The Reluctant Missionary
1 Corinthians 12:4-6
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.
Never in my life had I understood or had any desire to be involved in any kind of missions. After all you must be a pastor or have the gift of evangelism to become a missionary. My only exposure to this point had been cartoons, where missionaries are the main ingredient in stew, and spotting young men, in black suits, on bicycles all around town.
It seemed quite odd that when a mission trip to Bosnia had been announced that I would have any interest at all. But as the day of the initial kick off meeting approached I felt somehow that I needed to attend this meeting. On the day of the meeting I made a list of all the reasons why I COULD NOT take such a trip. No job, no money, and I did not possess the gift of evangelism, and how could I possibly miss my wifeís 50th birthday? I now knew for certain that I could not go, but still felt compelled to check it out anyway because I was curious about the logistics that are required for such a trip. To the complete surprise of my wife I invited her to attend the kick off meeting with me. As we left the meeting my wife said "what is going on here, would you like to fill me in"? My answer was that I just felt compelled to check it out, that I was merely curious.
The following week I still could not shake the thoughts of Bosnia from my mind. I started telling everyone that I was considering making this trip. I still had no concept of what would be required, and what value could I bring if I were to go? Still curious I decided to attend at least one more meeting. After attending the second meeting I was still clueless, but now started admitting to others that I just might go on this trip. This was my way of seeking advice and all I got was encouragement. Imagine that.
In the meantime my wife and I embarked on a long planned trip to visit our daughter Carrie, who was teaching English in Japan. As part of this trip we had decided to try and see Jim and Amanda who are missionaries there. Since Amanda was from our home church I thought that a quick visit was warranted. After all I had an ulterior motive; I wanted more information about mission work. We attended their church where the service was in Japanese. It was amazing, although we could not understand much of what was being said, we learned that songs and praises to God, are heartfelt regardless of language. After the service I proceeded to ask Jim about missions and told him that I was thinking of going to Bosnia. And although jobless, as a matter of faith I needed to pay for this trip by myself. To my surprise Jim told me that I was being selfish and that I could not do that. By taking the burden of the expense on myself I would e depriving others who were unable to travel the opportunity to participate. For the life of me that would never had occurred to me. Another lesson learned, but not the last surprise.
Upon returning to the USA I continued to tell everyone that I was associated with that I was considering going to Bosnia. I was astonished as to the amount of encouragement I received from nearly everyone I talked to. Yes there were a few that seemed shocked or surprise, but the real surprise was the heartfelt support and encouragement that I was receiving. Try as I may to find every plausible explanation or excuse that this was something I could not do, I knew that God Himself had placed this on my heart and I had to obey. I still had no clue as to why it was important to do this. The more I talked about it the more excited I got, and as the excitement grew the more joy and full of life I felt. How wonderful that I would be blessed with such an experience.
Another meeting and a few prayers later there are five of us prepared to embark on this trip. My wife was not one of the five that was going to make the trip. Interestingly she has always wanted to make such a trip, but God had not placed it on her heart to go. She felt as if she was being told that I needed to make this trip without her. Our job will be to assist in securing and unpacking a container of medical supplies and clothing to be used in a used clothing store. Yet again there will be another surprise relating to this shipment.
Panic has now set in. I have not worked for two months and I have no idea how I will pay for this trip. I have the funds but am now concerned what impact this may have on finances down the road. It is now time to listen to the advise I was given in Japan about being selfish and denying the opportunity for others to participate in this mission. One week to go and I send an email requesting prayer support for the trip and for those who feel inclined financial support. I am overwhelmed with the show of encouragement and support. Within three days my airfare to Bosnia is covered, by the departure date the entire cost of the trip had been collected. It is hard to describe how I felt. Not just the personal support, but the love, it was my family, my brothers and sisters in Christ, allowing Godís will to be fulfilled. I felt like a five year old at Christmas, but the gifts were not for me, they were for a higher purpose, I was nearly speechless. But more importantly I have learned that missions are not an individual endeavor, and that it is important to share, because my excitement now seems to be contagious, I can see my excitement in the eyes of others.
The five of us met at the airport, loaded up with luggage, household supplies and treats not found in Bosnia, and cash to secure the container that had already arrived. We barely knew each other, but here we were helping each other with luggage, and watching after each other. It was as if we were all life long friends, it just goes to show that there are no strangers amongst Godís children.
First stop Heathrow for a quick plane change and off to Zagreb Croatia where we were met by Scoggins & Sheila, part of the missionary team. After a quick walking tour of Zagreb we boarded a bus for a several hour bus ride through the country side. We arrive in Banja Luka shortly after the traffic cleared from the Popeís visit to the city. Both cities are definitely European, but old, like Western Europe twenty or thirty years ago. The county side however still shows effects of the war. Many building were either abandoned or still needing repair. Banja Luka seemed slightly more modern than Zagreb, and surprisingly beautiful. It looks much how I remember home in the Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The first day in Bosnia was a day to recover from any jet lag and to get to know Mark and Cindy a little better. We are all staying at their house which made it a little easier for us to organize as a group on short notice. Mark told us about the history of the mission in Bosnia and the mission team. Then each of us in the group stated just what it was that led us to be on this trip and what did we feel we would accomplish. When it was my turn, I stated that I did not know why I was there, that I knew that I needed to go, that it would be a life changing experience, and I would let them all know when I figured it all out. The following morning I arose early, and used that opportunity for some quiet time and to reflect. An incredible peace came over me; it was as if I was in a safe place, a place protected by God Himself. There were no distractions, my mind was focused, and there would be no wondering of thought during prayer this day.
During the course of the first two days we met the rest of the Bosnia team. There is no doubt in my mind that this team loves each other. They all have their own gifts and outreach. Mark and Cindy for their organization and direction. Scoggins and Sheila for their outreach to the younger generations through sport and music. Yuri and Sveta, what a loving family! I have never witnessed such service to the Lord and hospitality. It will be very difficult to say goodbye when the time comes.
But what about the container, the whole reason to go in the first place? To make a long story short, it would not be delivered in the week that we were there. Holidays, phone tag, and confusion on who exactly needed to be contacted resulted in the delay. The good news is that it was eventually released and the medical supplies delivered. There would be more red tape however before the used clothing store can be opened. So what were the five of us going to do for the rest of the week? In general the visiting team ministered to the resident team. It was time for us to help them, to look into their needs. Susan the interior designer, Gwen the seamstress, and Jeanette the painter did a wonderful job just updating the look of Mark and Cindyís house. Mike the educator, helped identifying different approaches to improving language skills. And I was the resident geek, updating and organizing the household computers. As a team we prayed together and prayed over different parts of the city. And we all bonded as brothers and sisters in Christ. We all have gifts, and we all put them to use. Plan all you want, but God has a plan of His own, and He puts people together for a reason. I do not think anyone felt that their time was not well spent.
The trip is now in the past and I think about it often, but I had stated that I felt that this trip would be a life changing experience. Has my life changed what had I learned? I think it is safe to say that this was a major milestone in my life. My spiritual life is stronger and more complete. I learned that missions are not an individual event, and it touches the lives of many people. It touched the lives of the people who offered prayer support, it touched the lives of the people who offered financial support, it touched the lives of everyone on the team and everyone that the team had contact with. It touched the lives of everyone that I shared this experience with, even those who I only told that I was considering going to Bosnia. But my life was impacted the most! Iím the one who thought you needed to be a pastor or have the gift of evangelism to go one a mission trip. I have encouraged everyone that I have discussed this with, that if God places it on your heart to do something like this you must obey. I even pointed out to my entire family that how their own life experiences, no matter how trivial they seem, can be used to encourage and to reach out to others. I know that I will be involved in missions for the rest of my live, whether it is prayer support, financial support, or just encouraging others to go as I did, when god has placed it on your heart and you do not know why. And some day I know that I will go again. Guess I am a missionary after all.
And by the way, it was extremely hard to say goodbye.