A Mission of Change

An adventure is a journey without a specific destination. Using this definition, any mission trip is a kind of adventure. While we might know where were we are going geographically on a mission trip, mission trips are an adventure because we do not know where we might arrive emotionally or spiritually as a result of the journey. Our building mission trip to The Bahamas to volunteer with Bahamas Methodist Habitat over spring break, for me, was truly an adventure. We knew we were going to serve on the island of Eleuthera, but we did not know where that service would take us. (And, take me to unexpected places our mission trip did.)

The first Saturday of spring break, seven of us from YHC left early in the morning to travel to Fort Lauderdale, Florida to catch a plane on Sunday to fly to James Cistern on Eleuthera. After three flights and one bus ride, we were dropped off at Camp Symonette with more that 50 others who had given up their spring breaks to share of themselves and discover where God would take us during this week of service.

On Monday morning, one YHC work team climbed onto an old yellow school bus (from Georgia) to ride to the middle of “downtown” James Cistern, a downtown consisting of a single T-junction with two small stores, gas station, post office, primary school, and one derelict, pink building. Stopping in front of that pink building overlooking the Caribbean Sea, we unloaded our materials and ourselves to contribute to the rebuilding of the community’s health clinic—the aforementioned pink building—that had fallen into disrepair.

Unpacking our toolbox and assessing our materials, we were greeted by Orlando, the site foreman, and later by Rudy, a local retired carpenter. Orlando welcomed us with a warm smile and offered to walk us through the clinic. In taking a tour of the building and learning about its history, we, also, received our team’s tasks. We would cut and hang cement board, help pour concrete pillars for the porch roof, and dig out a bank to the side of the clinic to prevent potential drainage problems. Getting to work, we eagerly began our four days of service, after applying what would be the first of seemingly endless handfuls of bug repellent and sunscreen. (Over the course of the next four days we would discover that the sunscreen was much more effective than the bug repellent.)

Working in shifts and at the imposed pace of “island time,” we came to appreciate the place, the people, and our role in rebuilding the clinic. We were but one of many teams that had come and will come, joining with local labor, to work on a needed facility that helped form the heart of that community. It would take time. It would take more than we could offer. But, it required what we had to offer. We were but a part, however a vital part. Such recognition is both humbling and empowering, simultaneously.

This realization hit me on Wednesday afternoon as we prepared to end our day’s work. I was tidying up the worksite, gathering up debris from both our work and previous teams. After collecting the larger pieces, I began to sweep. As I began, Rudy, the retired carpenter from the community walked up behind me and offered a bit of useful and unsolicited advice. He told me to get some water in a bucket and sprinkle the water on the concrete floors. The water would cut down the dust, making the sweeping more tolerable. As I went from room to room, dipping my left hand into the bucket of water tucked under my right hand and scattering water drops on the floor with each sweeping pass of my arm, I noticed something interesting. The water drops looked like small seeds sprayed across the floor of the rooms that would become the dental clinic, the nurses’ clinic, the doctor’s surgery, and the waiting room. Each sweep of my arm was like I was casting holy water on the place and the water drops became seeds of prayer, taking root and taking time. So with each cast, I offered an impromptu prayer for those who would work in those rooms, the people they would serve, and the ailments they would treat. That tidying work became a sacred moment.

In going to the island for service, I assumed my ministry would be found in our building, in our making something substantial serving as a kind of lasting monument to our willing sacrifice of a week’s vacation. But for me, the holiest moment came in the most innocuous moment, in unexpected seeds of prayer while cleaning alone in a half-rebuilt clinic. I swept a floor that needed sweeping but a sweeping with results that would be undone by the next day’s labor. Rather than in a timeless memorial, the holy was found in the simple and immediate and, ultimately, transitory.

As providence or serendipity, last Wednesday was, also, Ash Wednesday, a day we are reminded that we must be broken down before we are able to be built up, a time of preparing for the new life of resurrection by, first, living into the death that faces us all. Ash Wednesday is that day of the Christian year that brings to the fore the reality that faith is not about what I accomplish or know or confess or believe. Rather, faith is first and foremost about what is done that is greater that our doing, immediately for us and yet well beyond us. On that day, we, also, glimpse that the holy might be seen in the least expected or what we previously called unholy. On that day, we recall that it is not what we have been but who we are becoming that ultimately matters.

Over these next few weeks as we journey together through the season of Lent, it is my prayer that we all reflect not on the grand but the humble and look for the holy not in the permanent and public but in the transient and banal. May we all find our place in the larger puzzle, not so much concerned with what has come and what will come but with what might be needed and found in the present. In the present, we find not just what was or might be but what truly is. And, what truly is, if anything, is but another name for God.

When I traveled to The Bahamas, I am not sure if this is where I had expected my missional journey would end. But, as I said, mission trips truly are adventures.

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