When the words mission or missionary are used we often leap to the conclusion that they refer only to something happening overseas. Of course mission can happen anywhere and those responding to a call to mission could just as likely find themselves serving in the UK as on the other side of the globe.
True, the great commission invites us to “make disciples of all nations” [Matt 28:19, NIV] and that may make us think of other nations, perhaps forgetting that the UK surely needs the transforming power of the Gospel as much as any of them.
Actually the word translated nations simply means people groups. Basing our mission on the life and teaching of Jesus, we have clear mandate to reach to the extremities of our society as well as to the “corners” of the geographical world. Quoting from Isaiah, Jesus declares good news for people who are poor, captive, blind or oppressed. [Luke 4]. The task of bringing the Gospel now lies with us and it is still good news to those who are marginalized within our prosperous but deeply flawed society.
Many missions were founded to take the Gospel in word and deed to marginalized people groups within our society, both home and abroad.
That’s where a mission like the Torch Trust for the Blind fits. Those debilitated by sight loss account for around a quarter of the world’s disabled population of 600 million. Not only are they marginalized by practical issues, they are often excluded by the prejudiced attitudes of others. And it’s reckoned that disabled people taken as a group are the least evangelised people of the world.
The first mission scene recorded in Acts was played out in the heart of Israel, in Jerusalem. Though “at home” it was multi-lingual and cross-cultural. In the diverse society of modern Britain our mission too must embrace diversity. Jesus spent quality time with people at the fringes of first century Israel - street beggars, prostitutes, sick and disabled people, those of other races and other faiths too.
From our churches we reach out into a neighbourhood. UK mission agencies work with and alongside local churches with a city or nationwide scope, but usually focussed on one or more specific needs or people groups.
In years past, it was from the strength of the UK church that missionaries set off to evangelise the world. Now the church of the two-thirds world has a vitality that we in the UK can only admire, we should perhaps reassess and reinvigorate our home mission programmes with at least as much zeal and imagination as we apply to overseas mission.
Dr Gordon Temple, Chief Executive, Torch Trust for the Blind