In the comments section of a previous post, a discussion emerged about the propriety of the church maintaining an emphasis on international missions. Apparently, there are some who believe the American church should focusing more (or as it will practically mean, solely) on those God providentially brings to our nation.
To answer, I'd like to point out a few things about the Great Commission (Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.) and then a few practical remarks about the mission work of the American church.
Jesus' commission was to the apostles, but not the apostles alone. That is, this commission extends through the apostles to the whole church. The only proof one needs is to see the actions of the commission: teaching and baptizing. Those were actions repeatedly imparted to the church; if the imperatives of the commission were given to the church, then we can assume the scope of the commission (all nations) belongs to her as well. More proof of this would be to read on into the book of Acts to see how seriously the church took her commission to disciple the nations. There is nothing in the pages of the New Testament to make us think the geographical focus of the commission will be lifted before the return of Christ.
Jesus' commission is based upon and geared toward the great covenant promise God gave to Abraham: in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (Gen. 12:3) There has always been, and there must always be, a worldwide focus of gospel-centered churches. We see this focus in Jesus' repetition of the commission in Acts 1:8, You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.
More broadly, the pattern we see in the church of the new covenant is a pattern of sending. All we have to do is read through Acts and the Epistles to count up how many people were sent from one place to another for the purpose of gospel ministry: Peter, Barnabas, Paul, Philip, Silas, Timothy, Apollo, Titus, etc. The book of Philippians is especially strong with the expectation and need for sending: I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need (2:25)...a Christian church is one that sends laborers into the harvest fields, near and far.
In response to the charge that a focus on international missions is a foolish waste of money and resources and an unnecessary danger, I would note the following: Gospel ministry has never operated according to the wisdom of men (1 Cor. 2:4-5); remember the story of Paul being forbidden by the Spirit from going to Asia! This doesn't mean we don't use wisdom - it means we seek and use heavenly wisdom. If God has decided to use the foolishness of international missions for the building of His church, we are in no position to disagree. As to the threat of danger, we must weigh it seriously, but if the church comes the point where we aren't willing to risk our lives for the kingdom, what really has become of us?
In response to the charge that international missions can be accomplished in our own backyard, I say "amen." But it's an "amen" with a qualification. God has providentially arranged the world so ministry in American can have consequences reaching farther than ever before. But this isn't enough: there are yet some countries that have no significant presence in America. And even among those that do, there are families and certain groups in societies which will never be represented in America, being prevented by poverty and/or oppression.
In response to the charge that American missions is prideful, given the greater numbers of Christians elsewhere and the moral decline of the American church, I would reply: hogwash. Proper missions says: we are both sinful and worthless. The only difference is the access to God I've found in Christ. There is no pride in evangelism, local or worldwide. Also, it's important to note that, despite the decline of the American church, she still has much to offer a needy world. Even as the numbers of American believers declines, the church still has more financial resources than any national church at any point in history. Simply put, we can afford to send more missionaries and so we ought. Furthermore, the American church has a wealth of theology and men and women with ability to impart that theology to the baby churches around the world. Realization of our theological and monetary resources isn't prideful as long as we recognize the Giver of the Gifts.
But even if we had no money and our theology was paper thin, we must still go. Always going, always sending, the church - every church, everywhere - must participate in the great commission, beginning with our neighbors and extending to the corners of the earth. This is Jesus' plan for extending His dominion over the nations (not just individuals, but nations!) - may God keep us from anything that would hinder our participation in His plan.