I was told the story of a somewhat jaded student missionary, who I will call Ted, returning from Africa. His church invited him to speak to “share what God was doing in Africa,” because that’s what the church had always done when someone returned from a mission trip. They expected pictures, maybe a slide show, and a talk of all the wonderful things that Ted had done in Africa to “spread the gospel.”
That’s not what they got.
Ted had seen those kinds of presentations before; indeed, they had played into his decision to become an SM. He had read all the mission stories as a kid, he knew the pattern: the natives attack the missionaries, the missionaries pray, God turns the natives’ spears into spaghetti, and the natives are so impressed that they all become Adventists, wear suits and ties to church on Sabbath, and start eating Big Franks. He left the US ready to watch God work miracles—but God had different plans.
When Ted arrived at his SM assignment, his idea of mission work was turned upside down. He quickly realized that God had called him not to pray for spears to turn to spaghetti or to preach sermons, but to be the literal hands of God. And so he did what he could—he donated part of his stipend to the local clinic to buy vaccines, he learned to build natural water filters inside 55 gallon drums, and he tried to teach basic hygiene to the children. And he wished he could do more.
When Ted’s year as an SM was up, he felt guilty to be going home to the US, clean water, plenty of food, and abundant vaccinations. He talked to a couple people in the airport, but they just didn’t get it. “You went to Africa? How nice. What did you do there?” people would ask, but when he started to tell them about the poverty, the disease, and the filth their eyes would glaze over. If he continued talking, they would break in and ask “did you see any elephants?” or some other question that showed their total lack of interest. And his first Sabbath back at his church, he realized that the people there didn’t really care either.
And so the next week he got up front to share his mission experience, said a silent prayer, and shocked everyone. He said, “Every minute, a child in sub-Saharan Africa dies from a measles infection that could have been prevented with a one dollar vaccination, but you don’t give a shit about those kids.” He paused for a second as the congregation reeled at this unorthodox sermon opening, and then continued: “In fact, I bet you are more upset right now about the fact that I said the word ‘shit’ in church, than you are about the fact that 1440 children in sub-Saharan Africa will die today because their parents can’t afford a one dollar vaccine.”
I don’t know what else Ted said that day, but I think his point was valid. Some of you reading this still don’t get it though. You wonder why I keep writing out the word “shit” instead of using asterisks. Here’s why: I know that word makes some of you uncomfortable, and I want you to be uncomfortable. Since that word is not a form of taking God’s name in vain, nothing in the Bible forbids its use. However, there are many biblical injunctions to care for our fellow man. We are positively commanded to help the helpless, to protect the fatherless and the widow, and to provide for those who cannot provide for themselves. If we, as Christians, are more concerned about the word “shit” than the sufferings and death of our fellow man, then we need God’s eyes, because our priorities are seriously fucked up.