Union with the Other
Without a doubt, one of the hardest things about a mission trip, especially the short ones, is the constant busyness. I think of house-building trips I have been on with groups, especially one’s where I was on the leadership team where the schedule went something like this:
- 6 am wake up for leadership team meeting
- 630 am breakfast
- 7 am devotion time that was usually time to make that last baño run
- 730 am leave for worksites
- 8 am-5pm build
- 530 pm soccer
- 630 pm dinner
- 730 pm campfire time (worship, talk, etc.)
- 930 pm leader meeting
- 10 pm get everyone into their tents
- 1030 pm sleep
Sleep, eat, work, spend time with other people, eat, spend time around the campfire, and sleep - and we do this for four or five days, a week, or a month!
How in the world can I fit spiritual disciplines into this schedule?!
Here are a few “disciplines” that you can undoubtedly fit into the busyness that is a short-term mission trip:
Silence and Solitude
One of the great youth pastors I know, Mike Flavin, has led groups on short-term mission trips to Mexico, Philadelphia, New York, Southern California, and New Jersey for more than 30 years. I had the pleasure of working alongside him at the Presbyterian Church in New Providence for three years while I was at seminary, and I can remember talking about being in Tijuana, “away from it all.” He talks about living in the dirt and the silence without cell phones and TVs and computers. He loves being in Mexico as much as any person I know. It was as if he walked up the mountain with Moses to be in the presence of God.
In any short-term mission trip, there can be this sense of “getting away,” in particular when it is with Amor Ministries and you spend the night in tents, showering with buckets, and going to the baño in a hole on a campsite far from anything like our home lives. There is already this natural entering into a sort of silence. The question is, what are we going to do with this silence?
One of the great examples Jesus set for us was his retreat to the wilderness or up a mountain to spend time praying. Luke 5: 16 simply states, “But he would withdraw to deserted places to pray” (New Revised Standard Version). This statement is even more impressive because just before this, the gospel narrative states that Jesus was becoming increasingly popular and famous, more and more people wanted and needed his attention. But, he would go away, be alone, pray, spend time talking to and listening to his Father.
So, while practicing the presence of God (check out this other post on Spiritual Disciplines) throughout the day is what we seek, we also must follow Jesus’ example and get some alone time in the midst of the madness of a short-term mission trip so that the whole of us is made available to those with whom we will interact. May we serve one another and alongside one another from the overflowing stream that is welling up inside each of us.
"We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship." ~ C.S. Lewis, 'Weight of Glory'
Slow down. Take everything in - the sights, the sounds, the smells, the tastes, the feelings. Embrace the Otherness and let the Otherness embrace you.
My wife April and I recently had the opportunity to host four pastors and missionaries at our apartment in Cancun as they took part in a two-week seminar for their Latin American Doctoral Program in Theology (PRODOLA). We had some amazing conversations with these men and women, but one in particular stood out to us the most. While out to dinner with Irma from Peru, a missionary to the indigenous people of the Amazon, she told us about how the life of Jesus influenced her. She pointed out that Jesus spent 30 years in the world - learning the culture, learning about people, learning about ways of doing things and ways of saying things, learning... - He lived life simply as a human being with a mom and dad, friends and family, studying and working, laughing and playing, crying and stressing; AND THEN, He changed the world forever. Every word He spoke and sermon He preached came out of those 30 years and his experiences of life - he knew the culture inside and out. Every action He did was based on what he knew, how it would fit in the culture and how it would challenge institutions and structures. Based on this example, Irma went into the Amazonian jungle and spent 18 years with the indigenous peoples - learning and embracing the Other, becoming the Other - AND THEN she began to share her faith with the people, and she and her testimony were and are being accepted as she continues to live with the people to whom God called her many years ago. She became one with the Other, embracing their Otherness, and in turn, there is no Other. She and the Other have become one.
I think the question we must all ask ourselves when we go on a mission trip is, why am I doing this? Often, we see the plight of the Other and we want to go help them out a little bit. We think, maybe I can alleviate some of THEIR poverty, some of THEIR pain. But, if this is our mindset, I wonder if we are missing the point - of being missional, of being a Christian, of following Jesus?
In fact, I know I still am.
When I return to the luxuries of my home, to the table and refrigerator full of food, to the television and comfy couch, to so much more than I could ever need - leaving the family with one bed for ten children, the little boy with one serving of rice and beans per day, the young girl with no money to pay for a school uniform.
The spiritual discipline of Embrace is quite possibly the most important of all of the disciplines that are external and toward the Other. Because when it happens, when we truly Embrace, we can not go on living the same, we will not go on living the same. With Embrace, another’s children have become my own, another’s empty stomach has become my own, another’s naked body is just as important as mine. Sympathy becomes empathy as I have found myself in another’s shoes and their needs have become my own.
So, in the midst of your short-term mission trip, Embrace, both literally and figuratively, and in turn the Other(ness) will embrace you.
“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” - Albert Einstein