Rather than type the whole title out every time, I think I’ll just call it the ‘Missions Development’ series… Also, this isn’t going to be a blow by blow of every “missions experience” I’ve had – more like the Kodak moments that have been most instrumental in crystallizing my ‘philosophy’, values, & manner of living it out – so I’ll spend some good time in some places, & completely ignore other stuff. But that’s ok, because really, blogging is for me & my processing. If others read it & get some sort of insight into me, life, &/or other things of significance or minutiae, so be it. English-language dictators beware: there is a lot of tense & person jumping ahead…
I was there in June ’86, very shortly after the big E earthquake that happened on my (& Jeni’s!) birthday, 1985. Mass destruction, buildings in rubble everywhere. And a bustling city, full of life, all around it. I’d never seen “modern Mexico” before… I was used to the 3rd world-type portrayal of the country/people seen in pop-culture, Zorro, & the Tostitos/Doritos commercials. Which existed, usually right alongside a 1st-world city. What blew me away was the seeming absence of any sort of middle-class at all. People seemed to either be filthy rich (marble garage floors? Yes. I kid you not.) or filthy & poor, without access even to life’s basics, & I’m not talking about cable. Gross generalities to be sure, but this is seen through the lens of memory.
What sort of gospel is applicable to both extremes? The rich & the poor? My preconceived ideas failed me. The largely cultural, method, & technology based gospel of the “world inside my head” was exposed for what it was – a little of Jesus, & a lot of personal preference. A Christ, & a Christianity created in my own image. I am lost. Inadequate. Exposed. Finally seen in a mirror that shows all the details, excruciating though it may be.
I don’t remember how many people were on the mission trip, but I know that I was in a bit of a fog – confronted with my small Jesus, knowing that I needed a completely different world-view, & more importantly, to see Jesus as He really is, not just captured on the pages of my Bible as a series of anecdotes & historical events. In retrospect, I think one of the main things that I struggled with was how impersonal our ‘relationship’ was shaping up to be – with the people we had come to ‘minister’ to, let alone minister with.
We stood in a group & handed out tracts outside the soccer stadium where the semi-finals & finals of the Copa Mundial were held. I watched many of the people, people from all over the world, throw away what they’d been given, often without even looking at it. I thought about what we were doing, in the 3rd person, & wondered: if a group came to Reno to do what we were doing, what would I do? I’d probably ignore them & if I took their material, I’d throw it away too. Because the message, separated from knowing the messengers, was really, really hard to hear, esp. when it was spoken/delivered in a culture & language irrelevant to the receivers…
We did a couple of work projects in a ‘small’ (150K) suburb of La Ciudad. Did a few open air presentations, meaning we sang some songs in Spanish, did some skits (which I remember as both painful & awesome somehow), & then a fluent Spanish speaker would give a short message & an altar call. And then we’d pray with any people that wanted it. In the poorer areas, people hung out for ‘prayer,’ which meant that they were looking for a handout – something to meet their very real physical needs.
One thing that really was truly awesome was the soccer games. They started in one barrio when my cousin John & I were hiding in the neighborhood around our whole teams ‘home base.’ We were hiding so we didn’t have to do the manual labor at the main house (latrine duty) – & came across about 10 guys playing soccer on a ‘field’ strewn with rocks – but with two very real “soccer goals.” We played, sometimes well, sometimes not so well – & ended up attracting a massive crowd of locals that wanted to see the two ‘gabachos’ playing their national sport. The noise from the game ended up drawing a large chunk of people from our team, people that had been sent out to find the two lost Americans. Our team leaders frustration turned to joy when he saw that in the soccer game, more people had gathered than we’d seen in our previous week of ministry ops. Interesting…
In my rear-view, it looked a lot like American Christian Imperialism, where a brand of little “c” christianity was exported, message, style, & methods, to a less-fortunate (read: poorer) group of people who needed to have our good news brought to them. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as it looks or sounds – I know that the motives of our team weren’t evil or bad – more ignorant, or naive. Definitely self-serving, without realizing it. Like a baby is self-serving because she wants pastries all the time & will use what/whomever to get to where the pastries are. I see/saw our mission as a way of serving ourselves, to have an experience, stories to tell. Knowing that what we were doing would ‘play well’ in the context of the christian world. Because we were helping those less fortunate, & bringing christianity to the natives. Whew.
I had, & maybe others did too, feelings of fruitlessness – where were the masses flocking to Jesus? We were doing it “right,” right? I had lots of questionings: is this what missions is? And what happens to the people who HAVE responded while we’re here when we go home? Is there any people or place that they could be connected to, church-wise? Hmm.
On that note, fortunately for me, the “Reno team” was staying with the brother of a dear friend that had relocated from Mexico to Reno… having 10-15 Americans staying at their house was a major opportunity for hospitality for them, & they absolutely relished it. We’d have breakfast together, us & about 4-10 members of their family, all of whom took time off of work at their very real, just as important as we had at home, jobs. To be with us, spend time together, & to shuttle us around the biggest city in the world. Then, late at night, we’d get home (after they picked us up from the mission site, of course,) & it was snack time – talking around the living room, getting to know each other in a way that only happens when you’re cooped up together in the same house/place for an extended period of time.
Our last night together, we even put on a cross-cultural talent show & spent the evening cracking each other up. How surprised was I to find that two family members ended up giving their hearts to Jesus as a part of the evening – not from our presentation, but because of the relationship (one that still exists,) & tangible love of Christ that had somehow leaked out over our two weeks there.
At the time, I didn’t see the stark contrast between the two ways of life – maybe because the hanging out with the Mexican family was too normal – & fun. Definitely not the kind of thing that people in the US would give you money to sponsor a “mission trip” for.