Monday, June 2, 2014

Why We Go

Our largest team to date will depart this week for the Dominican Republic to work on construction projects, along with a medical team working in poor neighborhoods and a Pastor’s School for our partner church there. I smile as I realize that our three-year partnership is in its twelfth year. Since our first journey in 2002, people from Stone Ridge Church have been to the Dominican at least 25 times.
I remember well some of our hopes and dreams from that very first trip. It was what cemented, not only our church-to-church partnership, but scores of life-long friendships among people from both churches. That first trip began to make us painfully aware of some great needs in that country, but it took a few other experiences to show us our subtle arrogance when we thought that our purpose was to go and "fix things" there. Quickly we discovered that they knew so much more than we about faith and hard work and strategies to reach their culture with the Good News of Jesus Christ. We learned that we are at our best when they take the lead and we simply serve.
Our first trip came as a result of an invitation that we bring a music team to sing at the annual gathering of their association of churches. Though I live in a place where 115 degree summer days are common, I found myself amazed as 600 Dominicans gathered in a space that was way too small, way too warm and way too humid. The Saturday meeting was scheduled to adjourn at noon and my overheated body was certainly ready. 12:00 came and went, but even the smell of roasted meat wafting in from outside didn’t tempt the locals. Instead of ducking for the doors, they insisted upon, then stayed in the packed room for another half hour of worship; I don’t usually see scenes like that in the U.S.
That simple beginning has led me to some of the best friendships I have on the planet. When I arrive, I love to tell people, "Yuma is my home, but my heart is in Puerto Plata." There is a back story, though, and it is very personal for me. You see, for years I didn’t leave the U.S. to participate in missions work. After my very first international trip in 1981, it took over twenty years for me to go again. Then, though we had scores of people traveling to the D.R. to work with our partner church, I didn’t go a second time for another 2 ½ years.
Why, you may ask, did I not go even when we had teams traveling down? I used a variety of excuses, like "It’s not my thing." "I will give so others can go." Perhaps the most plausible-sounding excuse was, "Why not just give our money for the missionaries who live there? They can make a much larger difference." Some of you have surely felt or said some of these same things. Therefore, please take a few minutes to read on. Obviously, my commitments have changed (this is actually my third trip to the Dominican this year) and I think we have some pretty good reasons for why we go.
1. We go because we can make a difference. When one of our team members is hand-mixing concrete next to Haitian laborers, they are making a difference, by the work being done and the relationships being developed. The same is true when a doctor or nurse is hearing the hurts of poor people and dispensing much-needed medications. The difference we make grows exponentially each time one of our teams arrives in their country; many churches come once, but they have come to know us as people who keep coming back to work with them.
2. We go because our worldview gets stretched and our priorities get challenged. Our idea of hardship can be about a meal being 15 minutes late or not cooked to our tastes. We complain when the cable TV goes out for a few minutes. It does us good to meet and mingle with people who don’t always know where the next meal will come from and live with the daily reality that the electricity can go off for hours and they can do nothing about it.
3. We go because we love. Many join one of our teams for adventure, but they often encounter hardship they didn’t anticipate. What keeps bringing us back is the people. It’s the little children in Haitian villages who take us by the hand as we walk their town's narrow paths (often with raw sewage trickling at our feet); they leap into our hearts. It’s the elderly who smile at us and and the young adults who greet us in our language and the people who serve in the hotels where we stay; they all find their way into our lives and love just spills out naturally.
4. We go because we always come home with more than we took. Just recently, I told a Stone Ridge friend: "Your days on that mission trip will be some of the most joyful days of your life." One of the things we keep learning about God’s economy is that we always trade up with Him. We give something to His honor and glory and He gives us more in return. I have never been on a trip in which I felt like we gave more than we received; in fact, it’s always just the opposite. We realize that we are like the little boy who gave his lunch to Jesus, then saw Christ feed thousands with it. Everyone was full, but the little boy’s heart had to be the fullest of all!
Wherever you are, I hope that you will someday choose to go to a place of need. I pray that your world gets rocked when you see how the rest of the world lives. I pray that your priorities will change because your love grows in ways you couldn’t have imagined. If you choose well, the trip will cost you something. It will cost your time, your energy, your money, and your prayers. But, if you go with an open heart, your life will never be the same.
While we are gone, it will be an exciting weekend at Stone Ridge. Don’t miss this week’s edition of "Life Repurposed!" Can’t be there? Catch the podcast.

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