In my house garlic salt is a staple, it gets added to just about everything we cook. Just as garlic flavors our food, the concept of “missional community” should characterize our lives. Perhaps I sound as if I’m speaking French? Well hold on, the translation is coming. In the church world, missional living can be defined as, “the adoption of the posture, thinking, behaviors, and practices of a missionary in order to engage others with the gospel message.” Now hang on, before you disengage declaring you are not a missionary, hear me out.
Let’s talk about missional community in a non-church format. One of the best examples I’ve ever seen was in the movie, “McFarland USA.”
The movie, starring Kevin Costner, is based on the true story of Jim White, an Anglo teacher/coach who moves his family to the predominately Hispanic farming town of McFarland, California. There are two things about the movie that really stood out to me; first, how Coach White navigates the cultural barrier and second, how his investment in a non-traditional athlete pays off in a huge way. “Whitey” as the students affectionately call him starts off as a football coach, but when that goes sour fast, he starts to see the real potential hidden within the community and forms the school’s first ever cross-country track team.
“Pickers” as the students whose families earn their living laboring in the fields call themselves, have their own sub-culture. They are traditionally poor, high school dropouts with no hope for one generation to look any different from the preceding. All of that changes when Coach White shows up and begins to insert himself into the community. Due to time and space constraints, I am oversimplifying what happens, but the bottom line is this; Jim White did not expect the community to conform to him, instead he reached them where they were. When some of the boys could no longer attend track practice because it interfered with their time in the fields, not only did he change practice times to accommodate their needs, he went with them and worked the fields alongside them!! Can you imagine? Picking vegetables is hard work, particularly when it is not a task you are accustomed to, but it was necessary to keep those boys in training, so he did it. When he began speaking to them about college, he framed it within the context of the two things they knew, family and picking. He showed them they could study subjects like agribusiness, and that a college education would enable them to help their families in ways that they literally never imagined possible. This connection and understanding of their world is beautifully woven throughout the film.
With a hefty build Danny Diaz, the team anchor is an unlikely athlete, but Coach White constantly reminds him that even when finishing last, his contribution counts. A team must consist of seven athletes, so without Danny, there would be no team. Buoyed by the heartfelt encouragement, Danny seizes an opportunity during the first ever California Cross Country State Track Meet to help capture the win for his team, and a precedent is set. McFarland High goes on to win many more state track championships, and the athletes? All seven of them get into college and several continue running track through their college years. They go on to become police officers, teachers, journalists, et cetera.
Missional Community; Jim White lived it, probably without knowing what it was, and because he did, a ripple effect began that changed many lives, lives that would have unfolded much differently without it. You and I are no different; we have the opportunity engage in missional community, the question is, will we? Are we willing to step away from our comfortable lives to engage with others right where they are? Are we willing to sacrifice our desires for the needs of others? Are we willing to engage in new and perhaps somewhat difficult tasks to build community? I encourage you to watch the movie, let it open your eyes to the possibilities and then be deliberate in your actions to engage in missional community right where you are!
Becky J Miller