list of “potential ministry areas” when we don’t have a full picture of what that would even mean?
I do believe God gives us all specific hearts for specific people and places, but I don’t think He limits us. And I don’t think that stays the same our entire lives. We can be called to 50 places in our lifetime, or maybe just 1. Only God knows, and we can’t close our hearts off to an opportunity that we have no real idea about.
I have thought a lot about this. With doing missions in a place like Paris, I’ve gotten multiple questions about the “real need” of missions there, or more often questions only about the food and tourist sites instead of ministry.
People see Paris through the eyes of vacation, not a mission field.
One of the interns this year shared how difficult it was for her to go to our annual conference for all interns in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. It’s supposed to be a time to recharge and process through the first half of the year and be with people who understand your struggles and life experience. However, the first few days this intern only got questions about how great the food was in Paris, or comments about how easy life must be living in Paris. Even other people doing missions with the same organization, couldn’t quite grasp how Paris could be difficult when in comparison, there are Michelin star restaurants and sidewalks and even whole streets of designer shops, how could that be hard!?
That’s why I am so quick to defend missions in Paris and other first world countries, because people just don’t know what it’s like. They don’t understand that Paris is one of the top 10 University cities in the world. That we meet students from all over the world and from places American missionaries can’t always safely go, like Syria and North Africa, and other places like Serbia, the Caribbean, Madagascar, and the Congo to name a few. We have the incredible opportunity to share the Gospel with students who can be free to ask questions and be away from their home culture and religion. You have a heart for muslims? Why not come to Paris? Here there are huge populations of muslim students coming to Paris where it’s free to talk about religion, and search out truths, especially compared to their home country. Paris isn’t just a place where rich, white, “French” students study in fancy buildings. Paris is a multicultural, influential city, where most universities aren’t well kept (example : A toilet with a toilet seat is a rare find on campus). Do you have a heart for asian students? There’s a whole ministry just for Chinese/Asian students who come to Paris, because there are that many here! And they are finally in a place where they can openly discuss religion and search out what they truly believe. Those are just two examples, not including the “French” people, which really is multicultural and hard to define. You can talk to an atheist, agnostic, hindu and muslim all in one hour.
Paris is somewhere that is really hard to do ministry, but also such an important place to do it. However, I will never say never to doing ministry anywhere. Maybe living in Paris is what’s given me a wider global vision, and a love for all people, but I would love to do ministry in all contexts. I don’t know if God would call me there longterm, but I am open to anywhere, because everywhere has a reason to go, everywhere has people who need to here, and everywhere has their hardships and their beauties. I just hope people can see the beauty AND hardships of every place, and be open to wherever God would call them, no matter how they feel now or how they have felt their heart is at.
*I think my argument for Paris can be an argument for any large city in the world. Cities are international and cities are hard to live in. I haven’t done ministry in any other large city so I couldn’t say for sure, but I also just wanted to add that even though I fight for the validity of Paris ministry, I also see and acknowledge it’s not the only place like this, and the old idea of missions in third world countries living in huts is outdated and limited. Yes, there are ministries like that, but there is also so much more!