How far are you willing to go for your faith? Would you go to a different province, country or continent to share the gospel? What about to your next-door neighbour, the one whom you occasionally say hi to on the way to work?
For a long time, I struggled with the idea that the only way to represent Jesus was to take part in overseas mission. Not to downplay the importance of mission, but there was just as much need for Jesus in my city and country as there is in others.
I am not alone in this sentiment. The Gospel Next Door teaches that all Christians – not just missionaries – are called to share with those around them. Following Jesus does not necessarily mean leaving your world behind for a far away mission, author Marty Troyer explains; it means “doing the very things Jesus would do if he were living our lives.”
A pastor of a small Mennonite church in Houston, Tex., since 2008, Troyer writes with humility and passion about going out of our way to serve people in our immediate vicinity. The Gospel Next Door is an encouragement to Troyer’s home community and the larger body of Christ to find a new way of looking at mission and evangelism. It is a petition and a guide to see our communities through a “gospel lens,” paying attention to where God is at work locally and responding to the invitations that arise.
For Troyer, the work of the gospel is not just sharing Jesus in words, but taking action and shifting from believing in Jesus to actually believing Jesus – and acting accordingly. Not only as Anabaptists, but as Christians, Troyer says, we are called to represent a gospel of peace and justice, living in a way that truly encompasses the biblical principle of shalom. “To understand God, you need to understand peace,” says Troyer.
On a sometimes circuitous path, Troyer weaves stories of real people who have sought to be peacemakers by modelling systemic peaceful practices. People who buy expensive chocolate for Halloween because they know cheaper candies are produced with child labour. Soldiers who went to war but chose not to fire their guns. Parents who sought reconciliation with the men who raped and murdered their child instead of taking vengeance. These individual acts are just some of the examples Troyer highlights of Christians seeking to promote unity and community through peace – and encourages us to find ways we can do similarly.
Troyer’s book encourages me to pay closer attention to what is going on around me, and to seek to act as Jesus would in my place. Lately, I noticed someone rummaging through my garbage; clearly, someone who has little-to-no food or money. I have no idea how often this has been going on in my neighbourhood. As I looked down from my comfortable second-story window, with a full stomach and an expensive laptop, I was awakened to the possibility of needs in my community – needs the gospel might compel me to respond to.
Not all of our choices are dramatic: we can choose between the buying cheap or expensive, seeking vengeance or reconciliation, going with the flow or getting out of the boat.
The Gospel Next Door encourages us to look through the lens of the gospel, to discover how we can live out our beliefs, “learning to love, learning to act for justice, learning to see our world as it is and can be.”
—Stefan Klassen is a graduate of Canadian Mennonite University with a BA in biblical studies. He is currently serving as apprentice pastor at Crossroads MB Church, Winnipeg, under the MB Church of Manitoba’s Elevation program.