Why I Decided to Live on Mission

I’ve known since adolescence I wanted to be a missionary. It’s not really a lifestyle teenagers aspire to so I knew the Holy Spirit put a fire in me long before I knew what missions were. Growing up, I didn’t know any missionaries. I didn’t know any pioneers I could touch to speak to me about their experiences. When I did see faces of missionaries, they were white. During my freshman year in college I shared my heart for missions with a girl in my dorm named Chay. She ran with it and took every opportunity to refer to me as “missionary” – not in jest, but because she felt the gravity of my words before I did. This reminds me to thank Chay for fanning that flame.

Fast forward to five years ago. I moved to the DC area with the intention of living on mission. I didn’t have that language at the time. All I knew is I wanted to fully immerse myself in my new community with the purpose of loving my neighbors and advancing the Kingdom with those around me through service. I got involved in the local fellowship and gathering together with believers to partner with the Kingdom work already happening in the area. As time passed, I decided I’d advance in my career and wait until I retire to fully give myself to the mission field. Here’s why. As a Black American, I’ve elevated my current conditions over virtually everything else. It’s hard to consider issues beyond those just outside many of our church buildings. When searching for my first home, my non-negotiables were a backyard to host people, a living room large enough for 8-10 Bible studies attendees and places to walk to so I could get on my feet and meet my neighbors. I think A LOT about my community, the local church and Black people in general. Issues impacting those groups nearly chock me in my sleep. Being only a few generations post-slavery sometimes means constant feelings of threat to my present life. Each generation strives to secure a better life for the following – my mother did this by owning property, ensuring college was a very real opportunity for me and working one job for 36 years, which meant insurance, retirement and a steady income for us. She was securing a future for me at the expense of everything, including her personal comfort. A missionary, by definition, is someone sent by God to make an impact across cultures. Local and global missions are extremely important because the entire word is a mission field. For me, global missions seemed distant because systemic societal barriers stole my focus away from what my teenage heart yearned for. I have, however, found extreme joy in my local fellowship, community and the mission field in my backyard.

Missions have become a story about white people rescuing Black babies from AIDS, malnutrition, lions, you name it. Due to the stains of colonialism, the title “missionary” doesn’t feel like it’s for us as Black people. I get that. I had to sit with my own preconceived notions, false narratives and deceptive theology that led me feeling guilty for the desire to seemingly “neglect” my community and fly across the world for people that didn’t ask me to come in the first place. I struggled with the questions like why would one travel to build water wells in Kenya when Flint, MI still doesn’t have clean water? But that’s not what this is. Cross-cultural advancement of a Kingdom agenda can and do happen everywhere. As Black people, it’s important that we know the significance of the “go” because missions aren’t “good work/projects.” They’re about the Gospel reaching every nation and people group – many of which look like me. Less than 1 percent of the missions field is African American. That means we have work to do.
 

This may seem like a tangent, but bear with me. I haven’t spoken publicly about the Los Angeles rapper and entrepreneur Nipsey Hussle’s death. I’ve talked A LOT with friends and family, but I haven’t been able to share in the public discourse. Here’s why I’m mentioning him now. His death shook a community – my community. A lot of people misappropriate the Crenshaw area because it’s cool to do so. For me, it’s home. It’s where my family lives. It’s where I was raised and grew. It’s where my nieces and nephews go to school and play. I’m so proud my community. Nipsey, and others before him, gave South LA a face/voice in the media that wasn’t riddled with crime and violence. He wore “Crenshaw” caps to award shows and invested in the community he loved. He hired local people and gave money to programs that funded STEM opportunities in the hood. He was 100 percent LA and never had to code-switch. I was never a huge rap fan and didn’t know a lot of his music, but you couldn’t have grown up with me and not known who he was. His death felt tragic. I cried in prayer to the Lord over him – not because I’m a fan, but because I’m a neighbor. I say that because his life has inspired a lot of people, including me. Life is short and we only have a small window to find the narrow path.

Let me tie this back together. A few months ago I met with a missionary-friend, Jennifer. God told me to speak to her about missions and she immediately took the opportunity to pour into me. She has since plugged me into her global network. One thing led to another and I’m now leading my first missions trip to Ghana, where I went exactly ten years ago to teach. Talk about full circle! Through relationships like mine with Jennifer, local pastors and the National African American Missions Conference, we’re correcting the narrative about missions. They’re not rescue trips. They’re not glorified vacations. They’re not opportunities to showcase some form of Western superiority. They’re certainly not about white saviors. Missions are about the Great Commission, found in the Bible in Jesus’s last words to His disciples before He left Earth for Heaven. Matthew 28:19-20, “Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”

The Bible also says in Psalm 22:27, All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. Until EVERY community is thriving, missionaries are necessary. Every. Single. Community. Every. Single. Human. Being. God cares that deeply. What’s more is that the cause of the Gospel is worth sacrificing our personal comfort and lives for – like Jesus. It’s not lost on me that moving away means I miss my nieces’ and nephews’ birthdays and graduations. I miss special moments with my family all the time. After burying my brother in LA, I returned to the DC area heartbroken and alone. I did it because I believe this is the community God has called me to. Am I saying I’ve been a missionary this entire time? No. I’m saying that I wanted to be intentional with my life and God graced me to do so. That’s not unique to me, or Christians or missionaries at large. Now, however, I’m choosing to go where God sends to work in a way that helps and not hurts (there are plenty of ways that hurt). In Ghana, we are bringing supplies to the local, long-term missionaries that they asked for and purchased (we’re bringing them because it’s much easier for us to get them there), we are assisting in their programming with the children they house and joining with the Holy Spirit in whatever work He wishes to accomplish. All the while, we are also changing the skewed story about missionaries through storytelling. They asked that we share our experiences on social media so people can support their work, and so their families who are selling homemade items to break cycles of poverty can have a wider audience. It’s easy to assume people want glory by posting pictures on Instagram. You may be thinking: can’t you support them from here, or just send money? Supporting them is visiting them, physically being among them, seeing them and building relationships with them. That’s the difference between long and short-term missionaries. Both are important and needed. And global missions aren’t to the neglect of local missions.

Here’s the truth. Missions are the responsibility of the believer. God sent His Son to live and dwell among the world to spread the Gospel before His death. In the same, we are to live and dwell among communities we’re called to impact before our deaths. In Genesis 12, God to Abram (later Abraham) to “Go,” and he went. He left everything he ever knew to follow God. It took him away from his people, his land and his home. Because if his obedience, his entire bloodline was saved. In fact, we’re now all able to take hold of the promises God made to Abram all these years later because we’re his descendants. That means that generations have the opportunity to know Jesus because of one man’s “yes.” I wonder who’s connected to our “yes?” I wonder who’s connected to our living life on mission. I know so many people who are doing it. I have a beautiful community of people who’ve given their lives away for the Gospel. They’re not preachers and teachers. They are people of God who love justice, mercy and truth. They take every opportunity to share it in Jerusalem (the people closest to them), Judea/Samaria (the local community and cross-culturally), and to the ends of the Earth (the entire world) – taken from Acts 1:6-8. I plan to do the same because missionaries are also Black girls from South LA who love justice, mercy and truth.     

If you’d like to support my upcoming missions trip to Ghana, you can do so here. Thank you! I also welcome your prayers for our team and for the missionaries and people we’re serving. 

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Ebonee Speaks was born at the intersection of Jesus and Justice. We are a global ministry committed to illuminating the voices of women and girls who have been silenced. Our charge is to honor God through our gifts, social justice advocacy and kingdom living.
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