“Mission” is a funny word. It has almost as many meanings as people you might ask to define it.
When used in an overseas context, as it is in our name, The Evangelical Alliance Mission, it conjures images of workers in far-off cities, eating exotic food and speaking hard-to-learn languages. When used in U.S. communities, “mission” is likely to bring to mind your local meal outreach or homeless shelter, or maybe a young couple living “missionally” by deliberately moving into a distressed inner-city neighborhood.
It is used by religious and non-religious people alike — the former often attach varying degrees of evangelistic intents, and the latter usually mean simply to do some good works among people who are different from ourselves.
All these definitions of “mission” are great. But they expose a sort of gap in our thinking. Mainly, we tend to separate “missions here” from “missions over there.” We often don’t even have a framework for where they could intersect.
At TEAM, one way we are trying to bridge that gap is with our Missions Places. Our recently opened Missions Place near Knoxville, Tenn., (and one opening next week in the Chicago area) is a warm and inviting retail storefront that exists for one purpose: to connect communities with what God is doing around the world.
At a Missions Place, you’ll find art exhibits, friendly and knowledgeable TEAM staff, and spaces that churches, community members and businesses can use for meetings, events, or just to get away from the office. You’ll find some of the most experienced missionaries from around the world, along with local ministry leaders, giving presentations and answering questions.
These are “concept stores,” meant to expose our communities to global missions — except that we aren’t really “selling” anything. There may be a few handcrafted and fairly traded items available to buy from some of TEAM’s partner ministries, but there is truly no catch with a Missions Place, no strings attached.
“The idea (of Missions Place) is to truly become part of the community,” TEAM CEO Scott Henson told our staff a few weeks ago. “People can walk in off the street and feel comfortable there and feel like they belong and sense that they own the space. This is for them.”
Our passion is simply to awaken as many people as possible to God’s awesome heart for building his church around the world. That’s a message that is as much for all of us “here” as it is for missionaries “over there.”