I remember trying to explain to others what I was feeling, & being frustrated by it... knowing that the person listening to me was frustrated too. Felt misunderstood, seen as a hard-hearted person who didn't care for those less fortunate that me... I was a youth pastor, after all, a person who’s job it is to go on missions. And to take others with him. It seems that I was asking questions that others hadn’t considered, or worse, considered to be meaningless, asinine, stupid, irrelevant. Looking back, I recognize it as God doing something creative in me – birthing something – at the time, though, I felt conflicted & frustrated in a way that I couldn’t explain.
The more I thought about it, the more I wondered: if we were going to do a mission trip somewhere, what would we do? (vs. just knowing the “not do’s”. ) This thinking was a little too abstract or hypotheticalfor me – an idea hit me – personalize it. What would I want someone coming to my town to know/ask/be:
SIDE NOTES: How much damage occurs to the local context when a group comes with no vested interest to do their thing – leaving WHAT in the wake of their visit? Why would a group come to a place & expect to be shuttled around & doted on while there – at the expense of the local staff’s own work & vacation?
After the fiasco with the "Johnson Family", Big Brick #2 in the foundation & development of my own ‘missions’ philosophy is the infamous (so famous its IN-famous) trip to Romania.
The district youth director for our area wanted to lead a district wide youth trip to Eastern Europe – & his boss, the district supervisor asked me to be a part of the planning & preparation – & also to go as a support for the district: I said yes. Some pertinent info:
Over time, I learned & observed that some church & parachurch organizations functioned with their own agendas & programs (almost) completely independent of the people & places they wanted to visit. These agendas & programs were exported by the youth/students that the organization recruited (at a pretty high cost) to foreign countries & foreign peoples... the foreign nationals often ‘took the forced agenda & program’ because with it came very much needed money & resources, even though the mess & chaos left AFTER the church/parachurch group went home was often overwhelming & even destructive.
So I went down my on-the-fly formulated checklist of questions to ask about missions:
-Then where & why are we going? Stefan knew of a church we might be able to work with.
-Found out after the fact that there were two more people that would come on the trip & would ‘appear’ out of nowhere – they were masters of disappearing at the most inopportune times. Like in the airports. And when there was work to be done. And when the possibility of an upgraded seat on the plane came available.
So the day finally came – I left my wife home with 3 kids, all under the age of 5, with theWeez as a baby less than 4 months old. I also left her no itinerary, no contact information, no nothing. Except a leaky roof. Ooops. Got on our plane & flew from SF to… London? Isn’t that in the UK? Umm. I thought we were going to Romania.
We are – but we’re going to be in England for a couple of days first…
Turns out there may have been a plan or an itinerary after all – but only our leader knew it. We went from connection to connection in a manner that seemed completely random to me – but that may have been the jetlag… Day 1 we rented a car & drove a couple of hours to Birmingham… & stopped by to meet with a couple of guys from a church we may or may not have had an appointment at. Ate Indian food. Went to a youth/college meeting where we sat on the floor in the dark with about 25 Brits - & worshipped to the sound of a keyboard… it was the first time I’d ever heard/sang “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever” & Deliriou5? Amazing – as was our time with our new friends.
Spent the night at the house of the youth pastor, Pip. It’d make you laugh to say “Pip,” if he wasn’t such a burly dude… I was surprised to see him wearing the same clothes he’d had on the day before. I truly was learning something new everyday – like the cost of showering & washing clothes was high, so high that people were economical with the use of water. Hmm.
We were leaving for the next leg of our trip, (finally to Romania!) & left some of our bags at Pip’s house- as we were on our way out, he asked if he could pray for me. He prayed a couple of things that still linger in my consciousness:
First off, I never wanted to be a pastor - & secondly, this guy didn’t know me at all… which is why it bugged me that he prayed it – not that he was putting a trip over on me, but because… I didn’t want to be a pastor. And had no desire to ever become one. I knew too many of them, & they didn’t look like they were having that much fun. I didn’t ‘fit’ the mold… & really didn’t want to try to cram myself into the mold, to become something different than I felt that I was.
We left Birmingham & drove to… Newcastle. So much for our trip to Romania. Turns out our fearless leader had a contact through his former church & a ministry called CI & there was a CI meeting happening that night in Newcastle. And we were going.
The meeting was based out of a college lecture room - the worship was raucous & the people were mostly of college age, & were all over the place. Literally bouncing up & down, rolling on the floor. One of the more exuberant mid-renewal meetings I'd been a part of. What stood out to me the most were two things:
By this time, I was pretty amazed, blown away even. 2 strangers on 2 different days telling me the same thing - maybe this part of the trip, chaotic & seemingly unplanned, a challenge to me on my most basic levels of preparation, was actually being used by God for another, different, formative purpose for me.
We drove back down to Birmingham to take a flight for... Frankfurt? Turns out, there was a Foursquare Europe event taking place at a camp 'somewhere' outside of Frankfurt, & seeings as we were this close, we should probably go & check it out, to see if there were any people we could connect with.
At this time, we'd been in the UK for 3 or 4 days - I hadn't communicated with theBean at all - didn't know how to make a call, didn't know where I was, really, & knew nothing of where we were going, or where we'd be tomorrow.
This 'scouting trip' both birthed & confirmed something in me about missions:
Next - to Frankfurt...