I arrived in Matagalpa Friday and spent the weekend catching up with some of the awesome people working here. We went to Selva Negra and hiked in the rainforest for a few enchanting hours. It was so lush and gorgeous, despite the lack of rainfall in the surrounding areas.
Today I filled in for the teaching assistant for the Kindergarten class. They kids were so cute and gracious and energetic. At the end of the day I joined the 9th graders for some conversational English. It is really cool to see how much they have progressed over the past couple of years. They have become so mature and disciplined... And I wish my Spanish was as good as their English.
Tonight we went to a local ice cream shop that a couple from California opened this year. They created the shop to earn revenue for a greatly needed boys home here in Matagalapa. And the ice cream was AMAZING, so we were happy to help their cause.
Just an Explorer
As I was traveling Friday and as I have been spending time with the missionaries here this weekend, I have been pondering the real purpose of "missions." When doing missions (or whenever you go to another country for any reason other than shopping or sunbathing, really) you usually get a few comments from people:
"You are just so adventurous."
"You are going to have so much fun."
"You are doing such a great thing."
"You are so kind to help others and see how blessed you really are."
Over the past few years, as God has laid missions on my heart more heavily, I have wondered why these comments are generally unsettling to me. When people share them with me I am aware of the intentions and know that people are genuinely extending love and encouragement, but I am left questioning....
"Is that really what 'missions' is about?"
If it is all about what I can do and experience, then doesn't that make missions all about ME?
"I like adventure."
"I like to travel."
"I like new cultures."
"I can help you because I am blessed."
I now understand why all of those statements make me uneasy. The entire basis of them is contrary to the gospel. The gospel says that it is not about me. I am just as broken as everyone else.
Therefore, if the Bible tells me that my good works are like filthy rags, then missions can simply not be about me. It cannot be about the greatness that I am going to do for people.
As I was on the plane to Nicaragua Friday I noticed that my Coke said, "Share a Coke with an Explorer." This made me realize something about the nature of missions. Any kind of "mission" that we take to share the gospel of Jesus Christ will force us out of our comfort zones (If you have experienced those "Lord, I will talk about You with this person as soon as you slow my heart rate down and take away my urge to throw up" moments, then you know what I mean).
As we are pulled out of our comfort zones, we are not adventurers or charity-givers, or good people. We are explorers.
But we are not explorers in the sense of discovering the riches of a new land and culture, which can happen along the way. Instead, we are explores in a much deeper sense.
We become explorers of our own brokenness and poverty. Explorers of a poverty that traverses all of humanity- including ourselves.
Seth Barnes writes,
"We may begin our pilgrimage with noble aspirations of how we will bring something to the poor. But, inevitably, we must allow God to first heal what is sick and poor inside our own souls. Then, he can use us in the world. If it is a pilgrimage to the poor on which we embark, we must first discover our own poverty."
Being in a new place allows us to see our brokenness very quickly. It shatters our sense of independence. In my experiences in Nicaragua I have found my brokenness in many ways but mainly through my constant struggle to understand people and to convey myself (in case you did not know, people who are bilingual have a superpower that everyone should envy and painfully desire to attain)...
My Spanish struggle is real.
Beyond my Spanish struggle, though, I am constantly reminded of God's greatness and our weakness. Today I spent my lunch break talking with a woman who lives in Matagalpa with her husband. They are missionaries here from North Carolina, and I had the privilege of meeting her at a Bible study when I was here last year.
She described her family's journey as they responded to God's call for them to serve to Nicaragua. She emphasized how "unqualified" they were to be missionaries and how fearful she was of coming to a country she knew nothing about. When I asked her how she felt about it now, she said that she would not trade this journey and this life for anything.
She had to deny her own desire to stay in the States and do ministry there. She said she has never had to trust in God so much. Throughout this time, God has changed her heart and she has "fallen in love with the people of Nicaragua." This conversation took place as she was shelving books at the school library because she has seen their need and is humble enough to come once a week to help meet that need.
When we are forced to set aside our comfort and status and confidence and complete understanding of how everything works and our solid plans of the future, we step into the margins. We are no longer at the center of everything:
"Taking us to the margins of life where we can discover poverty, God wants us to see ourselves in those who are poor. He wants us to identify with people who are outcasts, estranged from the comforts of home and community" (Barnes).
To sum it up, missions is a mirror of the gospel. Christianity is unique in its assertion that our works cannot bring us to salvation or Nirvana or enlightenment or happiness. We, on our own, are empty and hopeless. In the same way, we cannot do anything to bring healing to people because we are also in need of healing.
So what do we do?...
We need healing. So we point to the healer.
We can't save. So we point to the One who saves.
We can't keep people from dying. So we point to the way of everlasting life.
God doesn't need us. He's already with the poor- carrying them through their poverty as He carries is through our own poverty, whether spiritual or material.
Bono identified God's omnipresence beautifully when he said,
“God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives… God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war… God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them.”
God doesn't need us, but He wants us.
He wants us to be obedient and malleable, realizing He is holding all things together. He wants us to be explorers of our weakness and His strength.
Are you an explorer?
What is God calling you to explore?
What can help you explore the poverty that is not just about dollar signs, but is a poverty that runs through all of us?
Thank you for the prayers and encouragement! Much love!