I grew up as a middle child. It is a providence that places one in between the thrills of the oldest child and the urgent needs of the youngest. This tension creates what has been called “the middle child syndrome.” A feeling of being ignored and short-shifted. And I can attest that the struggle is real.
The oldest child gets attention because they experience all of “the firsts” for the first time. They are the first to do anything super-cute, first go to school, first to deal with the opposite sex, first to graduate and every other first a child experiences. The youngest child gets attention because they are the baby of the family, they are the least experienced, they need the most help and are cherished because they are the last ones that will do anything super-cute so there are pictures of them everywhere. And the ones in the middle well, yes, they are important too. Of course, they are.
As the church in America awakens to its call to mission there is a “middle child” being overlooked. In the book of Acts Jesus calls his followers to be witnesses of Jesus “in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1.8). As I observe the scene I see many churches that are good at reaching their “Jerusalem/Judea”. This would be the “older child.” Their needs are apparent, in front of them constantly and they have to be addressed. I also see many churches that are great at “ends of the earth”. Foreign mission is very visible with air-time up front and pictures in the back. Missions is a large line item in the budget and they take yearly short-term mission trips to foreign places. This would be the “youngest child” because they are so needy in so many ways and they are begging for attention with constant cries for help.
But there are pockets of our cities, driving distance from our homes and churches, that go overlooked. These areas are populated by people who are different than us and with whom we have little to no dealings with. This is Samaria, the “middle child” of American mission. And they are easy to overlook for two reasons:
1) Their needs are not before us in the same way as the “older child’s” are. They are removed from us. Plus, the success of a ministry is really measured by how great an impact we make on the people in our immediate view not with those who are not. So there are strategies that have been formulated, five-year goals in place, tangible bench-marks for reaching “Jerusalem/Judea” but “Samaria” is not on the strategic map.
2) Their needs don’t draw compassion like the “youngest child’s” do. The youngest child is babied while the middle child, because older, is expected to not be so needy. In a similar way the needs of the “ends of the earth” draw compassion (Look at the conditions they have to live in!) while needs of “Samaria” are met with contempt (Why can’t they get their act together like everybody else?!).
Samaria in Acts 1.8 is not merely geographical it is also sociological. So a church hasn’t reached their “Samaria” by simply planting a church in another area when that area looks just like theirs, that would be Judea. Reaching Samaria means reaching those who are different than you. The Samaritans were the ethnic enemies of the Jewish people. There was centuries of bad blood between those two groups. John 4.9 tells us that the Jews and the Samaritans had no dealings with one another. Samaria was the first place (outside of their own people) that Jesus called the church to go and it was the last place they wanted to go. In fact, it took the persecution that arose on account of Stephen to get them to go there (Acts 8.1).
Samaria is the place where we may have no natural inclination to be. But it is the place where we have been given supernatural power to serve. Let us make sure that our strategy for mission includes the whole spectrum of those God is calling us to reach.