Just last week, I was somewhat amused when I read about Briton Arjun Bhojal who recently arrived in Singapore after having spent the past four years crossing the globe on foot (2 April, Straits Times). For Mr Bhojal, he embarked on this expedition because his goal was to raise awareness of issues like water shortage and overfishing and raise funds for water and marine conservation charities.
To be honest, I really cannot see how his exploit of travelling around the world on foot would help to make clean water available to those who need them. Would he have gained more traction if Mr Bhojal pedalled on a unicycle instead? After all, after four years of trekking a total of 13,700km, he only managed to raise a paltry sum of nearly £3,000 (S$5,800) for charities WaterAid and the Marine Conservation Society. Perhaps if he had found a job, saved up and solicited support from his co-workers, he would have contributed more to the cause, for example by providing access to clean water for one village as a start.
Although I do not know what Mr Bhojal’s motivations are, I do believe that those who seek to make a difference should give greater thought to their plans and learn from others about what are more meaningful and sustainable ways to raise social awareness and funds for the causes they believe in. Just attempting to organise a one-off event or launch a campaign to do something out of the ordinary in order to advocate for a certain cause may at best bring about a flash in the pan success. While crowdsourcing can be a helpful model, one will also need to be more intentional about creating long-term platforms where people can effectively engage with those they wish to help.
If you remember, it was not too long ago that a campaign known as the “Bucket Challenge” which involved dumping a bucket of ice water on someone’s head went viral on the internet. The organisers wanted to promote awareness of the disease commonly known in the US as Lou Gehrig’s Disease and to encourage donations to research on this disease. There was no doubt this campaign was immensely successful in getting people’s attention and it did raised a considerable amount of money. Nevertheless, there were questions about whether this “cool” stunt somehow unintentionally overshadowed the actual disease and did little to meaningfully engage donor in the long term.
When it comes to missions, our starting point must be the Great Commission and then to help believers to see that God has opened doors for us to proclaim the Gospel and to demonstrate His love. Whenever we are encouraging participation in missions, we would do well to avoid giving people the impression that missions is something reserved for the spiritually gung-ho and those with a taste for the exotic. Otherwise, we may unintentionally end up putting Christians who are actively involved in missions or have gone on mission trips on a pedestal simply because the attention is now turned to them rather than the work which God has begun.
Living in a comfortable and convenient country like Singapore, it would not be surprising if some believers have a tendency to be inward-looking and consider themselves as accomplishing something of noteworthiness simply by the fact that they are willing to come out of their comfort zone. After all, the bugs, bathroom conditions and breakfast quality of certain locations can prove to be a real obstacle for many. In addition, to give up our precious annual leave in the midst of our various commitments can be a tall order for any busy Singaporean.
One of the ways I believe that what would safeguard us from giving ourselves a pat on the back is when we remember that our Lord Jesus Christ has called us to “die to self” (Mark 8:34-35). Indeed, Scripture does not present this as something optional in our discipleship. When believers mindfully put this into practice, chances are we would think less of ourselves and more of how God is to be glorified even as people are being blessed by our mission efforts.
For some, “dying to self” may mean that we need to prayerfully consider why being involved in mission does not rank highly on our list of things to do. Here, I am not talking about merely ticking off an item on the list once we have gone on a mission trip. Rather, it is about reflecting upon what our priorities are and what fuels our passion. Are we learning to give generously to mission and praying for mission organisations and missionaries? Even before we ever board the plane for a mission trip, have we been walking across the room to our neighbours or colleagues?
To be sure, being actively involved in missions is not necessarily a mark of Christian maturity. Our involvement will certainly not be pleasing to God if we are wilfully sinning in other areas. We also recognise that some have genuine constraints due to care-giving arrangements, personal health issues, etc. At the end of the day, the work which our Lord and Saviour has called us to is more than just doing something out of the ordinary. It is something supernatural as Jesus continues to transform us in such a way that obedience to Him is becoming a joy more than a duty.
Rev Edwin Wong
April 10, 2016