by Ryan Kuja
A few years ago, I visited a mission project in Haiti started by an American doctor. He had quite a bit of experience living in different areas of the world, using his medical skills to treat the sick. His desire to serve was clear and forthright. Yet, his project in Haiti ended up failing after a short period of time.
There are innumerable instances such as this, where a well-intentioned Christian goes off somewhere to help solve a problem or alleviate some form of suffering. They do their best, their hearts on fire for the place and people in need. But what was meant to help ends up hurting, both themselves and those they hoped to serve. They return home in anger and confusion not long after, their hope and vision having gone to pieces.
Mission falls apart.
I had a psychotherapist a few years ago who I often brought personal issues of meaning and vocation to. I remember him saying, “The need does not necessitate the call.” In essence, he was saying that the existence of an issue in the world—be it social, political, humanitarian—does not mean a certain individual is called to engage it or help solve it. The unique ways in which we are each made informs how we are designed to be in the world, how we are meant to live and serve.
And just as the need does not necessitate the call, the call does not necessitate the readiness. Or put differently, even when we are we called, it doesn’t mean that we are prepared to go.
The call is not enough.
There is no doubt that many of us experience an authentic calling to engage in service with vulnerable people in the Majority World, whether it be in the context of short-term mission, community development, global health projects, human trafficking or some other form of service deeply rooted in our Christian faith.
Our desire and willingness to travel to difficult places inundated in poverty is a great place to begin pursuing these opportunities overseas where our hearts feel drawn to. But it is a starting point, not an end point. It is the leading edge of a journey—a journey that leads inward as well as outward—that is meant to be a catalyst for mutual transformation of the self and the other. The call activates something deep within that pulls us forward to pursue this vision of healing and restoration.
Whether we are going to participate in a ten-day mission trip to Haiti or move our families to India to advocate of behalf of trafficked women, this call we feel is a beautiful and essential thing. It is the space from which mission flows. It is also an invitation to reflect deeply within ourselves.
But the call into mission is about much, much more than just buying a plane ticket. It is an invitation into the psyche, the heart, the soul. The call to mission bids us entry into our own pain, to engage with our own brokenness and wounds that have remained untended. If we haven’t engaged our own pain, we cannot be fully present with another in their pain. The call is an invitation into the self as much as it is an invitation into the world.
A global citizen with a background in international mission, relief, and development, Ryan Kuja has lived in fifteen cities and rural villages on five continents. He holds an M.A. in Theology and Culture from The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology as well a Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance from Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. A spiritual director and writer, his first book, From the Inside Out: Reimagining Mission, Recreating the World releases in the summer of 2018. Ryan is currently serving as the Field Director of Word Made Flesh in Medellin, Colombia, where he lives with his wife. You can find him online at ryankuja.com and on twitter as ryankuja.