I must admit to a certain level of anxiety since I recently made the commitment to become part of Mission Lazarus, a team of 20 young and old men from the West 7th church of Christ here in Columbia, TN, who journey each year to a location in Latin America for a week of mission-type service. At least the anxiety has diminished a lot over the last daze (no, that’s not a typo), and it has certainly replaced the guilt I’ve experience through the last several decades of not taking advantage of any similar opportunities to serve my God.
Delores and I were part of Campaigns Northeast with a group of students and grads from then Harding College immediately upon my graduation and only five months into our life as a married couple. We were involved in door-knocking and Bible studies in the summer of 1971, as we invited folks in Pennsylvania and New Jersey to study with us or to come to a gospel meeting at the local church of Christ. God gave us some incredible experiences, amazing results, while allowing us some frustrations as well. That was an interesting summer.
The only other team of which we’ve ever been members was in the summer of 1972 – our vacation summer – during which time, fresh from my first year of teaching and Delores’ graduation from Harding, we took four lengthy vacations. We were literally gone almost the entire summer traveling thousands of miles through numerous states to scenic places from our home in Augusta, Arkansas, to Pennsylvania friends met during Campaigns Northeast, Niagara Falls, Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota, Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, Mt. Ranier inWashington, the Grand Canyon along with Bryce and Zion Canyons in Arizona and Utah, Yosemite and other scenic parts of California, and all points in between. The summer trip applicable to this reflection was to the Navajo Indian reservation in Canyon de Chelly, Arizona (the locale years ago in the television commercial during which they used to advertise a certain model vehicle by setting it via helicopter on top of this spectacularly high rock formation towering above the canyon), to help with a VBS among the Native American children. We took our dog Freckles (yes, kids, there was a time when Mom and Dad actually had a dog – it was B.C., before children) and camped out of the back of our Chevy Vega wagon as I recall.
Alas, Campaigns Northeast and the Arizona VBS were the only two trips of any variety that could be termed as mission work in my life. For these last 38 years, I’ve only watched and financially supported as others committed to that fulfilling interpretation of the Great Commission. Sure, I taught Bible classes, lead singing, occasionally preached and drove a Joy Bus, and was active in other ways in various local congregations; but my fear and preoccupation with myself precluded other such endeavors especially any that would take me outside the boundaries of the United States. I watched, supported, and encouraged as all my children went numerous times to places I only imagined – and I never really imagined my going to or being in those places. They went to the City of Children and other mission destinations in Mexico; the Bahamas; Haiti; Eastern Europe; Australia/New Zealand; and I’m probably forgetting some. I was always proud of their willingness to be involved in His Kingdom in this way, but I also felt a little guilty for not joining them in that type of mission work. I may also have kept my wife from that experience over the last nearly four decades of our marriage.
But finally the guilt is ending. I will be journeying to Honduras this summer from June 5-11. Our tasks will include building a house for a local Christian family (perhaps I can hand the skilled workers bricks or tools), distributing food to those in need (since Honduras is the 2nd poorest nation in Latin America next to Haiti which had that designation even before the tragic earthquake of 2010, that would be almost everybody), studying the Bible with prospects identified by the missionaries, and just “hanging out” with the people.
So what has my nearly 40 years of fear been all about anyway, and what has changed to make me overcome it and commit to this adventure? I have been working on my relationship with my God for the last several years. He has extended His grace to me in an extraordinary manner to relieve me of several of my character defects, particularly fear, guilt, grandiosity, and resentment. This experience has opened the door of opportunity in my life of renewed service (or at least a window – remember Maria and Captain Von Trapp’s short dialogue from the Sound of Music that “when God shuts a door sometimes he opens a window”?). In addition, Delores and I have embarked on a new lifestyle of healthy living and eating. We have both lost weight and gotten off medications (mine for diabetes and high blood pressure). I would be tragically remiss if I didn’t allow my God to carry me through the cavernous opening He has provided. So I’m off to Honduras in June.
A recent discovery of a scripture has helped me reconcile this decision in spite of my still- lingering anxieties. That greatest of all Christian missionaries, the apostle Paul, wrote in Colossians 1: 28-29…We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all HIS energy, which so powerfully works in me. Did you notice the good part? I may struggle in life or on Mission Lazarus, but it can and will be WITH ALL HIS ENERGY – His energy that “so powerfully works in me.” How incredible is that! Along with all the other promises I have from my awesome God, He has promised to empower me and give me His energy when I struggle on Mission Lazarus. With Jesus carrying me, the Spirit interceding for me in my prayer life, and God empowering me, everything is bound to turn out wonderfully. Besides, I’ll be surrounded with Christian brothers who’ve been there and done that. What could there possibly be to cause me fear or anxiety…let’s see…there’s the bugs and the sun and the heat and the sweat and the water and the food and the work and the flights and the bumpy back roads and knowing what to say and NOT KNOWING MORE THAN “un poco” of the language, and… there’s, of course, ME. I need to give all that to God and let Him deal with those struggles. I’ll try. To be continued…
- ▼ February (3)