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Becoming a Backyard Missionary

Learn why you don’t necessarily need to travel far from home in order to serve the Lord. By Captain Audra Whipple

When I hear the word “missionary,” I think of people serving overseas in Third World countries with no running water or indoor plumbing. I think of people who sacrifice the comfort of modern conveniences like refrigerators, cell phones and Starbucks. I think about people who go to places where people have no idea that the saving grace of Jesus Christ can transform their lives. It is by those standards that I do not consider myself a missionary. And, if I had to guess, most of you don’t either. 


Often we think that being a missionary must include a plane ticket, boat ride, or giving up all first-world commodities to preach the Gospel. That simply isn’t the case. Here’s the thing. Every missionary I have talked to has told me all about the people they’ve met and the relationships they’ve built while serving overseas. It always seems to be the same thing: the people. The people are what make the mission successful to the missionary. 

Being a missionary is more about relationships and less about location. And, if this is the case, then we all have the opportunity to become missionaries where we are now. 


In Matthew 28:19 we read the Great Commission, in which Jesus charges the disciples to go and make believers of all nations. Often we interpret this to mean literal foreign nations—countries far from where we are. But without further study, this is flawed logic. If we look at the original Greek translation, “all nations” does not refer to literal nations. Rather, it translates to “groups of people linked by kinship, land, culture or government”(Lexham Bible Dictionary).

By the original intent of the text, we are not only called to go to countries outside of our own for the Gospel, but to share with those in our own backyards. We are commanded to make believers with those we share culture, community, and the country with. And, we are supposed to do this even when it makes us uncomfortable. 


An example of this is Ananias. We meet him in Acts 9 where your Bible probably reads, “Saul’s Conversion.” Undoubtedly this story is about Saul (his name is in the section header), but it is greatly shared with an obedient man named Ananias. 

Saul was “uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers.”  He was working hard to make sure believers in Christ were punished for their faith. Saul’s deeply-rooted Jewish faith had become the platform on which he stood justifying the crusade he was on. Christians contradicted what he believed as aJew, and therefore, Saul thought they should be reprimanded. 


Ever heard the crazy way Saul met Jesus? Read it in Acts 9:1-9.

Verse 10 is where the disciple Ananias comes into the story. A dialogue takes place between him and God. Ananias has fear of the unknown and fear of what he has heard about Saul. He expresses those concerns to God. TheLord responds by reiterating His command to Ananias: “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel” (Acts 9:15).


Ananias could be called a backyard missionary. God led Saul to Ananias’ neighborhood. Ananias did not travel a great distance to Saul to tell him about Jesus. At the time, they shared community and culture. 

Ananias heard the command from God and went to talk to the very man he feared. Saul and Ananias exercised different belief systems, and because of this, the tension was incredibly high. But Ananias knew what needed to be done to further the Kingdom. 


Are these characters really that different from us? Tensions over race, religion and sexual orientation are higher than ever, and we may be afraid or anxious when it comes to talking about them. Our differences may divide us more and more every day. Rather than trusting that God will transform hearts, just like He did for Saul, we may be consumed with taking sides. 

What would happen if the only side was that God created each person in His image, and His image is to be in a relationship with Him and each other? He is the God of love and grace. When we are called to be missionaries, filled with the Holy Spirit and ready to testify to the ends of the earth (Acts1:8), then shouldn’t we start by showing love and grace to our community? Our God is greater than any wedge society has created. We must be obedient by engaging all people—not just those like us—in kindness, relationship, and love. Our actions should reflect the living God within us. 

If we are passionate that God’s love should be delivered to people in foreign countries, then shouldn’t we be just as passionate about delivering it to the people we pass daily on the street? The call for “all nations,” is really for all people, and all people include those outside of our faith tradition, outside of our race and ethnicity, and outside of our comfort zone. 

In a world that is tough and damaged, scary and cruel, take a lesson from Ananias and choose to be a backyard missionary. 

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