Archive for ‘international’

December 1, 2013

African Aerobics

I am now more convinced than ever that we in America are total wimps. Yes, wimps! Even those of us who think we are in “good” shape.

I came to Kenya not necessarily thinking I was in good shape. But not in bad shape either. My body had seen the inside of a gym recently. I could climb stairs without huffing and puffing. I knew I ate more vegetables than I did fried foods.

But in the moment I set foot into a class called “Step Aerobics,” with a friend here, I knew it would be more like boot camp than anything I’d ever known.

In the US every time I’ve attended a similar class, there were always options for routines. The teacher would say something like, “If this is too hard for you, try this.” The teacher would be required by her fitness training to pay attention to the progress of the class participants– if any looked like they were on the edge of passing out, the class would be stopped immediately. And of course there would be a lot of all class water breaks with instructions from the teacher at the beginning of the class, “If you need to stop and any time and get water, feel free to do so.”

So these were my expectations coming into the same type of class yet in Kenya: options for routines. A teacher who cared about my distress. Lots of water breaks.

Yet, NONE of this was what I found.

As much as I wanted to pat myself on the back in congratulations that I was actually attempting exercise in a place so far from home, I quickly realized upon meeting Peter, the aerobics instructor, I’d not be flooded with praise just for showing up (as is the motto of my Golds Gym in the US).

Nor would I be praised for keeping up with the routines as he asked. Nothing about this experience would be about me and my needs.

There would be ONE option for the routine. If I was too out of shape to keep up, then I should just try harder.

The teacher did notice me. Yet, if I felt like I was going to die from the strain of the physical activity, then tough luck. I should just find a way to keep going.

There would be NO breaks for water. If I felt like I needed water in the 1.5 hours of the class, then oh well. For if I tried to sneak my way into getting some water, I’d be chased (yes, literally chased) back to the main part of the floor.

My friend told me afterwards, “There’s a reason, you know why Africans runners always do so well at the Olympic Games.” After all those years watching the Games on tv, I now understood completely!

And it is amazing what your body CAN do when you give it the “no stopping option.” You keep going. You don’t stop for as much water. You do one more sit up, one more leg lift, and one more “around the world” on the step bench. You don’t want to be that out of shape and lazy American in the class.

I loved how I felt afterwards so much that I have already gone back 3 different times during the course of my visit. I guess I enjoy torture!

Who would have thought that coming to Africa for this now self-declared out of shape white lady, would bring a whole new opportunity for physical fitness?

One more fact to note about African Aerobics and that is the music.

In the gym in the US, the music for the routines often changes depending on the preferences of the instructor but usually is in line with whatever is the craze in pop music at the time. But in Kenya, going to such a class is like going to church. It’s all Jesus music all the time. Or least a large portion of the routines are church songs.

Yesterday at class I heard Christian music hits from the early 90s like, “Awesome God” “You are Holy” and even an oldie, “This Little Light of Mine.” Earlier in the week, I heard some of the Greatest Hits of Michael W. Smith.

Though I thought I was going to die (yes die and I’m not being dramatic here) at several points, I couldn’t help but find amusement in the whole situation. Only in Kenya would I find myself in one of the hardest exercise classes I’d ever known all while listening to Jesus music. It kept me going.

What fun cultural experiences that I’ll never forget! I know I will never complain in an US aerobics class again.

November 24, 2013

Preaching Christmas in November in Nairobi


With no thanksgiving holiday to wait to pass, Christmas came early this year in Nairobi among the FTC family. It was a delight to be able to share in a worship service with the entire Kenyan staff this week.

God Finding Us
Dagoretti Children’s Center, November 22, 2013
Nairobi, KENYA
Isaiah 1:2-4, Luke 2:1-20

When I was a child, staying close to adults who were in charge of carrying for me was never my forte. I was the oldest in my family so I often thought I knew how to do things all by myself—even if my caregivers directed me otherwise. I liked to wander out on my own. I was a nightmare to keep up with in a grocery store!

According to the many stories that my mom could tell you if she was here today, I loved to go by myself when we were shopping even as young as 3 years old. I very much liked to look at aisles of things that interested me. Then, I would often come back to the shopping cart with things I wanted— with little regard for how much money my mom had already told me that she had to spend. Needless to say I often got into trouble!

In fact, I got so good at wandering off (scaring my parents to death, I’m sure) that my mom had to create a signal of sorts to find me. It became her sign to me: her famous whistle. I would show you what it sounds like, but I was not blessed with the gift of whistling. Anybody out there can whistle? (From now on in the rest of my sermon, when I say the word whistle could you help me out—those of you who can whistle by whistling?)

The funny part about my mom’s whistle is that it became one of those cues in my mind that still is with me. Even today, if I’m out with my mom in a store and she wants me to find her, she whistles. Sad, though that it works, even at my age. I’m a grown up who comes when my mom whistles—kind of like when you might call a dog.

And today as we just heard a reading before the time when Jesus came—taken from the book of Isaiah, we see that the Israelites they weren’t very good at staying close to their caregiver, God, either as they waited. They were so ready for their waiting to be over that they TOO started going out on their own. They did what was right in their OWN eyes.

Though they’d heard countless prophecies about the coming of a Messiah—about a man who would save them from their sins, in their heart they’d stopped really waiting or trusting in God to take care of them.

No longer did they see the need to listen for God. No longer did it matter to stay close.

No one was doing those daily practices like praying or reading scripture. No one was telling the truth anymore. Corruption was the name of the game in the land. Did you hear how Isaiah describes them? None other than a “a brood of evil doers!” Strong language, huh?

However, in Israel’s defense, though, by time we get to the beginning of our gospel reading for today, God had been silent for 400 years. From the end of the Old Testament to the start of the New Testament was give or take about 400 years. Can you imagine how long that was? A VERY LONG time. And if you think about it, what was there really to listen to anymore?

But then, their whistle came. And, it came loud and clear. Luke 2 verse 1 begins: “In those days Ceasar Augustus issued a degree that a census should be taken of the entire world.” God used the political situation in the land to start the whistling process.

As the story goes, Mary and Joseph each in their own way got the news that Jesus would be their son. Jesus would be born. God was about to show up in the flesh.

When you think of Christmas what do you think of? (RESPONSE)

Many people, when they think of Christmas they have in their minds images of lovely manger scenes, beautiful people smiling, and lots of pretty decorations.

But, what was going on with this whistle—of God coming to earth through this baby named Jesus—was a huge redemption plan: a plan that would one day touch the lives of you, and you and you and me.

Though the peoples of the earth had made many mistakes and though the peoples of the earth were corrupt as they could be and had each turned to their own way, God was about to whistle loud and clear a message of: “I have found you!”

Have you ever stopped to think how crazy God’s plan of redemption was as it began in that very first Christmas?
I mean, really, what was God thinking hanging all of the hopes of the world on one birth? Just ONE birth.

Yes, a birth, the middle of the ancient times when medical care was not at its peak—childbirth was very risky enterprise in fact.
Yes, a birth of one child, of only one child, given from heaven to the fragility of human hands and a teenage mother at that with little training on child-birth or raising!

Yes, a birth, of one to a world where anything, yes, anything could go wrong at anytime?

Yes, a birth, in horrific conditions that could have easily caused the most willing mother and the most support father and even the most eager shepherds to give up?

What was God thinking, I mean really whistling in this way?

If you are a logical person (which I like to think I am most of the time), hanging all your hopes in life on ONE THING as God did in this case was a crazy thing to do.

When I have a plan, I always like to have a back-up plan. If I have a plan A, I would like to have a Plan B. What about you?
Life is just too fragile, just too uncertain for the hope that only one plan would actually work perfectly, right?

How many times have you in your life set out to do something and it doesn’t go as planned? How many times have you hoped for something, prayed for something only to find out that it doesn’t come out exactly the way you wanted?

If I were to make a list of times in my life where ONE plan did not work out perfectly the list would be longer than could ever be written down in this room! Pages and pages and more pages in books could be filled with disappointments of plans not working out.
But, in our gospel reading for today, all of God’s hopes for the blessing of all the world were on one womb . . . one night . . . one mother . . . one willing partner . . . one band of shepherds . . . ONE chance to get it right or it would be a fail. For, there was not a back-up plan. There was only ONE plan.

And, in this one plan, God trusted Mary and Mary’s body . . . as there was no room for error.

God trusted Joseph to be there for Mary . . . as we are told no midwife attended to the birth.

God trusted the shepherds to respond . . . as there were no other visitors right away.

God trusted the angels to sing . . . . as they were the creators of the first carols. God trusted the star not to refuse to shine . . . as without the star, the shepherds did not know where to go.

The only ONE plan was built upon God’s trust in everything happening as it should.

Recently, Kevin and I traveled to the US state of Hawaii. It is a beautiful state with lots of palm trees and beaches right next to the mountains. I was to preach at a Christian School conference and Kevin was learning about programs there that helped children and families. While we were there, we met a lot of homeless people—though we thought was strange because it was a beautiful place. But as we walked the streets to go shopping (and I stayed close to Kevin this time—I didn’t get lost), I can’t tell you how many homeless people we met.

I asked one homeless man to tell me his story. He said, “I used to be homeless in the Mainland part of the United States. However, I lived in a very cold city, so I got a job and saved all his money to buy an airline ticket to fly to Hawaii—almost 10 hours in the airplane from where I lived.”

When I asked him what he expected to do when he got to Hawaii, he told me: “I trusted it would be ok. I didn’t even think I’d get a job here. I heard about a program where people live together on the beach. I figured if I just made it there—even though I was so far from home and without a home—I’d be ok.”

I could hardly believe what I heard. No backup plan. No concern for a real home. Just plans to be ok in a place so far from what was normal or familiar.

And, so, it was the posture of God that night. God had one plan and one hope! It’s wasn’t normal to us and most certainly was not what we expected. But it was God’s plan, nonetheless.

Though no studies have been written to qualify the odds of the whole Jesus being born in a manger thing working out, the fates of this world were all stacked against this plan working out too . . . who could believe that a teenaged mother and a lowly group of animal watchers in a borrowed stable could be a part of something magnificent?

But, yet we know on that Holy Night, the greatest gift of all times would be welcomed by just these folks—folks who weren’t anything special as far as the world was concerned but CHOSEN by God. It’s was God not normal, but wonderful plan.

Though such a story can be hard to believe sometimes: that a child, who was called Christ, the Lord was born and was thriving from the first day of his day in the arms of a mother who treasured all these things in heart, this is our faith, my friends!
Our faith is about God showing up and doing only what God can do.

How often, though, our faith is questioned at this point? How can we believe something that doesn’t make perfect sense?
Yet, I am going to pause here and ask you to reflect with me, my friends, do we really want a story that makes perfect sense that is fully understandable?
Do we really want a God in our lives who is just like us?

I don’t know about you, but as this year comes to a close and I look at all that has gone wrong and all that is not right in this world, I know one thing: that is that I need my God not to be just like me that I can understand, explain away and come to life through Christmas decorations.

Life is just too messy. Life is just too painful. Life is just too busy. Life is just too unfair for it all to depend on someone with a mind like mine.

For, I want to testify today that I need a God who is faithful, even beyond my most faithful friend to bring about something beautiful in my life and in the deep corruption that seeks to destroy the GOOD that could be in this world.
I need a God who can work through the most impossible of circumstance to bring about something new, something that I cannot create on my own even when I get lost.

For, I need a God who can’t be explained through formulas or charts. I need a God who can create a new path so that in the midst of the darkness of this world, a great light is seen again.

For, I need a God to do the impossible . . . . to show up, to be present once again and to show me that life is not as it seems just as it is now.

If you are with me with any of this, then I tell you the good news today: Christmas, then, is just for you.

This is the season to rejoice with what was not yet. It is the season to imagine what we cannot see. It is the season to believe in the possibility of loving fully once again because Jesus first loved us.

As simple as the coming of Christ in the form a baby, years long ago, this is it! This gift is the gift that has the power to bring us this Christmas exactly what we are hoping for.

It’s THE gift of knowing in our darkest days we are not alone, in our most confusing journeys there is always more than we can see.
In our life situations that don’t make a bit of sense, there is big star out there, guiding us, guiding us home again.
Silent Night, Holy, Night. All is come, all is bright.

Calling all dreamers . . . calling all wonderers . . . calling all grieving friends . . . calling all those who want a life different than you see right in front of you right now.

God is whistling for you. God is signaling your NAME.

Come again this year and meet the babe Jesus the Christ, the most Holy One, the one who has never given up on us and will keep whistling for us until we follow.

Thanks be to God for this gift of Christmas.

November 21, 2013

Well, Hello Again: Africa

photoMy travels on behalf of Feed The Children this week have taken Kevin and I back to the continent of Africa.

It’s been over a year since we last stood on this land.

It has been a year when our hearts have grown in courage– for all that a responsibility for such a time as this.

It has been a year when our minds have grown in compassion– for our shared partnership with our friends and co-laborers in these countries.

It has been a year when our knees have more met the ground in prayer– for all the injustices that seek to destroy the good that is possible.

As my jet legged feet took its first steps off the plane yesterday, I felt the enormity of all that this visit could mean wash over me.

We. Are. Here. Again.

My first words upon seeing the rolling hills and the sea of dark faces and the distinct smells were simply, “Wow. I’m glad to be home.” Yes, home.

There’s something about the continent of Africa that has always drawn me in, re-shaped my thinking and then set me on my way in new paths of service. I’ve always felt welcomed here in ways I haven’t in other places. I’ve always welcomed any opportunity to visit.

As I pondered all of these things on the plane, I found myself making a list of the previous visits. And as I penned the dates and countries seen on the previous 3 trips, I couldn’t help but notice that my life changed EVERY SINGLE TIME I set foot here.

After a 1998 visit, I came home disillusioned about the term “missionary” vowing I’d never be one. While an incredibly painful experience (because of Americans I met here, I must add), I ultimately believe it was the experience that set the direction of my path toward the pastorate– that thing I thought at the time that women couldn’t do.

After a 2003 visit, I came home inspired to not remember that my African brothers and sisters were a part of my larger human family. The atrocities of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda touched my heart in a profound way. How did this go on in my lifetime and I knew nothing about it?

After a 2012 visit, I came home with a changed heart about the possibilities and reality of who and what Feed The Children is and what it could be in the future. During our travels, I made what I feel is a life long friend– a friend would become a sweet sister in all the waiting awaiting me.

So, I have to wonder on this 2013 visit, what will shift in me as a result in being here? How will my heart go home? What amazing person will I met? How will my soul leap in understanding of what was previously unseen?

Only God knows the answers to such questions.

I hold on this, though: my heart must be open. My heart must be wide open to this place– its people, its smells, its food, its problems, its hopes, its worries, its gladness. And in doing so, this next chapter that I’m writing here will be another beautiful one. A beautiful one indeed!

November 13, 2013

Teachers in the Philippines

There’s been a lot of talk the past couple of weeks about the Philippines, hasn’t there? From the devastating earthquake a few weeks ago to this past weekend’s destructive typhoon, it seems that the people of these islands are not getting a break. They’ve faced so many trials. It’s been almost too much to watch!

As I’ve caught up on the news and heard reports from the Feed The Children staff in the Philippines (many who have lost everything in one of these major events!), my mind has quickly gone back to the experience I shared in this country almost exactly a year ago last year.

largeOn our first Feed The Children trip to Asia, Kevin and I explored several islands with the staff (as seen to the right). We meet community members involved in Feed The Children’s programs. And as we toured, I couldn’t help but feel schooled on the fact that the perceptions I had on what “aid” looked like were all wrong.

On November 5th, I blogged this:

As I write this I find myself on a boat heading from Bohol back to Cebu (Philippines) . . . We just met a group of families on a remote island who pulled their resources together to begin a village savings and loan– where their was no bank to help give the financial resources to move the community forward.

During our visit, our delegation was allowed to observe, a shareholders meeting, a weekly occurrence, where loans were given and dividends were paid back to share holders. We learned that 10% of the money made in the project goes back to assist the children in the community. Parents said, “We want a better life for kids. We know that begins with us being good stewards of our own resources. We want to be able to do this ourselves.” Over the past year this community (where it is not commonplace to have toilets in the house or more than one pair of shoes per person) has saved over $3,500 US to reinvest in their children’s school. . . .

For now, this is what I know: most of the world is not as it seems to us from our lens of American privilege. The “have-nots” people are not less than human. Change CAN happen as resources and strong leadership are given to make it possible.

For me, I am learning that life can no longer be about “that trip” or “out there” but somehow we must find a way to integrate life in such a way that all of life is about being a member of the human family that is full of challenges, yes, but hope. We must do what we can to serve wherever we find ourselves. We must never think our privilege as an honor, but an opportunity to be in a larger community.

I’ve thought about these reflections again recently, especially as so many organizations are on the ground now in the Philippines seeking to help those in need.

I think it’s wonderful when the world comes to the aid of the vulnerable. Some crises are indeed so bad that we need help that must come from those with more resources than we have. And the commercial in me would like to tell you to give (if you feel so compelled) to Feed The Children.

But what bothers me about the news coverage and talk of the Philippines these days is it is so easily turned into an “us vs. them” appeal.

Because what is true is this: the people of the Philippines are strong. They are resilient. They will take care of each other with whatever resources they’ve got. And if we choose to help them (and I hope we all will), it is good to give from the perspective of these are my brothers and sisters in need NOT those poor and sad people out there.

We’ve got teachers who embody saving, sharing and giving all over the world. And many of those are found in the Philippines. It’s our job not only to share but to learn.

March 19, 2013

Simplicity and In-the Meantime

Sometimes of late, I look around at my life and don’t recognize myself.

Situations that used to make me anxious like ever-changing plans for where I’ll be in a given week– are par for the course.

Weeks of the year like this one, that used to be full of the busy cries around the church office of “Holy Week is coming, holy week is coming” are just another week in the year, actually quieter than normal.

Being able to answer someone when they ask what’s going on next month with a definitive answer is simply a thing of the past.

Kevin and I now spend time between Oklahoma City, OK and the DC metro area and every other place in between as we balance this lifestyle of being where we need to be at the time. Kevin works in both places. I have things to do in both places and other places too. Defining where exactly is our “home” becomes murkier all the time. Since January, it is rare that I haven’t been on an airplane at least once a week. We have been blessed to have the resources to do what is needed (and for this, I’m grateful everyday), but it’s been a big change. And, I’ve looked for resources from any place I can to manage it all. And this is one I’ve thought a lot about lately:

One summer while I was in college, I worked for a youth camp organization— an international and domestic traveling team for two months. Before the summer began, we were told to pack one suitcase that would contain everything we’d need for all sorts of climates and living conditions. I showed up on day one with the biggest bag of them all– something about having my own stuff made me feel more secure. But, instead, I just felt awkward.

Soon I would be challenged at every possible level. I slept in a new bed every couple of days. After the first week of camp, we moved on to a new location. I knew this was what I should be doing for the summer . . . but there were so many moments when I wondered what I’d gotten into!

But, as the days went on, I learned the best thing I could do was travel lighter each week. Maybe I didn’t need to get so attached people we met at the work sites? Maybe I could exchange my big mama bag for something smaller at a thrift store? Maybe as everything changed from week to week– the scenery, the traveling companions beside me and even my moods– I was being given tools to teach me? Simplicity of purpose became the gift which led to contentment.

And again, here in 2013, with Feed The Children so much a part of what drives the heart of our schedule, I’m having similar stirrings.

Can I live with what is right in front of me?

Can I be content anywhere? Can I find the good in situations or places that are not always ideal?

But, again there are challenges (or maybe just growing edges).

When your life is spread across several places, you often don’t have your first choice of what to wear on a given day. When I get dressed in the morning I often get to pick out something from what is in a suitcase, even if it contains the same choices from what I picked last week.

When your life is spread across several places, you don’t always get your life in your best case scenario. For example, I love sit-down dinners at home. But to expect a daily routine of always eating with Kevin on Mondays at 6 pm is out of the question. We must connect to each other in other ways.

When your life is spread across several places, you don’t get the luxury of getting peace from your circumstances. If I only found peace from running in a particular park or reading in a particular chair or drinking tea from a particular mug, then simply peace wouldn’t exist. I must find peace from the presence of the Holy, whom I know is with me wherever I go.

When your life is spread across several places, you don’t “work” like normal people do. If I got my esteem from the praise of a boss or a work environment, I’d just be in complete misery right now. But, I can’t let other’s opinions of me be the words I listen to the most.

In these Lenten weeks, I’m growing to be ok with whatever each day holds, even if it doesn’t look exactly like it did the day before. I’m learning to live with less stuff. I’m learning God’s presence can be found on airplanes, in guest beds of friends homes’, or back in my favorite writing chair in VA. And, if my heart settles a little, no matter what the circumstances, life can be good. Sometimes even very good indeed.

December 10, 2012

Wordless Monday: Kevin in Honduras

Kevin in Honduras

November 26, 2012

Calling All Summer Service Seekers

It’s that time of year for college students– what am I going to do next summer? Will I have an internship? Will I do service work? Will I travel?

I say, do it all!

Consider this: I remember those days of discernment full well. It’s hard to know exactly what to do, especially when going home and doing nothing is also an option. But, I loved my summers in late high school and college when I could dream about doing something different than the norm (besides that one summer I spent in required summer classes, boo!). From age 16 on, some really great opportunities came my way to really get out there and see the world!

Summers working in missions in Charleston, SC, Lexington, KY, travels to Burma and Thailand, a church internship in Birmingham, AL in addition to a summer on staff with Son Servants and Passport have made me who I am today. Looking back now, I’m so glad I took some leaps during that season of my life and had the resources through scholarships for school to be able to afford it.

While each of these experiences had highs and lows of of their own, I want to highlight two as a way to encourage any of you college/ seminary aged readers to consider applying NOW for one of these life changing opportunities. Or if you are a youth or children’s minister, consider taking your kids to one of these camps!

First of all, let me tell you about Son Servants. My time with this organization was amazing. The summer after my sophomore year of college, I spent 10 weeks traveling both internationally and around the country in places like Jamaica, the Texas-Mexico border, Appalachia, South Dakota and inner city Philadelphia, PA.

It was a world wind adventure unlike any other.

I learned simplicity (yes you can live out of your suitcase with only a few possessions and be happy).

I learned community life (sleeping on floors, cooking meals, cleaning showers, etc together can really form bonds like none other). I learned about hard work (mixing concrete by hand is no easy thing, especially in the heat of Jamaica).

I learned flexibility (traveling as much as you do on staff with SS you have to learn to chillax remembering the world doesn’t revolve around you).

I was introduced to such great theological texts such as Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Freedom of Simplicity by Richard Foster that I would later study in seminary. My world view expanded with each state/ country we visited, as I saw the truth about poverty, hopelessness and inequality that my 20-year-old eyes had never imagined was real.

My life now in supporting the work of Feed The Children feels a lot like a lifestyle of Son Servant summer with the travel, site visits, flexibility of spirit required and focus on service first. I told Kevin recently how thankful I am for the great staff of Youth Conference Ministries and how my Son Servants summer prepared me for what was to come (though I had no idea about at the time). You don’t even have to be a Presbyterian to apply or work here, seriously, check it out, I’m a fan. You’ll be nurtured and mentored by some of the coolest folks I know.

Furthermore, consider Passport. Passport is a youth camp organization that blazed new trails in the Baptist world many years ago and continues to do so now as an ecumenical organization empowering students to encounter Christ, embrace community and extend grace to the world. I served the summer after my first year of seminary, on staff as the first ever PassportKids! pastor. For close to 10 weeks, I was on another traveling team of college and also seminary students heading to places like TN, GA, VA, MO and AL to give kids who finished 3-6th grade a mission focused camping experience. I was also the recreation director as well as my pastoral hat (though such a job description doesn’t exist anymore, thank goodness!). I also learned the value of hard work from my time at Passport, as you might imagine. The days are long. The alarms come early. And the tasks of the day require much enthusiasm.

I loved my time on staff with Passport because it truly was an empowering experience. This summer I led the summer staff in a book study of Life Together, just as I had been taught four years prior. I was asked to PREACH 4-7 times a week in nightly worship (depending on the travel schedule) which was a huge responsiblity to learn from as young seminarian at age 24. However, the confidence and encouragement that the Passport staff placed in me, helped me to know that I could do it. I was called “Pastor Elizabeth” by young campers.  Each time I heard my name in this way my confidence grew that maybe just maybe God was calling me to pastor in a church. By the end of the summer there was no turning back. I was in.

I would highly recommend this experience to all those of you struggling with a call to ministry, those of you excited about exploring your talents in a safe environment, and looking for a family of service-minded peeps for the summer. The leadership staff, like that of the Son Servant family is amazing and will continue to abide in your life as cheerleaders for years to come. Consider applying now by clicking here.

Let not this summer ahead to be wasted– prepare to do something amazing!

November 9, 2012

Mission trips that aren’t just trips

Growing up in evangelical culture of the southern part of the United States, I learned a key component of strong Christian faith was the annual practice of going on mission trips.

Based on the Great Commission of Acts 1:8, we’d be challenged by youth pastors to make a service trip each summer, a priority in our schedules. While few would be excited about local mission projects in the inner city of our own city, for example, everyone would consider going somewhere, especially if it was a cool locale with a pool.

The farther away the holier, of course, but usually we could not afford more than an 7-8 hours drive away in one of those rented Greyhound buses. And the more poverty or the greater the population of the “heathen” (like Buddhists, atheists, etc) the more worthwhile too.

Many of my peers at church loved these trips, like I did. They formed the the young adults we were becoming without us truly understanding it at the time. We began to get a glimpse of the world outside the one created for us by our parents and surroundings. We grew in the depth of our relationship with Jesus. All of this is good. So I don’t want sound overly judgmental as I continue . . .

But here is the thing: the results were typical and short lived.

We felt moved by whatever “have nots” we encountered, feeling sorry for our blessings waiting for us back at home. But secretly craving (or not so secretly) our own beds and a hot shower pronto.

We cried on the last day of the trip, sad to leave our new friends, vowing to keep in touch. But losing the contact info page before we got off the bus.

We promised to come home and give away our clothes or shoes that we really didn’t need, only to go shopping at the mall the next weekend.

And so mission trips became just that, a trip — something fun to do with our peers in the summer that left our parents feeling good about the children they’d raised. We weren’t as selfish as the rest. And we had the pictures to prove it.

So here I am in my early 30s having gone on two of these major “missions” trips as a part of my real life the past two months, not some summer jolly ride out of town. And the funny thing is, I find myself expressing some of the same emotions I might have uttered in the 9th or 10th grade when we lodged in inner city Philadelphia.

“The spirit of the Filipino people moved me to tears.”

“The poverty was overwhelming to my eyes.”

“I want to find a way to make my life simpler, to give more.”

But this time, as a grown up, with a long term commitment to an organization that deeply cares about making changes in communities of need, I want things to be different. I want my life to reflect the stories of great need that I have been blessed to see personally. I want this week to not merely be “another” mission trip but just a part of a lifestyle.

How this happens, I still am not sure. But at least for today, I acknowledge the great arrogance and temptation of just another mission trip kind of faith. And hope this season of life will be about learning a new path.


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