There is no authentic mission without the motivation of love and the practice of compassion. In many places of the world the Christian church must regain its credibility because it has been so compromised. When taking theological students on pioneering mission trips in former communist Yugoslavia I would often tell them that our first task may be simply to wash the face of Jesus because it has been distorted and dirtied by the compromises of institutional Christianity through the centuries and through Marxist atheistic propaganda in more recent times. We have a credible message of a credible Savior, but the more difficult question is whether we have credible communities and credible messengers.
At the end of the war in Bosnia I met with the Muslim mayor of the city of Bihac. Bihac was cut-off from the rest of the world for over three years. Over one thousand children lost at least one parent as a result of indiscriminate shelling. The hospital operated without anesthesia for months. Some of Agape’s volunteers risked their lives to help and now Agape was to be honored ‘for saving lives’. During our pleasant visit I asked the mayor, ‘You are a Muslim and I am a Christian. How is it that we get along this well?’ He smiled and said, ‘That’s because I am not the kind of Muslim your friends from the West think about when they hear the word Muslim, and you are not the kind of Christian that Muslims think about when we hear the word Christian. I have a Muslim name; I am culturally Muslim; but I am not really a devout follower of Islam. I don’t have a deep commitment to Allah but I am increasingly interested in Jesus because of who you people are and what you do. You are not the kind of Christians that fit our mental image and prejudice, because you have not come for territorial gains or with a political agenda or ethnic exclusivity. You did not come like the crusaders with the sword in one hand and the cross in the other. Instead, you have loved us without pushing your religion down our throats.’ Then he added that we were free to open a church in his city because they trusted us. When I asked why they trusted us he simply responded: ‘You are credible with us because you became vulnerable with us.’
Credibility depends on our availability, which includes our vulnerability. The mayor’s comment gave me a wonderful opportunity to share with him the story of the most credible person that ever walked the earth. Jesus is the most credible person because he became vulnerable by his incarnation and the cross. He is our model missionary whose gospel we are to live, proclaim and practice with contextual sensitivity, compassionate engagement and credible witness. That is what integral mission is all about.