Out of the Zoo
Reposted from Hannah Orr's blog.
A while back I discovered that many zoos have special times where people can come and feed giraffes lettuce for a small fee. I’m a little obsessed with giraffes, and every time I have the opportunity to get close to these large, majestic creatures, I shell out the five dollars in hopes of getting my hand slobbered on by a giant giraffe tongue. I’ve done this at several different places, but one of the coolest giraffe experiences I’ve had was at a zoo in Melbourne Beach.
After looking at the website, Bryson and I noticed while they advertised giraffe feedings, there was no specific time listed like many other places usually had. When we called to inquire about the best time to come, the zoo told us, “Oh, you can try to feed the giraffes at any time, but they roam on a huge plot of land with lots of trees, so they are more likely to eat from your hand if you get here early – before they’ve filled up on leaves.”
I recently read Letters to the Church by Francis Chan. In one chapter, he compares many of our modern American churches to the film Madagascar. Have you seen that movie? It’s a hilarious, light hearted cartoon about a group of animals living in a New York City zoo. They have well-crafted habitats, frequent meals, as the adoration of countless zoo-goers. It’s quite the charmed life, but the Zebra wants more; he knows he was made for more than a cage – he was meant to be in the wild. All the other animals disagree, content with their comfortable home. Through a series of crazy events, they all end up outside the zoo’s safe walls and stranded in Madagascar, and hilarity follows as they desperately try to return home, having no real survival skills in the wild.
Chan draws the parallel like this: have we become so comfortable in our beautiful, easy churches that we have forgotten the outside world? Have we become so comfortable in our zoos that we have forgotten we are called to live in the wild? It so often seems like we have gotten more concerned about getting people in the doors and we have forgotten the whole point is to be sending people outside of them.
I found this analogy fascinating. I’ve never been the best at meeting people or making friends. I’m perfectly content staying in my cage where I don’t have to interact with anyone else around me. I have my family, my few friends, my dog, and I’m good. Truthfully, that is the way I lived my life for 25 years. I went to church. I used my “gifts.” I listened to Christian music and said prayers before I ate my dinner. But that was about it. Then two years ago, just like the animals in Madagascar, I found myself thrust into the international mission field. I was definitely in the wild. Even when I was scared of the vast wilderness around me, there was no cage for me to run too, no zoo keeper to feed me nice messages and then leave me to sleep peacefully without having to think about anything else around me. I had no choice but to learn how to survive in the wild. But now that I’m back in the zoo, I’ve been battling another problem: having the skills I learned in the wild and living in an environment where I’m honestly not expected to use them.
He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Luke 10:2)
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8)
For this is what the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’ (Acts 13:47)
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? (Romans 10:13-14)
This is just a handful of the many scriptures that command us to bring the world around us to Christ. Too often we skim over these verses, or at best we chalk them up to being instructions needed only on overseas missions, for the trained and equipped missionaries to follow. But our mission fields are not limited to Haiti or China or Senegal. Our mission fields include your neighborhood, your community, your school – it is the world you spend your everyday in.
The zoo is nice. The zoo is safe. The zoo isn’t necessarily “bad”. But we are made for so much more than the zoo. We are created to be in the wild. The wild isn’t always safe – it can be terrifying to live your faith outside the comforts of a building where everyone more or less agrees with you. It can be nerve wracking to invite your neighbor to church. It can feel awkward bringing up Jesus with your coworkers. We might get laughed at, or judged, or mocked – which can feel like getting devoured by a vicious predator. But the wild is also where we thrive, where we learn, where we grow. I know it’s hard – this idea fights against every instinct of preservation I have. But I often talk with my 2nd graders about having a “growth mindset” – pushing ourselves to learn hard things and trying again even after we’ve failed, the only way our brains will ever grow.
We have to get out of our seats. We have to get out of the doors. We have to get out of the zoo – someone’s life depends on it.