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Blind spots

In your neighborhood, who are you not seeing?

The last time I led morning devotions for our staff at The Mission Society, I talked about blind spots. It just so happens that we all have them. If you don’t believe me, try this little exercise by reading through then following the directions below.

Directions: First, hold this page at arm’s length (if you are reading this online, your face should be about 24” from the screen). Next, close your left eye and stare at the plus sign with your right eye while being aware of the spot to the right. Now, slowly move the page toward you (or your face toward the computer screen) while staring at the plus sign. Note: At some point you should be aware that the spot has disappeared.

The blind spot you just witnessed is one that is common to all of us. It is caused by an absence of photoreceptors, or rods and cones, on the retina where the optic nerve attaches to the eye.

There are other types of blind spots that are not physical in nature. Stereotyping, buyer’s remorse, and egocentrism are but three of a host of cognitive blind spots we can display. Perhaps there is no better example of someone displaying such cognitive blind spots than Peter. He clearly missed it on the mount of transfiguration when he wanted to set aside the immediate work of Jesus, build three tabernacles, and hang out a while with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. On another occasion, after correctly answering Jesus’ question as to whom He was, Peter then rebukes Jesus for telling of His coming suffering, death, and resurrection. He demonstrated a blind spot about his own loyalty by becoming indignant when Jesus suggested he would deny Him. And on two occasions he had to be shown his blind spot with regard to his feelings towards Gentiles. Peter is not alone; many of us find that blind spots come all too easily.

Adjusting our vision
Sometimes I arrive early at a church where we are scheduled to hold a Global Outreach Workshop. When that occurs, I take the time to drive around the neighborhood to get a feel for the area and the people there. At one such location I noticed that virtually every church in the area, no matter the denomination, had a Hispanic ministry. Later, at a pre-workshop meal with the church leaders, I discovered that this church was also starting a Hispanic ministry. Upon hearing this, I asked who in town had an outreach ministry to the Hmong, a people originally from the mountain villages in southern China and adjacent areas of Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. Almost in unison the church leaders responded, “The who?” When I told them that a little over a mile northwest of the church there was an enclave of Hmong, they were shocked. Drawn by opportunities for work in the huge agriculture industry of the area, here was a group of people extremely nearby whom no one was reaching out to with the gospel. Clearly this group of Hmong was a blind spot for the people in that church.

Another interesting bit of information about the eye may be informative here. If you could completely immobilize the eye and head such that you fix an image in a constant location on the retina, you would notice that it fades to non-descript nothing in minutes. In other words, the images must be constantly refreshed on our retinas in order for us to see. Similarly, if we only fix the vision of our lives on the routine and the rote, that which is around us is in danger of fading into nothingness. We may find ourselves looking without seeing; a condition psychologists refer to as “inattentional blindness.” The downside to this condition for the follower of Jesus is that we miss so many opportunities to relate the good news to those who have heard it the least.

Seeing in new ways
For those of us who suffer blind spots, especially as it relates to least reached peoples in our midst, some basic changes may be in order. Here is a good place to start:
• Pray that God will bring people across your path and that you will be open to lovingly engaging them whatever their race, creed, color, or culture.
• Be intentional about observing those around you as you go about your daily activities.
• Go out of your way to develop relationships with people beyond your safe and same culture.
• Always be open to talking about Jesus and your faith.

One of the fundamental teachings in the aforementioned Global Outreach Workshop is that we must become “go-to,” not just “come-to” Christians and churches. It is not enough that we build houses of worship that people can attend. It is not enough that we come together for worship, and learning, and fellowship. It is not enough that we limit our spiritual life to those who are like us. We must also go to the least reached among us. In order to do that, we will need to intentionally get out into our city, town, and neighborhoods and begin to see in ways we may never have seen before.

Stan Self is The Mission Society’s training consultant.