Sunday, August 12, 2012

Book-Ended in Worship - Colombia July 2012

The Beginning - Worship

My wife, Kim, and I had the privilege and blessing of leading a short-term missions team to Colombia last month with Revealing Hope Ministries. This trip was our second missions trip overall but our first with Revealing Hope and our first to Colombia. (I should mention that this is the second year I have served on the Revealing Hope Board of Directors). This is my attempt to evaluate the experience, to reflect on the trip, what I saw and what God is teaching me. Two of our team members – my wife, Kim, (Colombia Mission Trip 2012) and Scott Lewis (Puerto Caldas, Mansome & Ecclesiastes), a long-time accountability partner – have already written about the trip. I will do my best not to repeat what they have written and to make this personal.

Preparation

Our go team of six met three times in preparation for this trip. We worked through materials that Pete Stanke, the Executive Director of Revealing Hope, put together. We prayed together. We talked about expectations. We worked through devotionals to prepare us. The team also participated in the Revealing Hope Benefit Dinner in late May. But honestly, I struggled with preparation for this trip. The previous mission trip that Kim and I led to Braila, Romania in November 2011 through Harvest Bible Fellowship focused on small group leader training and biblical counseling training. So that team had to develop our teaching approach and the trainer and participant materials for the weekday sessions at Biserica Metanoia Braila and for a Saturday conference with several churches in Galati, Romania. Apart from the meetings, the devotionals and trying to focus on it in my quiet times with the Lord, I wasn't sure how to prepare for this trip. But a few things stuck out from the benefit dinner, our team meetings and communications:
  1. After seeing a video of the village we were going to serve in at the benefit dinner, I was even more drawn in and had an increased feeling that we had to go.
  2. Everyone on the team was struggling to feel prepared.
  3. Grace Johnson talked about and got us all praying that we would be able to quickly engage with the team at Seeds of Affection and with those they serve.
Still as the trip quickly approached, I realized I had incomplete exprectations for the mission trip to Western Colombia – about where we were going, a little bit still about what we would do, about what God had in store for me.

Travel

The team gathered at O'Hare International Airport at 5am CDT on a Tuesday to start the journey knowing we wouldn't arrive at our home for the week in Western Colombia until nearly 11pm CDT. Three flights, one long, “we have no time to grab lunch, we have to hurry or miss our plane to Bogota” speed walk through the Miami Airport and a pizza dinner from the 24-hour pizza place at the Bogota airport later, we found out that our bags hadn't made the whole trip with us. As I watched the team members react to that realization in their first hours in a new country after a long day of travel, I was greatly encouraged. “No luggage” didn't faze anyone. The team really did take a “we are here to serve” attitude with them to Colombia.

On the Ground

After a quick night of sleep trying to adjust to a new country, the courtyard house we were staying in, a new bed and the temperature, we had some breakfast and were in the van headed out to Puerto Caldas and Seeds of Affection for the first time. Within a few minutes of arriving and being introduced to Jose and Pilar, the whole team was quickly at work preparing food for the lunch that would be served to many in the community. If you know me, first of all, stop laughing. Actually my lack of experience in the kitchen, being in a new place and having the language barrier was a good environment for me to be in that first day. There would be no level of comfort. It was simply a feeling of “I am here to serve in the name of Jesus.” And our whole team had the same approach. We were quickly working alongside the team at Seeds of Affection – an answer to that team prayer.

That first day in the midst of the lunch rush as hundreds were fed from the small building that Seeds of Affection operates from in Puerto Caldas, Pili (as her friends know her) asked me through a translator what I thought. I told Pili I was amazed at how many people were served, at the amount of activity in the space and perhaps even more so by the number and ages of those who served. Several of the girls immediately started serving and obviously were integral to what happens in the feeding program at Seeds of Affection.

One of the toughest parts of the trip for me to handle came up the second afternoon in Puerto Caldas. Jose and Pili had arranged for the team to go into several homes in the community to pray. The team drove up the road, split into smaller teams of 3-4 including a translator and went into homes. In two of the homes – in fairly similar, extremely meager circumstances – I saw the contrast between hope and despair. In the first home, the young mother had a smile on her face and the light of Jesus Christ shining in her eyes even as a tear slowly moved down from her left eye as she told us how we could pray for her and her family. In that second home we encountered a situation I was not prepared for. To avoid embarrassing anyone or any risk of coming across as condescending, I will not share the details here. The young mother in this home cried as we walked in, as she told us how we could pray for her and throughout our time of prayer. If she knew Jesus, the light and hope of our Savior was not yet shining brightly in her. I was greatly challenged to pray and really call out to God when I wanted to cry and just hug that family. But God knew that, which was a reassuring comfort right there as our team wrestled to minister to the young woman and her daughters through prayer in that moment.

This brings up a theme for me from the trip. It was an emotionally overwhelming trip for me in many ways. I am still dealing with it. I don't write that for anyone to feel for me or anything like that. Rather, I share it to acknowledge that there is more processing to do. And I don't want this to end with “processing.” I choose not to let it end there. There is follow-up action required. Why else would God have put Kim and me in the position to lead this team and this trip?


We are Made to Worship 

I want to highlight something that God once again reinforced for me on this trip. And while it didn't surprise me at all it did encourage me. We are made to worship the Almighty. And the faith of a believer is indeed built up and built up quickly in the house of God with the people of God regardless of location or language. After our second day of serving with Seeds of Affection and an afternoon of praying with families in Puerto Caldas, the team went back to Cartago for a short time of rest and clean-up before Thursday night worship at Iglesia Casa de Paz. While I searched for the final touches on the message God would have me share with the church, I needed to get vertical and get to some God-exalting worship in the van on the drive over to the church. When our driver couldn't find a cord for the auxiliary/MP3 player to the van's stereo that meant listening to and worshiping along to songs using just the speaker on my Droid. No matter, Kim and I were quickly singing to our God in worship along with a pre-release copy of the new Live Worship from Vertical Church, which was recorded in February at the new Chicago campus of our home church, Harvest Bible Chapel. There was no prompting, no “let's do this.” We both longed to worship and to be fully prepared to enter in to worship of our great God in our first corporate worship service in Latin America. And within minutes of entering the worship center, I was drawn into God-exalting, man-humbling worship – i.e., right where I should be – with our brothers and sisters in Cartago – even in a language I don't yet understand well.

The Chicas

Saturday afternoon brought a time of ministry that is still impacting me. I cannot shake it. My wife described it well. I encourage you to read about it in her trip summary  (Colombia Mission Trip 2012). I won't soon forget those hours with the Chicas en Marcha (i.e., Girls on the March). I want to help those teenage girls have hope, help them to stand strong in the Lord, help them to make it, to become godly young women. That is one of the main drivers that have me asking...

Now What?

I don't yet know what all to do with my experience on this trip. I don't yet know all that Kim and I should do to help the people, especially the children and youth, of Puerto Caldas. I don't yet know what Revealing Hope Ministries can do and should do to partner effectively with Seeds of Affection. Here is what I have decided:
  • I am compelled to pray, plan, act.
  • We have to help and help soon to show our friends there that we are with them.
  • I will not allow myself to turn my eyes and heart away from what I saw.

In the Waiting – Worship

We talked in the first go team meeting back in May about missions being driven by worship. We would go because we worship Jesus. We were going so that others would worship Jesus. That continues to be the driver as I wrestle to process the trip, the experience and what is to follow. Even those yet-to-be answered questions spur me to worship our Lord Jesus. He has all this in His hands. None of this is too hard for Him. Once again, He is bigger than my view of Him. You think I would be getting used to that.