I had a few errands to run early the day we were to leave for Zimbabwe. In the natural course of things, people caught that I was leaving the country that day…which led to the inevitable, “Where are you going?”… and Zimbabwe isn’t exactly the obvious choice, so of course people ask “Why?” I think I am surprised by people’s responses to what we are doing. I remember the same feeling when I was going to Russia to do camps for orphan kids.
Here’s the thing – for me it seems obvious, or at least it isn’t surprising. It’s a fairly normal thing in my world to either be going on a mission trip, or to know people going on mission trips. I am surrounded by people who want to impact the world. I’m surrounded by people who take their time and money and invest it into people’s lives and eternal things. But that’s not most people’s experience.
The thing that strikes me when I talk with strangers is their genuine interest and their wistfulness. I don’t expect it. Today, this sweet woman in the store literally begged me to come back into the store after I got back to tell her all about it. “Would you please come back and tell me about it???” She was insistent. I am not often in that area, so I gave her my card and said I’d love to visit later about it with her, if she’d just email me. I got the same response right after that from the guy at the car dealership. “Please will you get in touch with me afterward so I can hear about it?” And I knew that he really meant that.
It caught me off guard. In my world, lots of people do these kinds of things. In fact, it can be easy to get calloused and disinterested in other people’s trips. I get it. But here I am getting ready to go and strangers are not only curious to hear, but they are wistful. I see such a hunger, a true longing to just live vicariously through my experience. They really admire it too. They admire the courage and the selflessness it takes to go. Most people spend their time and money going to “vacation” spots. Few spend that time and money to go and do work to help other people.
I’ve been blessed to do a lot of traveling through the years. People may be jealous of my trips, they may be curious to hear a little about where I’ve gone or want to do something like that for themselves…but it’s a different kind of response when it’s a mission trip like this. There’s something about taking a trip like this that calls out to our better selves. It stirs something noble. It awakens something as it reminds people that life isn’t supposed to be just all about us. Strangers don’t beg me to come back to their store and tell them about all the fun I had traveling to some exotic place, but they do beg me to come back and tell them about what it’s like to serve and minister to those less fortunate in the world. They want to know what THAT is like. They don’t just want to know about what you can see and do in a place, they want to know what life is like there. And perhaps even more than that, I think they want to know what it’s like to die to self. What is it like to give of yourself to help someone else, a stranger, in another part of the world? What’s it like to give your life to something meaningful? I think that’s what they are really asking, what they really want to learn about.
It may be a normal idea to me, but as I walked around, doing my normal course of business that day and heard the people’s responses, I began to realize how completely NOT normal it is. Not only that, but I began to realize how truly hungry people are for something so completely NOT normal. We are made in God’s image, and our hearts cry out for things that feel like home, things where our nature is truly at home. We may not know it, but because we are made in God’s image, we are most at home when we are most like Him, most closely resembling His nature. HIS nature is sacrificial. He gave his very life as a ransom for ours. So, when we make an offering of our life in some way for another, it is “home” for our hearts to do so. Not only that, but those who are watching us sense it. Their hearts immediately feel a sense of rightness and comfort, a sense of home, when they are near our hearts.
If you have an artistic kind of soul and are in another artist’s home you have felt something like this. There is a sense of being at home. It isn’t your home, but the sense of art, beauty and balance in their home ministers to you because it has something your heart longs for. Maybe you have that in your own home, or maybe you don’t. If you do, you will certainly still recognize and appreciate a kindred spirit, but it probably won’t stir longing in you because you are satisfied in that area. But if you don’t have that beauty in your own home (for example, when I lived in a dorm in college), when you are in someone else’s home that does have it, your soul stirs with longing. You instinctively feel equal parts at home and in need. Your soul immediately connects with the thing that it’s missing, and it hungers to have more of it for itself.
This is the feeling I get from people when they hear about our trip. Their soul recognizes something in what we are doing that it was made for, something that it is missing…and they long for it.
Selfishly, I have been excited about this trip. I know that I have needed something like this – something to take me out of myself. Something to awaken me from my selfishness and entitlement. Something to ennoble my heart and fill it with greater love and compassion for my fellow man. I must decrease; Christ must increase–and a trip like this goes a long way to help that happen.
I’ve also been excited about this trip for the sake of seeing what God has in store for my fellow man. My heart has been full with the desire to be a blessing to the nation of Zimbabwe. I get so excited by that thought that we will never know how far the ripple effects of what we are doing may stretch. As we teach pastors how to study and teach the Word of God, and they go back to their spheres of influence and teach, who can calculate the reach of what we are going to do?! It’s exciting!!!
So I’ve thought of myself, thought of Zimbabwe, but I haven’t thought much about my “neighbor,” my fellow American, those people around me every day who are watching. Yesterday God awakened me to the glorious idea that as we go we are ministering to those who stay behind as well. We are ministering to them by reminding them to love their fellow man, to sacrifice and to think of others. We are ministering to them by being so different from the world. We are ministering to them because we are being like Jesus, salt and light in the world, and that makes them thirsty. It’s attractive because it reminds others of what their souls were made for.
Who is to say how God might multiply the work we are doing in Zimbabwe? And who is to say how God might multiply the work we are doing in Zimbabwe In America? Cool thought!