Someone once asked me , “Do you enjoy running every time you go?” I had to stop and reflect for a moment. My answer was, “No, not every time. In fact there are many runs that I don’t enjoy at all. But there are enough moments of joy and peace that I continue to lace up my running shoes and head out.” And now, as I struggle to complete my physical therapy and watch the snow melt, I especially miss the joy of heavy breathing and quickly moving feet.
I believe the same is true for our walk with Jesus Christ. Not every moment is filled with love, joy and peace. In fact our connection to Jesus will also connect us to the suffering and pain in the world. I don’t think God calls us out of the world, but to deeper life in the world, the world he created and redeemed.
Learning to be patient with my Jamaican friends
For the past ten springs I led a mission trip to Jamaica. Yes, I would spend some time on the beach soaking up the sun and enjoying the surf. But Jamaica is a very poor country and I invested more time in parts of Jamaica that the tourist rarely see, helping to build Habitat for Humanity homes. The work certainly had moments of frustration and discouragement. “What is one house among so many needy people?” Still I knew from years of experience that one house, one life, one testimony can bear witness to the transforming love and power of Jesus. As I listened to Jamaicans, I discovered their patient faith and joy. And those moments of joy keep me going through the tougher times.
Even as I struggle in the present with my lack of running, I am hopeful for the future. I am confident that I will run again with Jesus. I am confident that new international mission trips lie ahead for Resurrection Lutheran Church. Patient trust in God’s mercy will provide the way. “You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11
What has struggle taught you in your relationship with Jesus?
I am still thinking about the magi’s journey to Bethlehem to see baby Jesus. Preaching on a text sometimes hammers it deep into one’s psyche. What strikes me is the investment the magi made. They gave not only the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, but also the time and energy for the trip itself. They entered a foreign culture to pay homage to an infant king who was not immediately their own.
I see so many connections in this story to the value of short-term mission trips, especially to different cultures. As one who has lead over a dozen mission trips to Jamaica, I see the investment and hopes that people make when they go on a “vacation with a purpose.” A key element of that preparation is to recognize that they go to discover Jesus in that place, more than to bring Jesus to that place. The Christian service or actions that the missionaries perform are important, but the relationships, conversations, and participation with the people of that new culture are what become holy and blessed.
Too often I can become fixated on the physical accomplishments of a trip. When I have worked with Habitat for Humanity it brings me satisfaction that we have constructed a safe, secure, simple structure for a family in need. And when a team runs out of building materials or out of time, I feel frustrated and disappointed.
Still the bigger accomplishment in any trip is the network of relationships that develop in the community. Worship, meals, conversations and play are just as significant as the work done on the house; we often meet Jesus, hidden in the smile of a child or in the song of an impromptu choir. Those encounters with Jesus change and enlighten us, if we give them “homage.” Time for reflection and prayer have been a key element in my mission journeys because they help us bring Jesus home after the trip.
I look forward to leading mission trips in the future. I sense that Jesus is waiting.
Have you ever encountered Jesus in a different culture than your own?