I must admit that WASH — a acronym that public health workers know stands for “water, sanitation, and hygiene” — always catches my eye because it’s part of my sister’s vocation, so it’s on my radar too. (And Steve Garber and friends of TWI have been deeply involved in the work of Blood:Water Mission, so water tends to catch TWI’s eye as well.)
But this piece (“WASH and Faith”) put out by WASH Advocates of Washington, D.C., went way beyond a simple report about well-digging or latrine installation. The advocacy group posted a collection of first-hand testimonials from a short-term missions team sent out from Immanuel Bible Church, in Springfield, Virginia, to serve in the Nicaraguan village of La Bolsa with Living Water International. This kind of public-private/secular-sacred cross-pollination intrigued me.
The testimonials are worth reading, but Greg’s (second to last on the line-up) is particularly touching for his honest grappling with that which Steve discussed on Missio’s sister blog Commons yesterday: What will you do with what you know? Greg writes:
I recently got back from a mission trip to Nicaragua. Now my “normal” doesn’t feel normal anymore, in fact my life feels a little backwards after this trip. However, I believe that’s supposed to happen.
Over the last six years I realized from listening to others and my own experiences that missions are an opportunity for God to change your outlook on life and turn it inside out. This year and yet again, that’s what happened to me. Granada, Nicaragua is the place where I can say… I came undone in the best way.
Living in close community with one focus in mind freed me from the stresses and unimportant demands from work/life that I had been, for lack of a better word—OVERWHELMED by. Just one week of living out of a suitcase with nothing more than food, fellowship, our mission at hand and sleeping showed me I had been filling my life with emptiness. Worship songs followed by prayer and devotions every morning left me with a sense of satisfaction and spiritual fulfillment I long needed. Cell phone, emails, gridlock traffic, sales calls, I didn’t miss them—In fact, I forgot about them all together. In Granada, while serving with my brothers and sisters I had change of heart (obviously). Covered in mud, fighting mosquitoes with upset stomachs we drilled a fresh water well and taught hygiene at this small village. We laughed, we laughed so hard sometimes we couldn’t breathe. Playing sports with children who may have never held a bat or even a ball before and watched one guy do card tricks (the good ones) and be amazed without caring or wanting to know how they were done. I can honestly say—I am alive again.
Now I’m home, back in Springfield, VA where life seems to be moving faster than I want, I am now trying to cope with a reality that is no longer real to me. The last few days I have felt out of place and just uncomfortable. Yesterday I couldn’t even watch TV, so I sat in the living room quietly for at least an hour. Before that I had gone to the grocery store to get crackers and Gatorade, before I knew it my hand basket must have weighed 10 pounds. I felt ridiculous, as I was the only person in the store taking things out of my basket and putting them back on the shelf. Come on, do we really need an entire aisle dedicated to crackers or anything else for that matter?
I think it is time to take a step back from our culture, at least that’s what I did and am doing. There are so many things to be taken for granted that immediately surround us—like countless choices of places to eat out, even though we still have food in our stomach from a 12″ sub from lunch. Mission trips are one way to do this but stepping back from our culture and disengaging it for a period time is imperative for spiritual growth and understanding the “real” world we live in.
See, real life can’t be bought with abundances of “things” or digested at a local restaurant with “authentic” foods. The real type of life we are all looking for can’t be contained or purchased, it’s not found on a shelf or in a magazine. The road to this life is narrow and few will find it…but once you have, once you’ve experienced it, you would be willing to sell everything for it, to give of yourself and stand with people (just like you and me) in need. We can spend our whole lives trying to buy and gain everything in this world, all the feel goods and in return forfeit the one thing that is most important—our soul.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m glad to be in this familiar place I grew up in that speaks my own language with some comforts, like a hot shower in the morning and AC during the day. But a part of me wants to stay undone. I don’t want everything to go back to the normal, for those of you who know me I like to stay a little strange. Because I grow and I see God work more powerfully when I’m out of my comfort zone, being stretched. So I wonder, what type of person would I be if I went on a mission for a month, or even a year? I don’t know—but I want to find out.
In the end, this trip has helped me realize that my plan isn’t necessarily God’s plan at all. Yeah, it sort of messed me up, but I now feel more complete as a person than before I left. At least for me I need more of this in my life, I don’t know about you. The abundant life that Jesus offers is more like dying to yourself or becoming undone as I did and doesn’t at all resemble successful sales numbers and business successions. So I need to remember that this undone feeling I have now is a good thing. It reminds me that I live in this world now but have hope in something better and more fulfilling to come.