The Unlikely Missionary

“Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!”
(Psalm 139:23-24)

I should never have gone on the mission trip my sophomore year of college.  I did not deserve to go.  I was a terrible witness to the Christian life.  There were many who deserved to go, who would have done better – why was I selected as part of the summer mission team?  I didn’t deserve it, but I sure needed it.

I had become a master of hypocrisy; living the duplicitous lifestyle of a rebellious, foul-mouthed, directionless twerp – who, in the right surroundings, could also sing and extol the praises of the Lord with the best of the saints.  I was everything those outside the church say is wrong inside the church.  I had no sense of discipline, I “kicked at the goads,” and what’s worse, I really didn’t care.

I didn’t care about what my behavior was saying about my Lord, my family, even myself.  You might think that I only cared about myself, but while I might have been self-centered I certainly didn’t take care of my life.  I had no self-respect, and no respect for those around me.

I think I applied for the Summer Mission Program because I wanted the experience of going somewhere that people didn’t know me, to escape my problems for a summer, pad my resume with some “good works;” who knows what really motivated me.  Maybe it was my soul longing to be in a place where God would transform me.

I spent that summer in inner city San Jose, CA, working with City-Team Ministries.  City-Team had a great program that 1) brought inner city kids to a camp in the mountains for a week, 2) led Bible school programs for children at various locations throughout the city.  Working in the inner city that summer were a group of college kids from California, Canada, Iowa, and then me.  We had a great time sharing Bible stories with the kids, kids who just wanted to be loved and were eager to love us in return.

Thing is, I still wasn’t happy.  Being in a place like that for the summer, I had no place to hide.  The kids saw right though me.  The other volunteers for the summer saw through me too.  I still have the group picture we took that summer – I’m the one not smiling.

People always say that when you go on a mission trip, you think you are going to help other people, only to find out you are the one who receives the greater blessing.  That happened to me that summer.  Looking back I tell people that during that time there God was destroying the foundation that I had set my life upon – taking away the masks, the lies, the façade that I could never hope to maintain.  God was searching out the deepest parts of my life, my hidden heart, and was exposing my pride, my stubborn will, my disobedience – and purging those things with His refining fire.  God used that summer to begin a new work in me – it was painful, His hand was upon me, there was a great deal of pruning involved.  It was a hard summer, the work was emotionally exhausting, and the battle raging in my heart was spiritually exhausting.  But by the time we were done, I had learned to stop fighting, and to resign to the gracious work of God in my life.

Now I’m not suggesting that this is the right way to go into a mission trip, not by a long shot.  But I do maintain that getting involved in missions will transform you.  You will see the world differently, you will see yourself differently, you will learn to trust the Lord differently.

This the one of the benefits from following God into the mission field.  There are many more, but this is one that I know personally.  My prayer is that this mission to Haiti will bring real transformation to those who are going, and to those who are giving their support.


Remembering the Call

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”
Isaiah 6:8

A week from now I will have been in Haiti for one full day.
As I prepare this week to go on this mission trip, my mind turns back to the first mission trip I ever participated in.
I almost didn’t go that year. Our youth group was going on a mission to Monterey, Mexico to work in the poverty stricken barrios, leading the children in bible lessons, but mostly just showing them the love of God through our work and play. I was an alternate for the trip that year, and when I got the call that I was going – we had to scramble to get me there. I had to expedite my passport. We had to drive to Topeka, KS to get an authorized copy of my birth certificate. I had to come up with the money, fast. It almost didn’t happen, but when my passport came the day before we left, the way was clear and I was gone.
I had never seen anything quite like what I saw that summer in Monterey. I had up to that point thought my family was poor, when compared to the people we met, I was embarrassingly rich. I thought I had faced challenges and trials in life at 15, but I met 8 year old who were living on the streets, scavenging for their meals, and usually looking out for their younger brothers and sisters.
My eyes were opened, my heart was broken; I would not go home the same.
Then the hurricane hit.
Growing up in Kansas, I had seen my share of Tornadoes. We were the kind to go out on the front porch and watch them blow by – we were Kansas tough. The thing about Tornadoes is, they come up quick, blow things around a bit, tear a lot of stuff up, but then there gone just as quick as they came.
Not a Hurricane. Before those hit there’s the rain, the flooding; then the wind comes, but the rain and the flood doesn’t stop. And it it can last for days.
Fortunately, this one only lasted for the better part of an afternoon and evening. As the storm approached, all the youth were gathered into the chapel to ride out the storm. We prayed, we sang, we read Scripture. Windows were broken, the girls screamed, I prayed even harder.
That’s when I knew. I was praying just that the Lord would deliver me through the storm, this was too much for a Kansas kid. But in that time of scripture and prayer, I heard the call to ministry. It wasn’t really an audible voice, I wasn’t hearing things, but there was a call nonetheless. In my heart I knew, “This is where you are supposed to be.”
It took a long time to figure out what that would look like. At first I thought I was called to youth ministry – I never wanted to be a stuffy old preacher. I pursued that, did that, but in the process, and through the support and direction of some great mentors, I discerned the calling to pastoral ministry – and I still reject the idea that I am a stuffy old preacher (though the old is coming despite my best efforts).
“This is where you are supposed to be.” This is where I belong. This is what God has called me to do. The mission I had in Mexico that summer is the same mission I have in Iowa these past 7 years: to proclaim the gospel boldly with love and compassion, living for the glory of God in the fullness of joy.
I am what I am today because of mission. It is my prayer that the same sovereign grace that laid claim to my life that summer will transform the lives of our mission team and our church even still.