An old story tells of a lighthouse overlooking the foggy Atlantic. This lighthouse had a gun that sounded a warning every hour. The keeper who tended the beacon kept enough shells in the gun so it would keep firing. After decades, he could sleep right through the now-routine blasts.
Then the inevitable happened. He forgot to load extra shells, and, in the dead of night, the gun did not fire. The rare silence awoke the keeper who leaped from bed shouting, "What was that?!"
For decades, North American Adventists saw themselves as the keeper of the worldwide lighthouse. As a 5-year-old, my prayers consistently included missions: “Please bless the missionaries and colporteurs all over the sea.” At that age, the vagaries of sentence parsing, with goodhearted volunteers scattered randomly upon the waves, escaped me. But the reality of world missionary agents of the gospel fanned out across the globe was burned into my thoughts even in those preschool years.
Mission for many here in North America often carried the intent of sending physical, mental, spiritual help out to unenlightened continents in remote corners of the Earth. My early prayers echoed this idea — the missionaries were all out there somewhere “over the sea.” Here at home we already knew the truth. Our roles were clear — we gave and others received.
It felt good to give. Offerings in the plate sent missionaries far and wide to spread the gospel. Church members here gave liberally, feeling somehow it would be enough to finish the work.
Indeed the work around the world has flourished. Offerings and efforts blessed by the Spirit have kindled thousands of converts, churches and schools. Many of us have gone beyond dollars to contribute time and talent in short-term mission trips to all corners of the globe.
With an overseas focus on mission, it’s easy to forget something critical to our own calling. The world includes North America. Our country, our culture, our communities are also part of the mission field. They always have been.
And while our imaginations are often lured by spectacular events, press coverage and headlines, the real essence of personal mission is just that — personal. Each one of us is a missionary. It starts with human relationships inspired by divine impression. In other words, your neighbors and work associates, your family, your inner circle of influence. We are guilty of mission-myopia when we ignore the needs right at hand in favor of something more exotic and remote.
During those early formative years, while I prayed for the worldwide missionaries, I also often joined my Sabbath School classmates in singing a cute little ditty with words more profound than I ever then imagined. Written by Ina Ogdon more than 100 years ago, the words are a simple sermon directed to each of us today:
“Do not wait until some deed of greatness you may do; do not wait to shed your light afar; to the many duties ever near you now be true; brighten the corner where you are.”
So give to world missions. Give liberally. But don't neglect to give yourself, right here, right now.