Missions Development…#7

We did talk more, & some of the things that we dreamed about (mostly through asking questions,) provided a big part of the skeleton for what has morphed into my own (& Hillside’s) ‘missions philosophy…’ A few of the highlights:

  • What if a (the?) stated purpose of the mission trip was to cultivate the development of a long-term committed relationship with a people & place in a spot different than our own? And that the activities, ministry, & time spent were tailored to foster the support, encouragement, & strengthening of the local church?
  • What if a stated purpose of missions wasn’t solely to try to gain converts/decisions/statistics? What if any/all ‘ministry’ stuff would happen with the leadership & direction of the people who live there, & work within the context of their own culture, city, & place?
  • What if each church/people/group made a commitment to each other – to have a mutual relationship, as defined by a willingness to give/receive people – that people from both places would/could go back & forth?
  • What if instead of trying to go to as many different locales/missions destinations as possible, we were willing to commit to invest in the same spot, with the same people, over an extended period of time?
  • And what if we let the places we would go & commit to be made evident by God “opening doors,” revealing people bridges (relationship-based,) God’s making a way, & establishing “divine appointments?”… which are revealed/discovered by applying a ‘litmus test’ made up of questions, like those listed above…(as I was writing this, I noticed the word COMMIT show up in various forms, all over the place. Interesting.)

  • The German/Euro conference drew to a close, but we made some tentative plans to get back together to discuss some mission possibilities for the next year – Johannes & ICHTHYS, as a part of the German national ministry, were going to do an ‘all-country” outreach to at least 4 cities in Germany… & maybe we could be a part of it, a plan that included my two traveling companions too…

    Through some juggling of our itinerary, our fearless leader told us that we’d be coming back to Frankfurt in a couple of days, after doing our scouting trip to Romania – scouting out the land, seeing where we’d be, who we’d be with, etc…

    We made our way to the airport, & boarded a plane to… Budapest. As in Hungary. So here we were, 7 days into a 10 day trip, where the set purpose was to go to Romania in preparation for a mission we would be leading there just 3 short months away, & we still hadn’t quite arrived…

    But, we’d been to London. Birmingham. Newcastle. To Frankfurt. To Fulda. And now Budapest.

    We arrived in Budapest, one of Europe’s most beautiful cities, & took a taxi to the hotel where we’d be staying. Our stuff was unloaded, & “we” decided to do some site-seeing, which involved driving across the bridge between Buda & Pest, as well as seeing some of the things that the Romans had done to Hungary. Most of my memories about this revolve around frustration, inaction, & attempts to endure… without losing it, if possible.

    Next morning around 9, we rented a car (something the size of a YUGO if my memory serves me right,) & began the 220km (140 mile) voyage to Oradea, a city about 8 km inside the Romanian border. What should have taken us 2 ½ hours to drive ended up taking 9… we got lost on some Hungarian back roads; found a ‘restaurant’ based in someone’s home, at which we ordered… wait for it… wait for it… Hungarian goulash. By the grace of God, we came across an English speaker that directed us to the road we needed to cross into Romania – (NOTE: Hungarian is like no other language I’ve ever seen or studied… And there is no way to ‘fake’ one’s way through social situations like we’d been doing in England & Germany… it really was a harbinger of what was to come in Romania…)

    The two things that I remember the most about the road to Romania were:

  • The scores of naked/nearly naked women walking the ‘highway,’ selling their bodies to passersby… and the ever-present, always visible pimps that dominated their reality. It breaks my heart to think of it today.
  • The miles & miles of trucks lined up at the border, waiting to cross into Romania from Hungary… a line that we were fortunate to be able to avoid due to the lack of size of our car.
  • Somehow, again by the grace of God, we navigated our way to the main landmark in Oradea around 6 p.m., at which point we were met by our guide, Moises – a Romanian about 25, who took us to his church, the one we would be doing the outreach ‘with.’ A church service was beginning, but the 3 of us were ushered into the pastor’s office to meet him.

    I could hear the music playing in the sanctuary, signaling that worship had begun – I was irritated at the ongoing snafu that was our traveling situation; I was bothered with my traveling companions in the way that happens when you’re with someone 24/7. I was tired, & my mind was drifting… all the while, Moises was translating for the three of us & the pastor. I wanted to go to wherever it was we were staying & go to sleep, so I wasn’t paying attention to the conversation… what I remember was our Fearless Leader saying, “Sure he’ll do it! It’s all good!” I thought, “this can’t be good…”

    Fearless Leader said, “They’re going to introduce us to the congregation – & you’re going to play a song on the guitar. Isn’t that great?”

    Great was the last word that would have come to my mind to describe how I was feeling at that moment – I couldn’t believe that I’d been volunteered to play the guitar – this was only about 1 year after I’d started playing, & maybe 3 months from the time that I could make it through a song without stopping. Playing AND singing… well, that was always an adventure, & one that I’d only attempted within the safe confines of youth group with a bunch of students that loved me, no matter what. And now I was going to play a song, without any chord sheets, singing in English, in a place where I’d never been, didn’t know the language or customs, & felt absolutely zero confidence in my ability to pull it off.

    At that point, Moises told us, “It’s time,” & led us down a hallway to a door, which he opened… & we found that it opened up directly onto the stage. We were led to the back of the stage where there were several chairs waiting for us.

    It was a big church, with 3 levels or floors; it seated probably 1200 people, & was about ¾ full. I started to hyperventilate – I had never felt so naked before, & while Fearless Leader spoke to the crowd, through Moises, about who we were & what we were doing, I prayed hard. I prayed quick. I asked for deliverance, for rapture, for anything that would get me out of the situation.

    When I found I wasn’t going anywhere, I prayed that God would give me a song to sing – preferably one of those that I knew by heart… at that moment, I could barely remember my own name, let alone the chords & WORDS to a song… the worship guy brought his guitar over & gave it to me. I stood up, legs quaking, & put it on… the strap was too small, making me feel (look) like a mariachi band guitar player with my guitar all up in my face. He gave me a pick & pointed me to the front of the stage. It had to be the longest 10 feet I’d ever walked. The microphone was too high for me. To be heard through it, I had to point my head to the ceiling & sing up to it. Deep breath.

    Peace. Waves of peace. I started to strum… the lyrics & chords to In The Secret came to the front of my head. And I sang from my guts.

    At some point the song ended, & I handed off the guitar to someone, & made my way back to my chair, relieved. My knees were still shaking, & I was famished. And exhausted. And thankful that it was over… our host told us that shortly after the service, he’d take us to our hotel where we could rest/sleep, & get ready for the next day’s happenings… & the purpose of our entire trip, the scouting out of Oradea.

    Turns out the service lasted another 3 hours. 3 hours. 3 hours. And by the time we left, it was 10 p.m. By that point, I was almost delirious with exhaustion & hunger, & thought as we pulled up to the “Hotel Dacia” that at least our day was over. Little did I know that the fun was just beginning… ☺

    Missions Development…#6

    I woke up the next morning feeling really ‘light’ in my spirit – rested too, but mostly light because I was feeling thankful that the heavy weight had been lifted off of my shoulders… a weight that I hadn’t even known I could be ‘done’ with. It was especially cool because I hadn’t even known that we’d be coming to Germany…

    My two American traveling companions & I went down to the ‘eating room’ & found an open table… after the ‘interesting’ foods (read: stuff I wouldn’t want to eat again even it was based on a dare,) I’d experienced during our time in England, I was overjoyed to have my 1st real experience with the German breakfast: dark, hearty, whole grain breads & rolls, baked that morning; what appeared to be salami, along with quite the variety of smoked meats & cheeses; Nutella. German coffee. Ahhh.

    In between stuffing my face, I ended up in conversation with the guy sitting on my left – turned out that he was a youth pastor as well – at ICHTHYS church – & his name was Johannes. Fortunately for me, he spoke great English, with a touch of American thrown in from a 7-month stint/internship at a church in the greater-Seattle area. We had a great time swapping stories, talking about life, fussball (soccer) & church stuff. From the first conversation, we connected at a deep level, & I really enjoyed his outlook on life, sense of humor, & ever-present laugh, which, when I close my eyes & concentrate, I can still hear in the recesses of my brain…

    We ended up skipping a couple of meetings (one of my favorite conference activities, by the way,) to hang out, talk, & visit the bistro for brats & Hefeweizen… by this time, I felt like we were getting to know each other fairly well, & that we could trust each other enough to speak openly & straightforwardly… So, I asked Johannes if he (& ICHTHYS) would consider the possibility of us coming on a mission to Frankfurt. He said “NO!” without even blinking – & then qualified his answer with an explanation & a few stories about teams from the US that he & ICHTHYS had hosted in previous years. The bottom line was that the aftermath of the teams was anything BUT life-giving & beneficial to the host church…

    Too many times they had been left holding the bag financially for some unforeseen & unplanned shortfall. The name/reputation of the local church had been dragged through the mud by some short-sighted & inconsiderate actions by someone on the mission team; the insistence of the team at doing their own program/method/ministry came at the expense of the long-term relationship & respect the hosts had attempted to cultivate with their friends, neighbors, & people of their city, people who the team didn’t see as “people” but as potential notches on the proverbial missions statistics belt; the hosts had often their hospitality criticized/belittled as “not being up to standard” (aka different) than what the ethnocentric Americans were used to at home… as though the ‘foreign country’’ should have been blessed & overjoyed just to receive the Americans, & like a good restaurant/hotel, should have done everything they could to accommodate their ‘guests.’ And there was no offer of continued relationship beyond the cursory (& known to be meaningless) “I’ll write.” So, rather than “do” missions in that manner, they didn’t host American (or Canadian) teams anymore…

    Curiosity must have gotten the best of him, because he asked, “What would you do if you came?” So I asked, “It depends – what would you like us to do? Is there something that you’re already doing that we could help with?”

    He smiled & said, “Hmm. Perhaps we can talk about this some more.”

    Missions Development… #5

    I decided that if I wanted to know what was going on, I needed to ask more questions & ‘put myself’ in the know on what was happening – not leaving it up to chance that I would find out, which meant taking on a more active (vs. passive) role in our travels – something that was uncomfortable for me to do, esp. as I saw myself as a ‘sidekick’ on the trip, not as the leader, coordinator, or planner. But, I was nervous, & being out of my culture/context in the UK had been tough enough – now we were headed to a place where the primary language spoken wasn’t English; it was German. I had known that we’d be able to stagger through just about any situation in the UK with a modicum of difficulty (which we’d proved by surviving a little ‘run-in’ we had with a policeman at a roundabout.)

    I had no idea or assurance that we’d be able to do the same in Germany. None of us spoke German, & I/we had very little idea of what was coming. A few questions helped me discover that our plans for Frankfurt & the Foursquare Europe conference had been made ‘tentatively,’ which meant:

  • Somebody should be there at the airport to pick us up & make sure we get to where we’re going.
  • We don’t know the identity of that somebody, or have any phone numbers or contact information in case the ‘somebody’ doesn’t show.
  • We know that there will be Foursquare pastors & leaders from several countries in Europe, so there should be plenty of good opportunities for connecting.
  • We’ll be there for a couple of days.
  • That’s it.
  • Ouch. I should have known this might be the case, esp. because I knew that our leader’s life motto was “it’s all good.” (Truly, which is really funny looking back on the situation. In the middle of it, not so much ☺ …) It would have been prudent to have insisted on getting some details in advance of going; but now we were in it, so rather than get aggro, start accusing & assigning blame for the situation we were in, it was time to communicate – to get on the same page – to do what we could to prepare for the unknown. So we talked – & all took responsibility for helping us to navigate through the remainder of the trip until the point where we got home, me to my wife & 3 kids, all of whom I was missing more & more every second.

    Our arrival in Frankfurt, traveling through customs, & getting our bags were all uneventful… it also brought us to the point of no return, the unknown. We headed into the main section of the terminal, which borders the baggage carousel room, & started walking. With no known destination. Just looking for somebody. I prayed. Hard.

    Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a guy holding a sign with 1 word on it: ICHTHYS. From a missions video about Foursquare Germany that I’d seen in 1989, I knew that there was a American who’d planted a church in Germany, & that it was called ICHTHYS. I also knew that the word ICHTHYS was one that all kinds of churches & groups used – but I didn’t care. I grabbed my 2 traveling companions (as the other 2 mysterious travelers were… somewhere. No idea where they were for the entirety of our time in Germany,) & went over to the guy with the sign & asked: “Are you looking for some Americans to take to a Foursquare conference?” He was. YES! The elation I felt at that moment was indescribable. There was a tangible sense of encouragement that swept over me, a reminder from God that He was with us. That He was answering our prayers. And through all of the messed up, nebulous travel plans & snafu, He was in the middle of it, with us. With me. Yay. I hugged the guy, which I’m sure must have freaked him out.

    He took us on a series of trains. We changed 3 or 4 times, & then he told us we’d have about an hour to get to our destination: Fulda. A-ha. While my other traveling companions talked happily amongst themselves, I pumped our guide for info, & asked him everything that I could think of. It turned out that the guy was just going to be our guide to the conference; he wasn’t staying, & knew nothing about what was happening, other than he was to deliver us to the conference center, & that the only people at the conference center (aka: a hostel) would be people who were attending the conference. Ahhh. Nice. I allowed myself to let down, & noticed that I’d been on edge for as long as I could remember. For the first time in days, I knew rest & a bit of peace.

    The train station in Fulda was only a short walk (translation: a mile or 2) from the hostel – I can remember walking up the hill towards the hostel, just as twilight was settling in. It was beautiful… & there were small groups of people hanging around outside. And they were smoking. Chain-smoking. Almost all of them had a beer or a drink in their hand. As I made my way inside, I saw the main meeting room, & it was full of people, many of them speaking English (because of the multitude of nations represented, the main language used between people of other nations was English. Yes!)

    All around the room, the clusters of people were engaged in deep talks. And many of them were drinking too. I can remember thinking, “I thought that everyone here was here for the conference… hmm. Guess not.” In retrospect, it cracks me up, not because I was mortified at being around people who were drinking, or because I had something personally against drinking; its just that my experience with Christians & the church was that no one drank even the smallest amount of alcohol or smoked in public… esp. not pastors.

    After we found somebody to help us get registered, & I found the room where I’d be sleeping, I went down to the main meeting room to mingle. And to see if I could find some of the other attendees for the conference. I found the lady who registered us & asked her if she could tell me where the rest of the people for the Foursquare Europe conference were? She looked at me, puzzled, & waved her hand around as if to say, “they’re all here, all around. You’re in it.”

    I laughed, the kind of laugh that comes deep from within. It was my response to the very real ‘culture shock’ that I was experiencing firsthand. I laughed because I was being confronted with a situation so different from my past ‘church’ experiences… different from everything I’d been taught & everything I’d learned by observation about what real holiness & righteousness was… here were men & women that obviously loved God & were giving their lives in the context of pastoring… & they were also drinking beer & wine, in public even. I laughed because in that moment, I was hit with the realization that much of my experience with God/Christianity in the US had had an American cultural basis & bias… which was something that I’d sensed & been wrestling through for years.

    Over the years, I’d observed that a large chunk of the American Christian world believed that drinking of any sort was the kind of thing that people needed to be delivered from… for many, 1 beer was at the very least a gateway to all sorts of bondage & trouble for the ‘drinker,’ & at most was a stumbling block being placed in the way of others, tripping them up with a ‘false sense of freedom.’ I knew of people on staff at churches & attending Bible colleges, that had to sign pledges saying they wouldn’t drink even a little.

    I’d read the Bible & knew, deep down, that drinking beer, wine, etc. wasn’t the real issue & didn’t make someone more or less holy – & that the real issue was with a lifestyle of drunkenness. (If you’re brave &/or a glutton for punishment, you can read a series of blogs I wrote on the topic of Christians & alcohol HERE.) I also knew that, at home, in my city, I felt it was ok for me to drink beer (didn’t like wine at that point,) but also ‘knew’ that I was supposed to keep it quiet, & that many, many were against it. I wasn’t supposed to talk about it, or drink where people might see me doing it, & ‘be caused to stumble.’

    But in a moment, I felt a freedom, I felt a burden lift – & knew that if I was going to be authentic, be real, then I would be the same person all the time. Contending for freedom (NOTE: not being ‘pro-alcohol’, which I have been accused of, but that’s for another story,) & also not submitting to a yoke of slavery hidden by self-righteous religiousness.

    I laughed because I felt the presence of the LORD. And a joy. And a renewed perspective on me, my life, & the journey I was on. And I knew that I was glad that I was in Germany. And that God, & the kingdom of God were bigger & ‘more real’ than I’d ever imagined.

    Missions Development… #4

    I was in process & in conflict – & knew that I didn’t want to take another mission to Mexico like we’d done with the “Johnsons”… knew that I didn’t want to go & ‘serve’ American missionaries, people that were seemingly working the system for their own financial gain…

    I remember trying to explain to others what I was feeling, & being frustrated by it… knowing that the person listening to me was frustrated too. Felt misunderstood, seen as a hard-hearted person who didn’t care for those less fortunate that me… I was a youth pastor, after all, a person who’s job it is to go on missions. And to take others with him. It seems that I was asking questions that others hadn’t considered, or worse, considered to be meaningless, asinine, stupid, irrelevant. Looking back, I recognize it as God doing something creative in me – birthing something – at the time, though, I felt conflicted & frustrated in a way that I couldn’t explain.

    The more I thought about it, the more I wondered: if we were going to do a mission trip somewhere, what would we do? (vs. just knowing the “not do’s”. ) This thinking was a little too abstract or hypotheticalfor me – an idea hit me – personalize it. What would I want someone coming to my town to know/ask/be:

  • Be people that I’d want to spend time with – & enjoy, completely out of the context of missions work.
  • Ask: what can we do that would be a point of help for you? Are you planning on doing anything in the next year that we could be a part of, with you – vs. coming & telling me what they’re going to do in my town, to the people that I get to ‘live’ with & around – basically being confronted with people that would be considerate, take the time to know us, our values, what we’re like, & have a desire to truly help with the long-time work & life of us & our church family – not just coming to do their thing, & have their experience at our expense – wondering if we’d done that?
  • Living with a consideration, thinking about other peoples’ feelings – & what we’d do if the shoe was on the other foot – treating people like we wanted to be treated…
  • Come at a time that works for me & mine too, not just give a date & say ‘we’ll be here then…”
  • Be willing to have a mutual relationship – don’t want to be a notch on somebody’s missions belt – will you still love me tomorrow, after the mission is over?
  • SIDE NOTES: How much damage occurs to the local context when a group comes with no vested interest to do their thing – leaving WHAT in the wake of their visit? Why would a group come to a place & expect to be shuttled around & doted on while there – at the expense of the local staff’s own work & vacation?

    After the fiasco with the “Johnson Family”, Big Brick #2 in the foundation & development of my own ‘missions’ philosophy is the infamous (so famous its IN-famous) trip to Romania.

    The district youth director for our area wanted to lead a district wide youth trip to Eastern Europe – & his boss, the district supervisor asked me to be a part of the planning & preparation – & also to go as a support for the district: I said yes. Some pertinent info:

  • He’d been part of another denomination for a few years, & was loosely connected to a parachurch missions organization, led by an acquaintance of his, “Stefan” that he wanted to go through – to go to Romania!

    Over time, I learned & observed that some church & parachurch organizations functioned with their own agendas & programs (almost) completely independent of the people & places they wanted to visit. These agendas & programs were exported by the youth/students that the organization recruited (at a pretty high cost) to foreign countries & foreign peoples… the foreign nationals often ‘took the forced agenda & program’ because with it came very much needed money & resources, even though the mess & chaos left AFTER the church/parachurch group went home was often overwhelming & even destructive.

    So I went down my on-the-fly formulated checklist of questions to ask about missions:

  • I asked why Romania? It seemed like the thing to do, as Romania was big in the news because of the tremendous number of orphans.
  • Was there any possibility for long-term relationship? Don’t know.
  • Were there any churches from our tribe? Nope. None in the whole country.
    -Then where & why are we going? Stefan knew of a church we might be able to work with.
  • Any connections there in country? Nope. Its an opportunity to go – it’s a country in need (I knew this to be true, as post-Ceaucescu, the fall of the Berlin Wall, & the ‘failure’ of communism, Romania & its government were in shambles & chaos; quite a bit like many of the areas we’d been in the 3rd world sections of Mexico.)
  • Would there be a scouting trip to check out the lay of the land & get a plan? Yes. YES! Details on it? I’ll get back to you – 10 days long… We leave from SF & I’ll let you know more when I find out… (mistake not finding out in advance.)
  • Who’d be a part of the scouting trip? Me, you, & a guy from the National youth office – been a part of missions with a parachurch organization in the past ☺ – see note on parachurch organizations.
    -Found out after the fact that there were two more people that would come on the trip & would ‘appear’ out of nowhere – they were masters of disappearing at the most inopportune times. Like in the airports. And when there was work to be done. And when the possibility of an upgraded seat on the plane came available.

  • So the day finally came – I left my wife home with 3 kids, all under the age of 5, with theWeez as a baby less than 4 months old. I also left her no itinerary, no contact information, no nothing. Except a leaky roof. Ooops. Got on our plane & flew from SF to… London? Isn’t that in the UK? Umm. I thought we were going to Romania.

    We are – but we’re going to be in England for a couple of days first…

    Turns out there may have been a plan or an itinerary after all – but only our leader knew it. We went from connection to connection in a manner that seemed completely random to me – but that may have been the jetlag… Day 1 we rented a car & drove a couple of hours to Birmingham… & stopped by to meet with a couple of guys from a church we may or may not have had an appointment at. Ate Indian food. Went to a youth/college meeting where we sat on the floor in the dark with about 25 Brits – & worshipped to the sound of a keyboard… it was the first time I’d ever heard/sang “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever” & Deliriou5? Amazing – as was our time with our new friends.

    Spent the night at the house of the youth pastor, Pip. It’d make you laugh to say “Pip,” if he wasn’t such a burly dude… I was surprised to see him wearing the same clothes he’d had on the day before. I truly was learning something new everyday – like the cost of showering & washing clothes was high, so high that people were economical with the use of water. Hmm.

    We were leaving for the next leg of our trip, (finally to Romania!) & left some of our bags at Pip’s house- as we were on our way out, he asked if he could pray for me. He prayed a couple of things that still linger in my consciousness:

  • God’s given you a pastor’s heart – & it’s a good heart that fits you.
  • You’ll be pastoring people – a church – soon. And leaving the place where you currently are to do it.
  • God’s not going to send you to a school where you can get a piece of paper, a diploma, that validates you. When people see you & your life, they will know that you’re just a normal person, a person that has been with Jesus.
  • First off, I never wanted to be a pastor – & secondly, this guy didn’t know me at all… which is why it bugged me that he prayed it – not that he was putting a trip over on me, but because… I didn’t want to be a pastor. And had no desire to ever become one. I knew too many of them, & they didn’t look like they were having that much fun. I didn’t ‘fit’ the mold… & really didn’t want to try to cram myself into the mold, to become something different than I felt that I was.

    We left Birmingham & drove to… Newcastle. So much for our trip to Romania. Turns out our fearless leader had a contact through his former church & a ministry called CI & there was a CI meeting happening that night in Newcastle. And we were going.

    The meeting was based out of a college lecture room – the worship was raucous & the people were mostly of college age, & were all over the place. Literally bouncing up & down, rolling on the floor. One of the more exuberant mid-renewal meetings I’d been a part of. What stood out to me the most were two things:

  • The leader of the meeting pulled us aside during a portion of the worship that was really on the edge (esp. from my past experiences) & said: “There’s stuff happening right now that is people acting in their flesh… & I would like to correct, direct, & shape – and I’m so glad that they’re willing to give their all for God, even if their zeal is out of whack… because its easier to instruct the living than it is to raise the dead..” (meaning: at least they’re here, they’re involved in what’s happening, & they’re giving God their all… vs. those that are doing their best impression of the “frozen chosen.” )
  • One of the students, couldn’ta been more than 18 asked if he could pray for me; he prayed: God has given you a pastor’s heart, but you don’t need to worry. He’s made clothes that fit just you, & He’s made you like you are. You can be you, & still have this heart. And be a pastor.
  • By this time, I was pretty amazed, blown away even. 2 strangers on 2 different days telling me the same thing – maybe this part of the trip, chaotic & seemingly unplanned, a challenge to me on my most basic levels of preparation, was actually being used by God for another, different, formative purpose for me.

    We drove back down to Birmingham to take a flight for… Frankfurt? Turns out, there was a Foursquare Europe event taking place at a camp ‘somewhere’ outside of Frankfurt, & seeings as we were this close, we should probably go & check it out, to see if there were any people we could connect with.

    At this time, we’d been in the UK for 3 or 4 days – I hadn’t communicated with theBean at all – didn’t know how to make a call, didn’t know where I was, really, & knew nothing of where we were going, or where we’d be tomorrow.

    This ‘scouting trip’ both birthed & confirmed something in me about missions:

  • Everyone on the team needs a copy of the itinerary; this includes family members back at home – so they can be in the “know” & be praying. And also to set their minds at ease.
  • We need to be prepared & take time to communicate with each other while on the trip – what’s happening & why? Where are we going & what are we trying to do? Daily communications are a KEY to navigating through the proverbial curve-balls that inevitably arise on trips.
  • Phoning home isn’t something that is just for ET. It must be done.
  • Knowing where we’re going, who we’re meeting, & what we’re looking for when we get there must be known – & confirmed. And reconfirmed. Leave nothing to chance. Prepare, re-prepare, & prepare again. Because with jet-lag, language & culture differences, travel discomfort, & opposition from the dark one, the details & potential challenges MUST be worked through…
  • Next – to Frankfurt…

    Missions Development… #3

    The next place I really remember being shaped in what missions is to me happened shortly after getting into volunteering at our church to work with Jr & Sr High youth. One of the guys that helped us with the youth group was an OB/GYN (aka “The Good Doctor”), & had a history of being a part of of a mission to Baja. So, we ended up backing into an opportunity that sounded really good – & was an opportunity to get our feet wet in cross-cultural missions.

    The mission was to a little town on the coast of Baja, below Ensenada about 90 minutes, called San Quintin. The place was actually a combo of a church, hospital, & home base for the pastor & doctors at the hospital. The Good Doctor volunteered his time & skills for a week a year to help the hospital out with mass numbers of cases in a short period of time – cases beyond the experience of the local docs, & also non-emergency cases that just didn’t have time to get done otherwise. This environment allowed any students/others on the trip that wanted to check out working in a hospital to do so, often in a very hands on way (baby delivery, stitches, etc. Yes.)

    The rest of us did work projects around the home base every morning – for the local church, helping out with clean up of the grounds, & some very amateur (yet very skillfully designed by the locals) building projects. In the afternoons, the majority of us would go to a nearby “migrant workers” camp – a fenced in collection of housing units, made up of row after row of shacks, made of corrugated metal, each sharing a common roof & dirt floor. The only plumbing available was a pump handled water spout in the middle of the camp, & the primitive latrines were often a trench at the edge of the camp.

    Most of the people staying in the camps came from Oaxaca & Chiapas, the southern tip of Mexico, in the Yucatan peninsula. Most, if not all, came from an indigenous-Indian heritage, meaning indigenous dialect/language, very few spoke some rudimentary Spanish, & none spoke English. They lived a poverty that was poorer than poor… poor to a level that I’d never seen. I can remember as clear as yesterday thinking about what Jesus said, “The poor we’ll have with us always…” & crying out inside “dear God, the injustice…”.

    It wasn’t uncommon for both parents to be working in the fields, chasing the harvest of whatever happened to be ripe at the moment – (hence the name “Migrant” ) – leaving the camps full of kids taking care of kids – 3 year olds taking care of babies, & the occasional nursing mom caring for the rest.

    We did a VBS (vacation Bible school,) meaning we attempted to contextualize the gospel using hand motions, & acts of kindness; knowing all the while that we weren’t understood – but that the clothes & shoes we provided went to good use. Made me wonder if Jesus comes through in situations like this… the images are burned into my memory… the poverty & our helplessness… what could we do? Provide free labor, meet felt needs, & try to help in a seemingly hopeless situation?

    One of the clearest pictures of the love of Jesus I’ve ever seen happened in a migrant camp. A teenager, a beautiful young lady from our church, (AP) came upon a little one that couldn’t have been older than my niece (13 months) – the baby was wearing a diaper that she had to have been wearing for several days due to the state of the diaper, the duct tape that had been used to secure it to the baby, & the very obvious overflow of dried excrement & urine all over the baby & her clothes.

    AP gathered 3 or 4 other girls to help her, & they spent the better part of an hour soothing the baby’s tears, then cleaning the baby up, putting on a new diaper, fresh clothes, socks & shoes. Finding a sibling of the baby to give more diapers to, more clothes. Wipes. I watched & wept. They didn’t care about the mess, getting dirty. They jumped into a hopeless situation & didn’t ask, “where are the NEXT diapers going to come from?” They just did what they could – & loved that baby. I believe that we will have a reunion in heaven with that baby, & that AP & the others will see her again, & they will know each other, & rejoice.

    Over the next years, we took several trips to San Quintin, & saw great relationships built within our team. Each time, we came away with a sense of gratitude for what we have at home; having been confronted with an incomprehensible poverty & how others live; questioning what we call necessities for our Christianity to be lived out, personally & corporately.

    I always found myself comparing the message of the gospel as preached in my American context, to what is preached where we were – would the gospel message of the USA be understood or even relevant? It seemed to me that outside of our local, 1st world context, a lot of it just slipped through the cracks… If that was the case, that was not ok… wasn’t the gospel something that is applicable & real to everyone on the planet – regardless of background, education, culture, country of origin etc? & shouldn’t the stuff that was ‘important’ cross-cultural barriers?

    Interesting to look back on my own thinking – missions clearly in that context had a felt-needs application. Often it seemed that there was no real connecting with those that we were ministering to/with… part of it was due to the language barrier, but to me it seems that it may have been more of a ‘great white hope brings their stuff, $, & resources” relationship… an unequal relationship based on superior/inferior economic status; a dependent relationship.

    Made me think & wonder: How do the locals think about us after we’re gone? What sort of things do we ‘help’ them to learn in order to get our $/resources, to have a team come & visit? How often have we downloaded our ministry methods, (aka “the right way”) that people do things in the States that they should be doing too – stuff that is 100% method based, not about message?

    I am eternally indebted to the “Johnson” family for a quantum leap in my formative missions thinking process. They were an American missionary family that had relocated to the Baja. From my observation, it seemed that they’d found a good life – one where they could minister to the locals by serving as a liaison for teams (& $) from the US to the local churches & pastors;to get missions support from the US, from those that couldn’t/didn’t come to save the locals. All the while living a very comfortable life in the Baja – satellite dish, fishing & skiing boat, & nice cars. At the same time, hosting the occasional American team (at a cost of $50/head,) so that the team could do some VBS work… & also be a part of the beautification, landscaping, & clean-up of their property, affectionately dubbed the “Johnson Family Compound.”

    BTW: Lest you think I’m treating this too harshly – a couple of our days of VBS work in the migrant camps were cancelled because our guide, Mr. Johnson, decided to take the boat out for some fishing instead. And to watch game 7 of the NBA Finals. Truly. And in place of going to VBS, we got to listen to Mrs. Johnson talk to us for 3 hours about “putting on Christ.”

    I know that I saw through this – & that the students on the trip did too. Made me feel sick – people working a system of inequity, for personal gain (didn’t Paul write something about that.?)

    I determined that I wasn’t going to be a part of something like this in the future – & therefore, needed a clearer guiding philosophy to be able to know what to say Yes & No too.

    Here’s some things that came up:
    • Every trip needs a ‘scouting trip’ – where the details of the time in-country would be checked, double-checked & worked out, leaving as little to interpretation as possible.
    • Coming as equals, not as financial saviours
    • Has to be giving & receiving – from both sides.
    • Based on relationship – not a one hit wonder (going 1 place, 1 time, then looking for another place to go “next time’)
    • And what else???

    Coming up:
    • Adventures at Street Church in Vancouver, Canadia
    • The Russian mob in Romania
    • A chance meeting in Germany

    Missions Development… #2

    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.

    The development of a philosophy of missions #1, Or Becoming Missional…

    It’s a long title, I know… This post, & the next few are a part of a project I’m working on to help answer “Why are you always going to Germany?” & “How come Hillside has a ‘sister church’ in Frankfurt?” It will chronicle the thought processes behind my own development & understanding of what missions is, as well as the situations, people, & happenings that have most shaped me & my outlook on missions, & what it means to me to live out faith, missionally.

    At the end of my Jr. Year, in the summer before my Senior year, the youth group I was a part of was participating in a “mission team” to Mexico City… the city that was hosting the World Cup, a place that the whole world would be descending upon for a short time with the focus being on who had the best soccer team in the world. The purpose of the trip was to ‘evangelize/share the gospel message with the people coming to Mexico City.’ Our youth group was partnering with 2 or 3 other groups from different parts of California, most notably San Mateo, to put together ‘outreach teams’. My youth pastor asked me to consider going – I spoke broken Spanish, don’t you know? – & helped me raise the money to go. I was working a job in landscaping & through that & a couple of well-meaning donors, I was able to raise the $700 necessary for the airfare & all of our ‘in-country’ supplies.

    I’d never been on a mission trip before, & didn’t know what to expect. We met as the Reno group a couple of times in advance of our trip to talk about what we’d be doing (though I don’t remember what we talked about,) & 1x with all the other youth groups that would be going too – to familiarize ourselves with them; to work out an organizational plan so that no one would get lost in the biggest city in the whole world at a time where more people were descending on the aforementioned biggest city than could be imagined… My group (which existed for the purposes of travel) had 5 people in it, & we named the group the “Jackson 5” – (back in the day when they were Oh So Cool, & before Michael became… Michael.) The idea of a large group travelling in a bunch of smaller groups to avoid confusion in airports, subways, train stations & buses is something that I carry with me to this day…

    It seemed like such a good idea at the time. We were going to go to Mexico City, which I imagined as very impoverished & needy of the gospel of Jesus, to present the gospel through some amateur plays, songs in Spanish (that we’d just learned,) & by handing out gospel tracts in front of the main stadium where the semi-finals & finals of the Copa Mundial were to be played.

    As we arrived by plane in the city, it became very clear to me that every thought of what I had imagined would be happening on this mission trip went out the window – looking as far to the left & right that I could, seeing only the vast expanse of big city, La Ciudad, Mexico City.

    to be continued…