Russian Americans have emerged as one of the top five most financially successful immigrant populations in the United States. So what made them so wealthy? Your trash. Literally.
Starting in the 1970s and 1980s, Russian immigrants to the United States seized the opportunity to enter waste management amidst the growing demand for waste disposal services. They realized that unlike many industries, they would get paid twice for trash that other people didn’t want—once when they collected the trash, and again when they sorted and processed the trash for saleable recyclables. This was a bulletproof business model that most Americans found too “dirty.” After all, who wants to tell their mom that they collect trash for a living? Russian Americans had no problem with it.
What is it about the Russian American mindset that contributed to their success in waste management?
- Determination: They were focused on achieving wealth, even if it meant seizing opportunities that were unconventional or “messy.”
- Entrepreneurial Spirit: Russian Americans were willing to take significant risks for the sake of greater rewards. (Entrepreneur literally means “to undertake”).
- Collectivism: More than individual achievement, a sense of tight-knit camaraderie and community helped them thrive.
So what do Russian American immigrants have to do with missions? Turns out, everything. But before looking at missions, we have to look at the Bible, and its author.
What would you say is the main purpose of the Bible? Here are some common answers that you may have heard before:
- The Bible is a book of rules
- The Bible is a book to help me live my best life
- The Bible is God’s answer guide
- The Bible is a book about God’s love
While each of these has some truth, none of them fully captures the main purpose of The Bible. The author of the Bible is God, so we need to look to God’s purpose to better understand the book He divinely authored through faithful men.
God’s purpose is His glory praised, through Jesus, among the nations
The Bible is primarily a robust reflection of the purpose of God. Consider God’s statement about “His glory praised” in Isaiah 42:8…
“I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.”
God is jealous for His glory, and the Bible is an invitation for all humans to admit their inherent sinfulness, turn from their evil ways, and give God the glory He deserves by trusting in the rescue plan offered through the person of Jesus. And God, in His kindness, gives us a role to play in inviting the nations to worship Jesus for all of eternity (i.e. missions). THAT is the main purpose of the Bible.
…but many of us have missed it. We still think the Bible is about us. And it prevents us from seeing beyond ourselves, and the role God has for us to play in missions.
Global Christian missions is curiously similar to the waste management industry in the 1970s. It is largely neglected, it is viewed (at times) with disdain, there is much disagreement over how to handle the issues, and it has the potential to make a small group of people very, very rich (speaking of eternal treasure here, not the earthly sort).
What would it look like if Christians understood God’s purpose, the main meaning of the Bible, and if they approached missions like Russian Immigrants did with waste management? Here is what it would look like…
- Determination: We would be focused on becoming eternally wealthy at any cost, like the man who finds treasure in a field and “in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44).
- Entrepreneurial Spirit: Like a risk-taking entrepreneur, we would “undertake” the burden of global missions as our personal responsibility, much like the Good Samaritan takes ownership over the problem of the beaten man (Luke 10:25-37).
- Collectivism: we would eschew the temptation to make disciples in isolation, and instead commit ourselves radically to our local churches, making every effort to keep ourselves united in the Spirit, binding ourselves together with peace (Ephesians 4:3).
Imagine a conversation with a wealthy Russian American Immigrant. You talk about how you were striving for success in the 1970 and 1980s. You looked under every rock for economic opportunity, but could never find it. The Russian turns to you and says: “It was right in front of you the whole time. All you had to do was look in your garbage bin.”
Your answer: “I did. But it was just too messy for me.”
Like trash, missions is remarkably messy. Yet, the rewards that await those who step into the mess are considerable. It would be absurd not to get your hands dirty. Friend, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and embrace the mess.