The Red Couch: Dangerous Territory Discussion

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We weren’t supposed to use the “M” word. Speaking, emailing or writing the word “missionary” could endanger us, our organization, or our friends. I worked in China five years with the same organization as Amy Peterson, the author of Dangerous Territory: My Misguided Quest to Save the World. Like Amy, I also indulged in a steady spiritual diet of missionary biographies as a teenager. So when it came time to strike out into the world, there was no doubt in my mind, I wanted my life to make an impact for eternity. And since missionaries were at the top of the spiritual hierarchy, naturally I wanted to be among God’s Most Useful.

When I came across Amy’s book last year, I could relate to her background, experience and lessons more than most books I’ve read. She put flesh on some of my nebulous thoughts, fattening them up and presenting abstract ideas as concrete questions.

Questions like:

What if God didn’t want me to be useful? Could I surrender to that? Was I willing to be useless for God? (p. 182)

How could I rest in my status as the beloved of God without becoming complacent about the work that still needed to be done? (p. 215)

How could I give up my savior complex without also giving up? (p. 215)

These questions arose after Amy spent two years in Southeast Asia, where she led a Bible study with students and eventually had to leave the city because of it. Interspersed throughout her story, she shares information in five sections called “interludes” about the history of short-term missions, women in missions and her thoughts on modern-day missions, again posing more questions than answers. Her experience and questions contribute to the wider missions debate where traditional roles of missionaries have come under scrutiny. According to Amy, it may be time to retire the “M” word altogether.

When I returned to the U.S. after five years in China, I struggled with stepping down off the missionary pedestal. Could I accept being unknown, unseen and unremarkable in Christian circles? What happens to “the called” when their calling shifts or changes? And is missions really a “higher calling” like so many youth pastors, writers and ministry leaders encourage us to believe?

In the epilogue, Amy says that “’calling’ is a complicated beast. If you want to go, you should go, but only in full recognition of your status as the Beloved of God, in full recognition of your own mixed motives, your very limited understanding of any situation, your need to be a learner … don’t go to be one of heaven’s heroes. Don’t go to save the world—go because you want to learn to love it. Go because you know that you are loved.” (p. 217)

Amy raises thought-provoking questions for goers, stayers, and everyone in between.

After reading, here are a few discussion questions that came to mind:

  • Have you ever done a missions trip—short or long term? If so, what didn’t sit well with you? Why do you think that is?
  • Do you ever get the impression that there is a hierarchy of callings within the church? What does that hierarchy look like?
  • What do you think of when you think of the word “missionary”? Is it a positive connotation for you or a negative one? Why?
  • If we did, in fact, retire the “M” word, what would be a better replacement? Or do you think we should do away with foreign missions altogether?
  • What is a positive example of missions done well?

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Our book for June is Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime. We won’t be hosting a post here, but join our Facebook group for discussions. Our Dangerous Women Tribe will also host a book club style gathering at the end of the month. We’ll see you back here in July for The Power of Proximity by Michelle Ferrigno Warren.

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Leslie Verner
I am a goer who is learning how to stay. I’ve traveled all over the world and lived in northwest China for five years before God U-turned my life and brought me back to the U.S. to get married to an actor in Chicago. I’m a former middle school teacher, mama to three little ones and like American cuisine the least. I currently live in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and write regularly about faith, justice, family and cross-cultural issues at Scraping Raisins.
Leslie Verner
Leslie Verner

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