Awhile ago I was learning about the realities of being a missionary-- ever so slightly starting to see past the glamor and I wrote this post. It's a lesson that has continued.
For awhile I worked for a nonprofit and wrote stories about people who are missionaries, but never leave their neighborhoods and rarely walk on concrete or update their Facebook profile.
I studied abroad and met some missionaries. Except I didn't know they were missionaries because they told me they just happened to live in Costa Rica and her painting class was just how she shared Jesus through art, their community library was because they liked to help people learn English, and their church was because they needed community and encouragement and thought maybe other people would want that too.
"Except I didn't know they were missionaries..."
Then life got mundane at home working a part time job and I met people at a non profit and realized there are about as many Spanish-speakers in parts of my city as in Latin American countries. And there are missionaries who, yet again, don't call themselves missionaries.
So ok, it's a worn out topic. We should all be missionaries. But I was thinking about a few things I do differently on mission trips or Christian service:
Prepare. I prayed over everything. I would expect big things and wake up with a purpose and urgency. I meditated on scripture religiously. It wasn't because of obligation, but rather awareness of my emptiness and need for something to pour out.
Wrote a lot. I shared my stories because I figured people would be interested if I was on a mission trip. Or maybe because I had a story to tell, and normal days living life at home dosen't really seem like much of a story.
Take pictures. A little less spiritual, but I relished in the little moments. I let myself be thankful in the little smiles, the meals, and the sunrises.
Reflect. I let myself think. I thought deeply about why things are certain ways, and what I could do to change them. I did a lot of self reflection and made plans to change things for the sake of others and ultimately for the glory of Jesus.
Rest. I scheduled rest because I knew I needed to recharge-- something I rarely pay much attention to in real life.
Sure, I think some of these things have spilled over into real life, but definitely not all of them. Regardless, they're good question to ask.
How do you live on a mission trip or scheduled Christian service? Why should it be any different than regular life?
There's a difficult side to serving and missions...no matter where you are. When you pour your heart into something it can hurt and burden you. Even in real normal mundane life, loving people deeply and joining a cause bigger than yourself is never neat and perfect. Sometimes you can't switch it off.
You hear phrases like "live-missionally" and it sounds great, but maybe it's a lot messier and more difficult than we can could ever imagine. Maybe when it's void of pretty titles, perfect pictures and step-by-step instructions, it's more beautiful than we could ever imagine.
I know some pretty incredible missionaries-- but interestingly enough, what makes them so great is their complete ignorance to the reality that they are, in fact, missionaries.
I sat in the damp library during the daily two-hour downpours.
I was sick of being the stupidest one in the class.
More homework that made no sense to me, words I had never seen and conjugations I had never learned. I was already repeating a class. Shouldn’t I at least understand half of this?
But it was another literature story I had to google in English. I thought I would never learn Spanish and I felt silly for all my dreams and jokes about being fluent one day.
This was my story of learning a new language. Of feeling like an outcast some days and others feeling my heart soar as I looked out from the top of mountains and volcanos and rooftops.
But it really started when I was only 16. I got through Spanish classes with a dictionary and a lot of last minute cramming and google translate. My high school spanish teacher looked like a pumpkin with her bright orange hair and I’m pretty sure she didn’t actually know Spanish.
It was the first time I realized you could fall asleep in class. Like literally take a sufficient nap in that two hour class period.
We never really learned any Spanish.
Eight years later, I see the world a little differently.
I see the thousands of kids who are in school, but don’t speak English.
I taught that word to a group of 7th grade ESL students yesterday.
“Use it in a sentence,” I asked them.
The quiet boy in the back spoke up and pointed at the three newcomers from Mexico who sit on the computer instead of participating in class because they don’t understand their teacher.
“I sympathy them because I know what its like to learn English,” he said in his still broken English.
We respond a little differently when we understand someones struggle. Suddenly people aren’t numbers or burdens or bad test scores. And oddly enough they are a little easier to love when we aren’t looking down at them, but just sitting across the table.
In light of our presidents speech last night that brought mixed responses about where our country is. There seem to be even more mixed responses when it comes to how to fix them.
As we look at the worlds problems maybe we could remember that we are all people with real struggles. That refugees and immigrants and people from other religions have a name and a story that we couldn't possible understand.
The poor and the weak and the forgotten have names just like the the rich and the important and the respected. We as individuals or as a nation will never make all the right decisions, but maybe we could just take a look at the heart they stem from-- get out of our shoes of privileged or educated or middle class and put on a pair with a few more holes and soles that aren't quite as new.