Thursday, March 24, 2011

Missionaries of Faith

Recently, a group of my friends were discussing their upcoming summer plans. I overheard many of my Jewish friends making plans to travel to various summer camps and beaches for the hot summer months and could easily relate, as I am preparing to do the same. The responses from my Christian friends, however, really caught my attention.
“I’m spending one month in Tanzania and spreading the gospel to the hapless villages there,” said one of my friends.
“I’m traveling to Russia and volunteering with the Vocational Bible School to repair one of the orphanages there,” added another devout Christian.
“I’m flying to Haiti with a church group to rebuild the fallen communities and teach the Bible,” mentioned another friend.
While my religious friends have the same opportunities to explore summer camps and shopping centers over their summer breaks, they have chosen to represent their faith internationally and overseas. Rather than spending their money on new summer fashion trends, they have spent their entire year hosting fundraisers and awareness projects in hopes of buying plane tickets to volunteer at their particular locations. Some of them travel with church groups or their families, and others are solely by themselves in devastated countries. Whether their journeys are organized or spontaneous, my friends have been enthusiastically anticipating the mission’s trips that they will remember for the rest of their lives.
Considering that the primary purpose of mission’s trips is to spread the gospel in order to spiritually save the souls of others, I wasn’t surprised that my synagogue doesn’t offer such experiences. Judaism does not emphasize the idea of sharing texts in the Bible to surrounding third-world countries, nor arranges volunteering opportunities in Tanzania or Russia to promote G-d. I know this because I’ve tried looking for an experience like that of a mission’s trips. I’ve researched every Jewish and Interfaith program for opportunities to share my faith with those in need of spiritual healing. I’ve called numerous faith groups, varying from student cultural programs to the Jewish federation, but have yet to find the ideal mission’s trip for me.
I am truly in awe of the numerous churches and Christian centers that offer students with the opportunities to travel world-wide to promote their faith. Pastors and administrators spend endless hours and effort organizing successful journeys in order for their congregants to step outside of their comfort levels and see their faith shine through in every country. Since the concept of mission’s trips has been created and pursued, Evangelical Christianity seems like the fastest growing religion today. Even after all the flights are booked and the money is raised to travel, the foundation of mission’s trips still remains clear: faith is needed all around the world.
There must be some aspect of volunteering internationally that bothers Judaism, but I have yet to see any problems with putting a little fundraising effort into a life-altering idea. Along with churches, there are Jewish communities all over the world that could use some spiritual healing. Synagogues promote the concept of “Tikkun Olam,” or preparing the world, by placing a few recycling bins in their front lobbies or hosting a canned food drive. While I applaud these local efforts, I have yet to ever leave my comfort level in regards to representing my faith. The idea of “Tikkun Olam” has no given boundaries, and we can create the impactful experiences that not only sustain our faith, but take it to an even greater level. Like Evangelical Christianity, promoting our faith is not limited to any one zip code. We can begin slowly, first sharing our faith to local communities, then stepping outside the comfort and boundaries of our current cities to spread our morals all over the world. Judaism can reach every corner of the earth if there are enough faithful people to travel beyond their comfort levels and cover those distances. Any Christian missionary could tell you that the goal of spiritually enlightening people has a far greater effect than the unfamiliarity of the particular country. Nothing stands in the way of a motivated, faithful Christian missionary who wants to cater to a community in need of spiritual healing. I can only pray that Judaism will have the same mindset one day. Along with Evangelical Christians, we all have the ability to be missionaries of our faiths.
Though my synagogue does not spread Judaism to Tanzanian communities, I only hope that one day, we will reach that destination. We have every opportunity to promote our faith in every community, nationally or overseas, but must have the same motivation and courage to take our faith to that level. We cannot allow financial and mental issues hinder us from sharing our faith to the world. We can either choose to remain active in our local communities or be inspired to take our faith to the next level, but until we make that choice, the world will continue to be in need of spiritual healing. Communities could always use a few more missionaries of every religion, and we have the ability to represent our faiths everywhere. Only then will the world truly be a brighter and more faithful place in which to live.   


  1. With the passage of time you'll come to realize— if you are not of a stubborn nature— how significantly misconstrued are your views in regards to what you have written about.

    First off, there is a very important difference between spreading spirituality and proselytism. Contrary to most faiths, Judaism does not engage in proselytism, but it does however, believe in the spread of G-dliness and study of religious texts.Spreading G-dliness amongst non-Jews implies the teaching of the 7 Noahide Laws, and amongst Jews it implies the increase in mitzvot. The study of religious texts is equally important, after all aren't we the people of the book? However, the latter does not imply that non-Jews should be instructed in Halachik laws or well versed in the Tanach— this study is directed towards a Jewish audience.

    When a Jewish organization, such as AJWS, engages in volunteer work in a developing country it does so not to seek new converts, but to empower that community in need and direct it towards sustainability. Tanzania is a country with 36% of its population living below poverty line, close to 2 million people living with HIV/AIDS, a refugee problem, and drug trafficking conflict just to pin-point a few issues— these people don’t need to hear stories from the Tanach, or much less accept Jesus as their savior. Tanzania, like many other developing countries, needs a solid government not compatible with corruption and oppression, a sustainably economic model, an educational foundation, and long lasting solutions that can direct the country into a prosperous future. When a volunteer from a church mission travels to Tanzania it does so with the objective of spreading the word of Jesus and gaining a few new followers to their faith...oh yeah, and they build a school or something too. By no means am I trying to imply that the good work of these missionaries should be downplayed, but I happen to abhor the idea of imposing, by force or subtly, one’s beliefs on others.

    The target of most missions revolves around indigenous populations with so-called pagan beliefs. Well, even as an observant Jew, I happen to belief that these so-called pagan nomads are by far more tolerant and spiritual than most cultured believers of the Western world. As much as I respect the religious freedom of the missionaries—and all people — I ask for them to respect the religious freedom of others, whether it is Russia’s Orthodox Christian belief, Haiti’s Voduo practice, or Tanzania’s nomadic customs (though the country is predominately either of Christian or Islamic faith).

    How can anyone not be horrified with how you describe the purpose of the mission trips to be— “to spread the gospel in order to spiritually save the souls of others” Does this mean you and I are doomed? Have your friends tried to spiritually save your soul, or do they only specialize on people from the developing world? You have even contradicted yourself when you say that Pastors and administrators encourage their congregants to “see their faith shine through in every country”, but then go on to state that “ the foundation of mission’s trips still remains clear: faith is needed all around the world.” You should rephrase— THEIR faith is needed all around the world. I am the only one who notices the dominant nature of these missions?

  2. Your unfounded argument claiming that Judaism does not actively engage in international humanitarian work is uneducated and obscene. You confuse moral and ethical teachings with the spread of Judaism. While the Torah IS the foundation of our moral and ethical code, the spread of such teachings need not come with a requisite of convertion.

    To what level should Judaism ascend? Will more congregants augment our G-dliness? Furthermore any good activist will tell you that one need not travel 3,000 miles to a remote jungle to spiritually nourished people or make an impact. More people in a remote village in Tanzania are likely to have a greater spiritual connection to the Creator, than thousand of New Yorkers walking strolling through 5th Avenue.

    I ask that you receive my response with an open mind and do not take anything personaly. After all, you do mean well it is just that your focus is a little off. If you want to spread G-dliness and Jewish terms and in exotic locations I suggest you join a Chabad Shluchim program. They do say that where ever you can find Coca-Cola, you’ll find a Chabad House too. Do you know where the biggest Pesach Seder takes place? In a Chabad House in Nepal, where all the Jewish adventurers of the world gather to celebrate freedom, eat matzah, and dwell in the G-dliness of Seder’s boundless spiritual teachings.

    The world will be brighter and more enlighten when people preach tolerance and not impose their faiths. The world does not need 21st century crusaders, we need love and understating. Let every man chose whether he accepts Jesus, davens to Hashem, fasts on Ramadan, or rubs Buddah’s tummie. Let every man chose, as long as love and understating and the common grounds and respect amongst the faith is foster.

    - Lady of Press

  3. I am not nearly as "informed" as either of you, but am "infused" with as much humanity. To me, the world is a much better - and more connected - place when people can freely speak their minds without criticism or human REEDUCATION. The reality is that the whole notion of faith is based on just Accordingly, one's faith should guide their thoughts, feelings and expressions, so long as it respects others as well.

    Lady of Press, I love your reference to "Let every man chose, as long as love and understating and the common grounds and respect amongst the faith is foster." In fact, it re-inforces that you and FaithLeaper are actually much more similar than different.

    What is equally, interesting, to me, is that it clearly states that every MAN has the ability to choose....What a crock of 21st century BS. Every human soul should be able to choose based on the same exact options.

    Coke can be enjoyed by anyone and everyone that wishes to teach the world to sing. Interestingly, woman can drink a Coke in every Chabad around the world, but should she want to drink from the same spiritual, text fountain of a man, she only gets water in the face.

    I find that to be a more fundamental challenge and barrier than anything you speak of. Just sayin'

  4. To the two who commented before, you're hypocrites. You are lost in a 21st Century fallacy of NEW Tolerance, where everyone is right in their own opinion and justified in their views on what is right, wrong, and acceptable. You basically came on this blog and said, "my worldview is intolerant to your optimistic and radical (to my own) beliefs." How funny when someone mentions Christianity that those endorsing tolerance are beyond intolerance with said group.

    Secondly, by saying the world will be a brighter place and enlightened when people preach tolerance and not impose their faith, you contradict yourself when this blog does EXACTLY that by saying that people should reach out to the world physically like Christian missionaries do. The fact that Christians evangelize AND serve willingly just means they carried out an act that is higher than them while putting themselves beneath those whom they are serving. Not to mention the first post is blatantly ignorant saying that Christians are only there to convert people. I'm pretty sure when Christian high school students went to death ridden streets in Haiti, where bodies were seen everywhere and blood stained community laid at their feet with mothers giving the missionaries their child knowing that they can no longer take care of them, the last thing on their minds was proselytizing.

    "There must be some aspect of volunteering internationally that bothers Judaism, but I have yet to see any problems with putting a little fundraising effort into a life-altering idea."

    You two are evidence that she is right. You bash a blog rather than make a difference. Is religion just something nice within a community? Or is it supposed to be a universal system? If so Jews who believe in the NEW tolerance and relativism contradict themselves - "The Lord Our G-D, the Lord is One." "I am the LORD your G-d who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me." Relative truth means you either believe everyone is right, thereby lessening G-d to an insignificant being, or tolerance where we accept every religion, belief, and comment as relatively true, putting G-d on the playing field as gods incarnated in cows in Hinduism. Last I checked, G-d created cows, and the universe, and He took on the incarnation of Himself, not an idol or representation. The Spirit of the LORD dwelt inside the Ark, He didn't become the Ark

  5. Anonymous (1),

    Thank you very much for taking the time to respond and share your opinion. I'm very enlightened by your thoughts.

    I understand all of your concerns and views. While proselytism may not be a form of spirituality in your opinion, it may be considered a form to someone else. In my opinion, evangelism is a crucial spiritual component to Christianity. The entire purpose of my blog post was to promote sharing Godliness and religious studies to areas beyond our local Jewish communities. The Jewish people may be claimed to be the people of the book, but what's the point of having such a title if we don't share it with the world? Sharing the verses of the Tanach should initially be shred with Jews of every religious background and location, but why not take it further? If we travel to countries in need of physical, mental, and spiritual healing, why should the recipients of our time, effort, and guidance be limited to one faith? Of course, for a Jewish missions trip, the primary focus should be toward ameliorating the current Jewish communities, but if I (one of the people of the book) have the opportunity to inspire anyone at any time, I will certainly take my book and open it. By simply discussing spirituality (in whatever interpreted form that may be) with someone, we are already finding the common ground that stands beneath us. I see no reason to limit that common ground to one faith.

    I definitely agree you; Tanzania is suffering from a lack of development, strong government, and an abundance of corruption. Millions are suffering from physical sicknesses of all sorts, but I truly believe that many people there are also in need of spiritual healing. People of any age, gender, race, or health status could always use some spiritual enlightenment. Perhaps those people would take comfort in knowing that there are Jewish volunteers in their communities who are not only there to drop off food, but are also able to help form a daily minyan or discuss spirituality with them at any time. While teaching Torah to a hapless Jewish community in Tanzania may not restore the hapless government, would our spiritual guidance really hurt a community in need? I cannot speak for an individual Christian missionary, but as an open minded believer in all forms of spirituality and enlightenment, why can't I spread my knowledge to those in need through restoring communities, food programs, or just discussing religion with someone? Personally, my only intention of traveling beyond my comfort zone is to make this world a better place, but until I reach all the corners of the earth, there are still people in need of spiritual enlightenment today. I only hope that you, anonymous reader, will help me cover those distances.

    I'm not horrified by the concept of spreading spirituality to those in need; evangelism is only one perspective. I truly respect the missionaries who do not think twice before traveling out of their comfort zones to spiritually unite people. I also believe that while the Christian faith is dominant all over the world, faith of every kind is needed. To rephrase such a statement would limit the varieties of faith that should be taken beyond our local communities. I believe that the world could be much more united by sharing and spreading our faiths to all those in need of physical, mental, and SPIRITUAL healing. The only way we can reach out to those people is by forming journeys, or missions trips, for each of our faiths. Some of the most open minded people in the world are the most faithful. To increase spiritual and religious tolerance, and most importantly, to create a common ground among all religions, we need to spread our faith, no matter what our faith may be.

  6. Are my comments being censored?

  7. To UpWithAdPeople:

    Agreed, freedom of thought is essential to maintaining a healthier society. However, criticism is also an essential safeguard to dissent, which ultimately is freedom of thought. If you eliminate criticism you are eliminating another person’s right to voice their opinion on any given subject matter.

    Infinite variables make it impossible for every human to have the same choice options. Furthermore, the goal is not to have a standardized society, but rather, one that has the ability to generate options according to its needs and environment, while also allowing the equal exercise of choice making.

    In regards to the role of women in a Jewish Orthodox environment like Chabad what you have written in completely unfounded. Orthodox women enjoy social and religious privileges, now more than ever before. During 1930s Chabad began the ardours work of establishing schools that would provide proper Jewish education for women. Today those schools are up and running in almost every corner of the globe where there is a demand for Jewish education. The schools focus on intense Torah study and delve into other religious texts as well.

  8. continuation...

    Walk into any Shiur (Torah class covering different topics from the Talmud, Gemara, etc) and you’ll find an array of women. Many synagogues offer classes directed specifically at women, and there are no topic taboos. To say that Jewish women, whether in affiliation with Chabad or any other group, are excluded from religious knowledge is not compatible with Judaism’s principle of the mother being the beacon of Jewish identity in the household. In many cases it is not that these women are being denied a deeper Jewish education, simply put some don’t have the interest or time. But I can assure you that whoever wishes to learn and further their knowledge on any given subject has the opportunity to address those needs.

    Of course there are exceptions.
    Either way, women’s rights is still and ongoing and very important issue that is often not given the proper attention it demands.

    - Lady of Press

  9. continuation...

    Now, I must ask you. Do you think that those Christian volunteers that adopted those Haitian children will instruct them in the gospel or will let them preserve their Afro-diasporic beliefs?

    If you believe that the intent of my comment was to merely “bash”, or sabotage, a blog such as this then clearly that you do not understand the principles of dissent and thought diversity. I applaud the efforts of the author of this blog. I was once like her— full of romantic idealism. But as one grows older one realizes a little bit of cynicism is also needed to change the world. Without a doubt one should NEVER lose hope and that youthful outlook on the world, but one must also mature. It’s difficult— to mature into a rational adult with adolescent ideals.

    I will not go into details, but “The Lord Our G-d, the Lord is One” is only applicable to Jews. You see, Judaism does not deny that other nations have different belief systems. Our truth is only applicable to us. A non-Jew needs not to eat Kosher, or observe Shabbat. It’s complicated. I wish I had more time to discuss this very, very, fascinating topic.

    - Lady of Press

  10. Beginning to previous comment.
    * The posting system is malfunctioning.

    To the Anonymous writer who posted after UpWithAdPeople:

    If my comments identified me as a follower of what you have defined as the “21st Century Fallacy of NEW Tolerance”, then I am afraid I have not made myself clear. I apologize for my incoherence. I am not found of subjectivity. Arguments must be present in an objective manner. Political correctness does not fly with me either. Truth is not grey— it is either black or white, but never both. Now, when it comes to religion it gets tricky. I believe in religious freedom. I hold the truth, and so do you. Our truths might differ, but as long as you respect mine, why should I not respect yours?

    My aim was not offend or belittle the faith of any member of the Christian church or other any religion. However, I think history can testify to the many cruelties that have been committed under the flag of the missionaries. Of course one must not generalize, but the facts speak. When I say “cruelties” I do not necessarily speak of physical acts threatening human life, but the cruelties of imposing a doctrine, language, etc. How many indigenous people have traded their religious beliefs— and with them their languages, customs, and culture— for a Western belief such a Christianity? Probably millions. But not only Christianity is the one to blame. I feel the same resent for all faiths that seek to augment their number of congregants. At some point it stops being about faith and spirituality and becomes a game of who can enlist more followers.

    Any Christian volunteer with an international organization might not necessarily be at any specific location to spread Christianity’s views, but a Christian on a Mission trip is certainly at that specific place to preach the Gospel and spread his faith. Indeed when these missionaries embark on their journeys they help out tremendously. I will not deny that. I don’t have an anti-Christian agenda. It just happens to be that the author of this post wrote about Christian Missionaries. If she had happened to write about Islam’s objective of reconquering the West and converting the Infidels I would have also responded. The point that I was trying to make was that if a person seeks to become part of any religious movement the doors of that Church, Mosque or Synagoge must remain open, but it should never be the goal of a religion to convert, to seek out new followers. The essence of proselytism implies that “my faith is better than yours”, “I hold the only truth”, “you are an infidel”, etc.