A Fear Factor

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“Isn’t Mexico dangerous?” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to respond to this question over the last 20 years. I honestly believe this is more of a statement on the church in America today than any perceived danger in Mexico.

What keeps us up at night worrying seldom happens. In 2016 there were a total of 4 deaths by shark attack, 67 people died from taking selfies. If you ask a cross-section of people, fear of sharks would probably rate higher than fear of smartphones. Way too many people live lives wrapped in fear of things that don’t happen or don’t matter. American culture feeds and encourages fear: fear of the “other” political party, of terrorism, of people from different countries or cultures. Fear has become the new American way.

A few years ago, I got a phone call from a concerned father who was looking at sending his daughter with their church missions team to serve with our orphanage in Mexico. After talking to him for a while, he asked me straight out, “Can you 100% guarantee the safety of my daughter?” I think I surprised him with my answer: “Absolutely not.” I asked him if he could 100% guarantee the safety of his daughter when she was driving to school, out shopping, or even in their home. There are almost no 100% guarantees in this life other than the fact that we will all eventually die. If we lived our lives looking for 100% guarantees, we would never do anything, that’s not why we’re on this earth.

At what point did the church collectively decide that we need complete security at all times? Why are we so afraid? Jesus never taught that we should only go and share the gospel if our safety could be guaranteed, that we should only help others if there is zero risk involved. I’m not saying we should take unnecessary chances, but what should we be willing to risk to share the Gospel?

“Fear not” comes up a lot in the bible, “You need to avoid risk” not so much. If we believe we have an all-powerful, loving Father in heaven who only wants what’s best for us, why are we so afraid? If we believe that God can use ALL things for our good and the good of His kingdom, why can’t we rest in that? The Apostle Paul did some of his best work sitting in prison. Paul was completely convinced this was just a temp job; he was on his way to heaven. Paul doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who was afraid of what might happen. The world needs more Pauls.

A good friend of mine has been a missionary in a Muslim country for a few years. (for his safety I can’t share his name or what country). This guy is fearless. Recently he sent me an e-mail asking an IT question, not a big deal. He went on to share about the struggles they were having going to print with a new bible recently translated into a dialect for that area. One print shop was burned down, one printer who wanted to help was sent to prison, my friend’s family was threatened, and he was arrested and held for several days. Yikes. I would have hit the road long before this. Rather than running, giving up, or even complaining, he was rejoicing. Through the entire E-mail, you could feel the joy he was experiencing; he had found the “joy in all things” that Paul wrote about while in prison.

In 2014 my wife and I were scheduled to travel with the team of about 20 to Ghana in West Africa. We had our tickets, we had our visas, and about 30 days before we were scheduled to leave the Ebola outbreak hit West Africa. You couldn’t pick up a paper, turn on the radio, or watch the news without being told how dangerous Ebola was and how we were all going to die. Not the best time to travel to West Africa. Over the course of a few weeks, most of the team dropped out and, to be honest, we thought about it. We made a few calls to people on the ground to get accurate information and had some LONG talks. Any sane person would have canceled. (we’ve never been grouped in with sane people). We decided to go. The team was just five people, and EVERYONE said we were crazy. We went, had an incredible trip, and I believe we had a real impact at the orphanage where we were serving. West Africa is a BIG place, where we were serving we were over 1000 miles from the nearest Ebola case. At no time were we in any danger other than malaria and the other normal issue from that area.

In looking back at our trip to Ghana, I’m flooded with emotions. One of the emotions I have is regret for the many people who, out of an abundance of caution, chose not to go. They missed out on a life-changing experience. They missed out on the chance to share with others and connect with believers on the other side of the world. The enemy, once again used fear to stop ministry from taking place. How many people weren’t reached? How many lives weren’t changed by this incredible experience? The people who chose to stay back had the perception of safety, but they missed a life-altering experience.

Take a chance. Risk something. Go drill a well in Kenya, go build a house in Baja, go serve (or start) a prison ministry. Step out and see how God might use you or might use the new challenges to change you. Of the people I hang out within the missions field, I never hear them talk about the regret of taking a chance. What I see and hear are people who glow, glow with a joy that few people experience in this life. These are people who have taken and continue to take chances for God. They are not afraid of risk, they embrace it, they have found joy. The only fear we should accept in our lives is the fear of NOT doing what God is calling us to. We should be deathly afraid of wasting our time here on this earth living a mundane, “safe” existence.

To answer the question about Mexico that I started out with: Yes, Mexico CAN be dangerous in certain areas, most of it is really safe, but watch out for those selfies.

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Ending Well

lani.jpgAlmost every time I speak in public, I open up by yelling at the group, “You are all going to die!” It frequently gets a nervous laugh or two and then I go on to explain that we are only on this earth a short time, it is so essential to use our time as the precious commodity that it is. Do not waste a moment. The following is the story of a man who used his last few years well.

Jack was a middle-aged man, raising two young children, who had recently moved to a smallish town in Iowa. He had newly been diagnosed with cancer but had not shared his medical condition with anybody in his new community. He was just focusing on his family and beginning the process of diagnosis and treatment.

One day, his next-door neighbor invited him to go on a short-term mission trip to serve at an orphanage in Mexico. The plan was also to help build a home for a needy family. He was not a member of the church, and his first response was, “Well, I don’t play the guitar or anything, but I am good with a hammer.” He was told he would fit in fine. In spite of everything he was going through, he decided to take a chance and tag along with the group. It was a week that would transform his next few years.

As Jack got on the plane with sixty people that he barely knew, all wearing matching t-shirts, he was not sure what to expect. They traveled about two hours south of San Diego to a small town in Mexico where they would be working. The group set up camp and got started with the construction. The team met the family they were serving, and as the team worked, they experienced the joy and bonding that only comes from serving with others in new and challenging circumstances. Jack spent the first few days quietly working alongside his newfound friends.

Midway through the week, during the evening bonfire, Jack decided to take a chance and share of his recent life struggles and his battle with cancer. The response was powerful. This group of people that he had just recently joined came up around him in every sense of the word. The team spent a great deal of time in prayer, seeking miraculous healing. We’ve all heard the phrase, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” There is something about serving alongside others under challenging circumstances that broadens our faith. Serving in missions forges deep relationships that are almost impossible to find unless we are out of our comfort zone.

Over the next few years, while cancer slowly took its toll, Jack continued to return to Baja every time the church came down. Like so many other people, these short-term mission trips became the focal point of his year, a time of joy among struggles, and transformed his life. His social media feed was filled with stories and photos of his time spent serving in Mexico. As Jack’s faith continued to grow stronger, he heard a message from God: “Builder.” This helped Jack understand how his situation was being used for the kingdom.

Above the orphanage in Baja where Jack served is a large, very distinct cross. It rises powerfully above a large hill and can be seen from all over the valley. This cross has been the sight of many marriage proposals, recommitments of faith, and other life-changing moments over the years. Jack ultimately had a drawing of the cross tattooed on his arm using the cross as the letter “T” for the word” triumph.” These trips had marked his life in every way possible.

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As Jack’s life was winding down, one of the leaders came to the hospital in a nearby city to be there for him. As they talked, a nurse walked in that had been on one of these trips before Jack started, and knew all about it. Out of the hundreds of hospital staff who could have walked through the door, this nurse could understand Jack’s experience of faith through missions. They were able to excitedly share of their common experiences in that small town in Mexico.

One of his last requests to the mission leader was, “Make sure when my son is old enough, that he gets to Mexico. I want him to see the place that changed my life.” His other request is that his ashes be spread at the base of the cross overlooking the orphanage and the homes he helped build.

I share this story as an encouragement, an encouragement to end your life well. Jack’s story is one of the thousands of lives that are changed through short term missions and service trips every year. Most people live their lives without thinking too much about the ever approaching end; they make plans to do something “next year” until there are no more years left. Please use the weeks and years you have left in a way that matters. Don’t waste a day.

Jack passed away on May 3rd, 2019, surrounded by family. He is no longer battling cancer or the fights of this earth. He is now dancing in heaven. Close to five hundred people showed up at his memorial on a chilly Tuesday afternoon in Iowa. His ashes will be spread at the orphanage cross, as he requested.

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What Are Your Motivations?

pexels-photo-1081223I tend to be more of a cynic than I probably should be, but I believe there is no such thing as genuinely pure motives. We are all flawed and imperfect people. These flaws get blended and twisted into any decisions or actions we take. It’s hard to be self-aware when it comes to our motivations, but it’s essential to try and be honest with ourselves about it. I know one gentleman who likes to help needy organizations financially and has the deep pockets to do this. He’s unambiguous that his motivation is all about the photo op, he wants to look good to those around him, and on social media. At least he’s honest about it. (He is not one of our donors.)

If you do a quick google search on motivations, you come up with a wide range of articles with very similar threads. People are listing “The four motivations,” “The ten motivations,” etc. The examples of motivations given are frequently: money, lust, power, fear, popularity, guilt, altruism, generosity, pride, etc.

Almost everyone who participates in short-term missions wants to help, but WHY do they want to help. I once straight up asked a teenage girl who happened to stop by my office why she came on the trip. “My mom forced me to.” I was a little surprised, but I do appreciate honesty. (Fear of mom was the motivation.)

In helping to run a large(ish) non-profit with a range of donors and visiting groups, our team meets a substantial range of individuals. When we meet with group leaders, we hear a lot of the same phrases. “We’re just here to serve.” “What works best for you.” etc. but usually within a few minutes of listening or watching we can begin to see their underlying priorities and motives. Many groups come in with their agenda well before meeting with us or finding out what the real needs are. They have an agenda, and they are NOT going to be moved.

Some group leaders are all about having their team experience a great week. If while having a great week they happen to serve the children in our care, great, but it’s clearly not their priority. They show this by not asking questions, by not thinking about how their activities impact our home, by planning their week around themselves. “I know your kids have homework, but my team REALLY wants to do a craft and VBS with your kids between 2 pm and 4 pm so we can go into town later.” “We know it’s cold outside, and some of your kids are sick, but we really want to push through with the water games we had planned.”

It is very common to have a group, or many individuals in the group, be more focused on the perfect photo op. I’ve seen people pick up a shovel or wheel barrow just to take a photo and then walk away. I’m not exactly saying mission photos get staged all the time but…photos get staged all the time. If you want to see your team’s real motivation, ask them to put their phones away for a few days and don’t take pictures. Rebellion is the usual response. Why do any of us post things online? Is it about encouraging others, or about competing with others to look like we have the perfect life?

Some groups come in assuming they know better than our team how things should be run. They are here to “save us from ourselves.” (pride) I’m aware we have a LOT of room for improvement, and we do learn from others all the time. But when someone comes in less to help, and more to judge or criticize what we do, it gets old fast. We appreciate input or questions but we live with the children in our care, we live in our community, we understand the culture, we have an intimate knowledge of the needs and challenges that go on every day.

We do appreciate the short-term mission teams. Most groups are a huge blessing, and we could use some more! This rambling blog on motivations has the goal of causing self-reflection. Why do we do what we do? This question applies to short-term missions, as well as every other area of our lives. Our motivations have a dramatic impact on every relationship in our lives. It is the lens we use to view and interact with our world.

Motivation can be boiled down to just one question: Who am I serving? Am I serving myself, or am I serving God? If we’re honest with ourselves, this is not an easy question to answer. For almost everyone, it can be a sliding scale. We (I hope) are all trying to serve our Lord more each day, but that gets blended into so many otherworldly motivations. Approval of others, comfort, jealousy, pride, greed, etc. always creep in. I know I question or doubt my true motives all the time.

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. Phil 3:8

The paradox is, the purer our motivation, the greater blessing we ultimately receive. The more we try to follow in the pure example of service that Jesus gives, the more our emotional needs are met. As we grow closer to Christ, the worldly motivations fade away. Money, pride, power, etc. really do become worthless compared to the things of God. This is a worthy motivation.

Any donations to support our mission efforts are greatly apprecated. A dollar or two through the “donate” button would mean a lot. Thanks.

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The Failure of the Individual and Short-Term Missions

pexels-photo-670720At some point, over the last few decades, there has been a subtle yet consistent shift away from the idea of community, to the rise of individual above all else. It’s not working. Addiction and suicide are at an all-time high; in many age groups suicide is the leading cause of death. The church is shrinking at an alarming rate. Depression and loneliness are rampant.

As society shifts from focusing on the community as a whole to focusing on each individual’s desires and achievements, we are losing the very thing that gives us meaning. At almost every turn, technology and shifting attitudes are slowly driving society apart and leading people into their own little cocoons. We need to be connected; we are created to interact with a wide range of people; we are called to sacrifice for others. It’s time to look at how to foster a sense of community again.

Years ago, there was “appointment TV viewing,” the whole family would sit together and watch the same show along with millions of others across the country at the same time. This sounds quaint or primitive now that we can each have our own on-demand screen in front of us and watch exactly what we want when we want it. The downside of on-demand is that, with a few exceptions, that bonding through community viewing doesn’t happen. Outside of the Superbowl or a major news event, there is no common discussion the next day about the latest show that we all watched.

The idea of each of us having our own screens is a small example of how the priority of community is shifting. Few people would argue the fact that America has never been so divided. People have always had opinions, but now that we can watch the news on TV or online catered and designed to reinforce our already deeply held beliefs, we don’t need to listen to any opinion that might call into question where we stand. If we never listen to the other side, they become a bigger and more dangerous enemy in our minds — not a great way to build community.

Subtle changes are taking place all around us. If we want to “eat out” we don’t have to sit with people we don’t know; we can just open the app and have the food brought to our home. We don’t need to go to the mall anymore and interact with real people to buy things; Amazon is just a click away. When was the last time any of us hung out in a book store and browsed around with others with the same interest? When we go to buy groceries, we can self-check to avoid the two minutes of contact with the cashier.

More people are living alone than at any time in the history of America. Fewer people are getting married than at any time in history. Half of all children in America are now born into un-wed situations. Examples of the collapse of community are all around us. Too many people are living in their own little world, and missing out on the interactions and messiness that makes us human.

Even within the ever-shrinking church, many people who are “members” choose to sit at home on Sunday and watch the service online. Interacting with real people is just too much trouble. For the people who are present, as the collection plate is passed in church, many people miss out on the ritual of offering tithes as one body because they’ve already given online automatically.

Although we need a personal relationship with Christ, and God desires that, it’s crucial to recognize the importance of the Church body as a whole and what that means. As we read the Gospels, Jesus spoke to many individuals, but He often spoke about the collective body of believers. The bride of Christ is one, not millions of individual brides. When the apostles asked Jesus how to pray, He gave the Lord’s Prayer as an example. There is not one personal pronoun in the Lord’s prayer. Not one petition for an individual. OUR Father…OUR daily bread…forgive US OUR sins…lead US.  You get the idea. The body of Christ needs each other; we need each other.

So what does this little rant have to do with short-term missions? One of the many benefits of short-term missions is the building of community. You can sit in the same church with the same people for years and never really get to know them. Spend a week traveling in Uganda, or Mexico, or Kenya, and you will get to know them, whether you want to or not. You will see them without makeup and before coffee. You will be forced to sleep in the same room and hear who snores. You will see how each person reacts to difficulties and joys. You will be forced to become a little more transparent. You will learn more about the people in your church, and they will learn more about you, than in ten years of Sundays.

Short-term missions also bring into focus what the Bible teaches about the body of Christ. By traveling out with a team to visit other churches and communities, we have the privilege of living and working with people from wildly different cultures, but with the same Heavenly Father. We get to spend time with our brothers and sisters. We get to experience worship in ways that are beyond what we could ever imagine. We get to bump up against people who are living and walking in faith that sets the bar higher than we might be used to. We have the profound and life-altering experience of living in community with the Church.

Experience community again, make it a point to spend time with people who stretch you. If you can, go on a short-term mission trip. It will change you for the better, your faith will be deeper, your connection to the church will strengthen, and you can help other believers around the world.

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Don’t Sign Away Your Life

library-la-trobe-study-students-159775Indentured servitude was a system in the early 1800s where people would sign a contract to work free for a certain number of years in exchange for something, historically transportation to America or some other great dream held out as the powerful incentive. Once people were “employed” it would be almost impossible to work off the debt and become free. People would basically sign away their lives and become voluntary slaves for an extended period of time. As ridiculous as this sounds today, the exact same thing is happening to people all around us. You, or someone you know, might be in this exact situation and not even realize it yet.

Currently, a considerable portion of young adults in America are willingly placing themselves into a form of indentured servitude. They see a goal and believe the only way they can attain this goal is to sign away large chunks of their future in the hopes that it will be worth it. Student loans are today’s version of indentured servitude. The cost of a degree is quickly tipping to the point where it is almost impossible to justify the debt load required.

Recently, I took part in a round table discussion on missions at a large California Christian university. Many of the standard questions came up, but one student asked a question that shut down the discussion. There was no great answer to his question, just a dark gloom in the room as if someone shared that they had stage four cancer. “I feel called, and want to be in the missions field, but how do I do that with huge student loan debt?”

Think this question through; this young man is attending a major Christian university to learn ministry, and how to be an effective missionary.  When he graduates he will be so far in debt that he will be unlikely to use his degree for decades, he might never make it to the missions field because of the debt. He unintentionally entered into indentured servitude. His life is no longer his own. He has become an indentured servant to his student debt load.

The young man discussed above is not unusual; he is the norm. Over the last few years, I’ve seen many passionate people who feel called to missions “put it off” until their student loans are paid down. Much of the time, by the time they’re debt free decades later, life has moved on and they never take that step. The other frustrating situation is people who can defer their loans and go into missions, only needing to return to the US for the sole purpose of paying off their loans. Either way, their loans dictate their futures; their lives are not their own.

If you’re in the position of having massive student debt hanging over you, it can be a weight that hangs over everything you do. I have no great answers for you, talk to someone brighter than me. (They’re not hard to find.)

If you are a young adult, and you don’t have any student debt yet, please continue reading. I want to share a little secret that your parents and others might not want you to know. You don’t have to go to college. (Parents, school counselors, and loan providers are now hyperventilating after reading that last sentence.)

The typical teen in the US will take the same boring yet dangerous path that all their friends are taking. Graduate from high-school, head to college, accumulate HUGE student debt studying something they’re not passionate about, get married too soon (to someone else with student debt), eventually buy a house, and spend the rest of their lives working to pay off loans. They will be indentured servants to a bank, for decades. Today, some retirees have yet to pay off their student loans. One of the few debts that can NOT be wiped clean through bankruptcy is a student loan. Modern-day indentured servitude does exist. It might be time to look at a new model.

“But, but, but, I HAVE to go to college.” If you’re going to medical school, law school, or studying something that needs very specific training, yes, you have to go to college. If you feel called into missions, or have passions in other areas, you might have other options. There might be options that don’t lead you down the path of enormous student loan debt. Trade schools, apprenticeship programs, short-term mission organizations, etc. are all good options.

A gap year after high-school, when used wisely, can be an outstanding chance to explore your passions and learn more about the world than you will in four years locked on a campus somewhere. Go volunteer with an organization in Ghana serving aids orphans, drive a bus for an orphanage in Mexico, answer the phone for a free clinic in some inner-city area in the US. Take some time to explore the world and find your passions.

If, after a year or so, you still feel you HAVE to go to college, please do it with great care to avoid as much debt as possible.

You can accumulate huge student debt, or you can accumulate experiences, stories, and the joy of touching other’s lives. What you decide to accumulate when you’re young will be with you for the rest of your life. Choose wisely.

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Short-term Missions Start at Home

teamI’m a huge advocate of short-term missions. There is something about traveling to another country to share, serve, and experience life with others that is life-changing. Short-term mission trips are incredible for all involved when they are done in a healthy, reciprocal way. The best way to become a great short-term missionary is to be a great missionary to your community at home. Missions and Christian service should flow out of us all the time, wherever we are.

Several years ago, after I had been living in Mexico for a while, I was on the phone venting to a friend of mine after an exceptionally difficult week. I shared that I was involved in so many mission activities that I didn’t know where the line was between my missions life and my private life. He paused for a minute, and then responded with a few words that, although obvious, kind of shook my world, “Isn’t that the whole point? Our faith, our testimony, NEEDS to be our whole lives.”

The idea of anyone being a “missionary” for just a short trip is very odd when you step back and examine it. If we believe in the Gospel, and all that the Gospel is, it needs to be flowing out of us whenever and wherever we are. We can not compartmentalize our faith to a week-long trip or just a few activities to be checked off our “to-do” list. It needs to be who we are.

For many youth groups and churches, the short-term mission trip has become a staple of their annual activity, and this is a great thing. The important thing is to also be developing the heart of a missionary throughout the year and not just leading up to the week-long trip to Mexico, Africa, or Haiti. Why can’t any activity a youth group does be seen as missions? Throughout the year, we should be looking at any activity we do as part of our missions field. To compartmentalize missions into one or two weeks misses the whole point. We are called to serve others, build a relationship with others, and share the gospel through every part of our lives.

Even when a team is serving with us here in Mexico, we often see the compartmentalization of missions. “This is our schedule: work on these days, and then a fun day.” “We’re working for the morning, but then we’re going to the beach.” It’s like a switch gets flipped back and forth: “Christian / just a person / Christian again.” Fun days and beach days are great; we’re called to have a day of rest. But we need to be aware of those divine appointments that God has set up for us wherever we are, not just when the planned activities are taking place. We also need to be keenly aware that we represent the Gospel, for good or bad, wherever we are. We’ve seen way too many teams put on great programs with polished dramas, then turn around and destroy their testimony by going into our community and being rude and obnoxious in stores, restaurants, and with their general interactions with others.

It’s hard to imagine the early apostles compartmentalizing their evangelistic efforts. “Next week I’m traveling to Ephesus, planning some great activities.” “We’re practicing a really great drama for Corinth.” Yes, they traveled to all those locations, but I’m sure they were sharing the Gospel with their immediate neighbors, people in the market place, and people they just met along the road. Jesus had set that example. He obviously spoke with large crowds and presented very focused teachings, but He also shined at small gatherings, with the woman at the well, and whenever and wherever He interacted with others. This needs to be our goal as Christians.

The best training for short-term missions is becoming a missionary to your community. If you’re planning on building a home for someone in Mexico, practice by volunteering to do home repairs for someone in your church. If you’re going to do food distribution in Haiti, volunteer at a local food bank in your home town for a few hours a week. If you want to reach the broken or lonely in Africa, visit a retirement home and build some relationships down the block from where you are now. If you’re going to serve the world, start with washing the dishes for others in your own home.

At no time in history has it been so easy or cheap to travel around the world, this gives us incredible opportunities to share and serve with others. But, if we’re not sharing and helping with others who we live with and interact with every day, why should our lives be different because we’ve traveled to another country and are living out of a backpack?

Take a mission trip, go into the world and experience the profound joy of serving with others and representing Christ well. But practice at home first. Your walk with Christ will be better, your life will be better, and you’ll be a better missionary, wherever you are.

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When Short-Term Missions Go Wrong

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There is a CEO of a major banking firm who has a unique way to interview people. He asks all the typical questions about goals, most significant strengths, etc., but then he does something little more creative. He takes the potential employee out to breakfast. This by itself is not a big deal; the difference is the restaurant has been instructed to get the order wrong. The CEO learns a great deal about the candidate by just watching their reaction to this small issue. Do they get angry? Do they lash out and blame the waiter? Do they ignore it? Or do they calmly ask for the correct order, realizing mistakes happen? When everything is going well it’s easy to come across as mature or grounded. Our reaction to adversity tells the world who we are.

For any number of reasons, things can go sideways on a missions trip. Flights get missed, passports are forgotten, materials aren’t ready when you arrive, the examples are endless of what can go wrong. A lot has been written about the need for extreme flexibility when in the missions field and most of it is valid. The best-organized plans can go wrong at any moment, not just in missions, but in life. The logistics going wrong are common, but sometimes it’s more significant issues. Very often, we go on a trip with concrete expectations, and the trip turns out very different than we had imagined. How we respond to adversity, our reaction to the unexpected, is a tremendous testimony to our spiritual maturity and shows all those around us who we are. We need to see the bigger picture; we need to understand who is really in charge and who’s agenda we need to be following.

As a ministry, on our end, a lot of preparation goes into any missions project, especially when a home is built for a family in our area. We spend months working with the local family to make sure they are genuinely in need of a house, are willing to work alongside the visiting group, and that they are connected in the community. We want to be good stewards of the houses the groups are building, and we want the groups to know the homes will have a long-term positive impact on the families they’re serving. Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, a home build can go sidewise.

Years ago, we had a group come down to build a house for a family in our town. At first, everything seemed fine. The family worked alongside the group for the week; the keys were handed over as the group prayed a blessing over the house and the family, everyone left feeling pretty good. Within a few months, everything went a little weird. The couple wound up separating and going through a fairly ugly divorce. The couple came to me asking, “Who gets the house?” I responded honestly that, “We gave it to you both, we have no say in the matter, it’s not our house.” Ultimately they couldn’t agree, and the house was kind of parted out and eventually abandoned. Not the way anyone thinks a missions project should end.

When the group came back a year later to build another house, they asked about visiting the couple. This lead to an awkward conversation as the situation was explained to the group. You could see how crestfallen and disappointed the group was. But, it also opened up a great discussion about expectations in ministry.

The home build that went “wrong” had blessings that rippled out that we can only begin to guess at. The home builds are some of the best outreach our ministry does. It brings up so many great questions in our town, mainly: “What kind of faith is it that draws people to give away houses to strangers knowing they will never be paid back?” Home builds are a phenomenal tool to reach many people in our community, way beyond just the families receiving the home.

Showing selfless acts of service and representing the Gospel well, never comes back empty. We might not see or know the results of our actions in this life, but the act of service itself is all that matters. That we are faithful to the call of visiting widows and orphans is what is important. We are called to give, to serve, to do what we can. The outcome is never guaranteed. The perceived result doesn’t matter, what matters is our obedience. Did we hear the call and follow through? Were we faithful to the one we serve?

Not everyone Jesus fed or healed became a follower; the important thing was Jesus was doing the will of His Father. If the person being healed by Jesus did not respond in a way that is expected or makes sense, that does not change the fact that everyone around Jesus seeing the miracle was being changed and affected. God knows what He is doing, even if we don’t.

If a mission trip, or any ministry project, goes differently than we expected, react in a way that shows everyone who is really in charge. God sees a bigger picture, take comfort, and even joy, when things turn out differently than expected. Show everyone that you trust in the One who called you.

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