I’ve been going on mission trips for a couple of decades now, and one repeated chorus is that the key word for missions is “flexibility.”
Well, here I am writing this blog post from Huslia, Alaska on a borrowed computer. We were supposed to be making our fifth trip to Kobuk, Alaska, this week to conduct a VBS, but we’re about 85 miles south (on the other side of a mountain ridge) here working construction. The change was made the day before we left. Flexibility.
The reason that we can’t go to Kobuk is because the village is on lockdown as they search for a child rapist who has been hiding in the town since May 2015. The men of the town are searching in armed posses in abandoned homes and campsites, hoping to capture him and hand him over to the authorities. The children are being kept inside their homes.
Up to this point, he’s been hid and aided by family members (and may continue to be getting help from some). It’s strange to an outsider (especially if you know the details of what he’s done) that anyone would try to keep this person from justice. But the mindset in village culture is to think less about the guilt of the individual and more about how it reflects on the group, so the instinct is to cover up, even when others know exactly what is hidden.
This mindset dominates native villages in Alaska, but these instincts are easily observed in any small town where it seems everyone knows everyone else and their business.
So as my missionary friend Luke joins with other villagers to break down doors and cut back brush so there are fewer places to hide, it seems to be metaphorical for something that must happen for authentic ministry to take place anywhere, especially in small towns.
Our instinct is to hide the monster in our lives, even conspiring together with others to keep our hidden sin from the light. The public facade is very different from the reality of people’s lives. So as we all tell one another we’re “just fine” every Sunday, there is sin, hurt, addiction, and pain hiding from one another, from the world, and from God.
But Jesus scorned the shame of the cross by being willingly exposed and rejected in front of all people, so that in his victory over death, he could be seated in honor next to the Father in heaven. To follow His example, we have to cut back the brush around our own lives, being exposed and vulnerable so that we can identify with Christ and have His victory, His purity, and His honor given to us.
It is Luke and his wife Sarah’s request that we pray that as the brush has been cut back, the pretenses are falling, and the truth is being exposed in Kobuk, that this new openness will lead to conversations and openness to the gospel.
Let’s pray also that God will give us wisdom as pastors to “cut back the brush” in our own towns to find people in their real need, to be open and vulnerable ourselves, and to be unashamed of the gospel that brings life and light into the darkness of hidden sin.