Columnists > Voices

Missionary maps

Enlarge these diagrams and stretch the vision of young Christians

Issue: "Red & blue all over," Sept. 23, 2006

I have a hopeless love affair with maps. From the time-I think I was 5-when my dad sketched for me a diagram of the little town we lived in, cut in half diagonally by the Rock Island railroad track, I have always considered maps not only to be among the necessities of life, but the source of romance as well.

Maps don't even have to be terribly precise to drive explorers toward their treasure; imagination fills in the blanks. But the maps provide the launching pad. They get you thinking.

All of which is partly why I got impatient a few months ago with the idea of a traditional missionary map hanging in the hallway of our church. How could such a measly chart stretch the vision of any young person about both the scope and the wonder of the kingdom of God? Little push pins and ribbons connecting particular countries with faded prayer cards with outdated pictures? Come on! If we want a robust response, let's do this in a robust way.

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So my wife Carol joined me for a day late this past May, and we headed for the church parking lot with half a dozen aerosol cans of highway marking paint. With appropriate permission from the deacons, we sketched in the equator with yellow, laid down a green international date line and an indicator for Greenwich mean time, outlined the continents in white, and hinted at the oceans with splashes of blue.

That set us up so that for the rest of the summer, every week's Sunday school could focus-with a huge visual-on a different country where our congregation supports a missionary family. How many little children could get inside the outline of France? When you have to run your legs, and not just your fingers, across the Atlantic to get to the Congo, it gives both kids and some of their parents a new understanding of the size of the world. "Brazil is huge!" I heard a number of people say.

But, I was about to learn, there are other ways to dramatize a missionary map. Turns out that Lynn Everswick, pastor of global ministries at the huge Westover Church, an independent congregation in Greensboro, N.C., suffered from the same basic dissatisfaction with traditional maps that I had had. So he set his eyes not on the church parking lot, but on a 50-foot wall in the spacious entryway to Westover's brand new $28 million worship center. Greeting everyone who passes by is a video display worthy of World's Fair treatment.

A big flat plasma screen grabs your attention, constantly updating you on Westover's missionary priorities-or maybe featuring a brief testimony from a recent short-termer. On both sides, four smaller interactive touch screens invite everyone's involvement. Interested in Peru or Pakistan? Just touch South America or Asia to get a virtually instant picture of what Westover Church is doing there.

The information is layered in a user-friendly way so that you can easily find family photos or an updated video from a missionary you know. Or you can explore a specific interest in translation work or evangelism or medicine or education, and the system will point you toward appropriate opportunities. Ask a question about short-term service, and you'll get dates and specifics. Then the display configures itself to invite you to send an e-mail-not later, but right this minute-to one of the church's missionaries. No stamps, no air forms, no fuss. The keyboard all but insists that you do it.

Because Everswick and his wife served as missionaries themselves (they spent 14 years in Zimbabwe), he has a good sense of what folks at home ought to learn along the way both about the world itself and the missionaries who are out there. His goal now is to do some "vision casting" that will grow an awareness of the least-reached areas of the world.

I loved his high-tech missions wall. I think there's also a place for our own low-tech missions parking lot. Westover's "map" cost $100,000; ours cost $34. Either way, a few more of God's people are going to get a new perspective on the size, the diversity, the complexity, and the needs of His kingdom all around the globe.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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