* I'm super-pumped! I've been invited to be a guest contributor to the Presbyterian Church's (USA) mission efforts. Their Mission Crossroads program does a monthly podcast called "God's Mission Matters." It's a great resource for anyone in the short or long-term mission field. Anyhow, my job is to augment the podcast with a written piece focusing on popular culture. Here's a draft preview of November's article. *
No doubt you have heard last month’s news regarding the rescue of the Chilean miners. After two moths trapped beneath the surface of the Earth, thirty-three very happy, smelly, dirty, grateful men broke through the darkness into the waiting arms of family and trained medical staff. The story is the stuff of Hollywood movies. Tragedy and uncertainty all wrapped up in a happy ending.
Before the miners had made it to the surface, I was lucky enough to catch a story on NPR that focused on the miner’s wives. As you might imagine, the women were distraught beyond belief. To help the women through their anxiety and grief, they dispatched a team of experts to help them.
Apparently, the lack of sleep and unimaginable stress wasn’t their only concern. The dry air of the Atacama desert was wreaking havoc with their hair. Their skin was dry and flaky. Their tresses were parched an unmanageable. Forget post-traumatic stress. They had split ends for cryin’ out loud!
Of course, I am being overly dramatic.
The reporter in the story interviewed some of the hairdressers. Not surprisingly, they viewed their role as that of counselor. They were there to listen. To comfort. To support and sustain. All the while, choosing the right cut to accentuate high cheekbones or bright smiles.
The wives were in a different position. Every fiber of their being wanted to lend a hand to the rescue effort, yet there was nothing they could do to help. But what they could do was make the pending reunion with their loved ones as special as possible - as if it needed any sweetener. This was one thing they could control. They took pains to choose a look they thought would be flattering, yet not change too many attributes of their appearance as to shock their spouses.
Now imagine you are one of the miners. You are going through one of the most agonizing waiting game anyone could imagine. As one , Mario Sepulveda would explain it, “I was with God, and I was with the devil. They fought and God won.” The only words to describe what you’ve been through involve a Heavenly battle between good and evil.
Meanwhile, less than a half-mile above your head, your wife and her friends are getting makeovers.
This only proves that it’s not the physical space that creates the distance. It’s the experience. So different. So unexplainable. Still, I can only imagine the exhausting joy that the families are experiencing now, growing together through separate experiences now shared. Lives reconnecting.
And so it goes with mission work. Certainly, I cannot be so bold to say that volunteer service in God’s name in any way matches the struggles of the miners. Not even close. That’s like saying my experience as president of my high school mathletes club qualifies me for a race for the White House. But the analogy is worth exploring.
All of us who have embarked on mission work can attest to feeling at a loss for words. How can we explain what we’ve just experienced? Truly connecting with the divine. It’s like trying to describe the taste of air or the smell of your own nostrils. It has moved us. Changed us. Shaped us. Tranformed us. We want to shout it to the rooftops.
But we just can’t tell you what “it” is.
And when others ask us about our journey, they ask questions that seem so far removed from the depth of the experience.
“So, what was the food like?”
“Did you get to bathe?”
As if a description of rice and beans, and occasional mystery meat might be a window to the soul of service. Such encounters can leave the missionary feeling misunderstood and alone. We’ve been changed from the inside out. An extreme soul makeover. Tranformed.
They merely got a haircut.
And this can be very frustrating. Until we remember something.
Though our insides have changed, our outside looks exactly the same to everyone else. So everyone else seeks to understand as best they can, using references that would have applied to the person they knew before. This support can seem so awkward. Like getting a makeover while the lives of loved ones hang in the balance. But that is where we must begin. Because we have to recall what it is that changed us in the first place.
We were changed because we were willing to go outside of ourselves to experience another culture. Another perspective. Someplace foreign. Only to find that God was there waiting for us in the faces of strangers. Sharing a common love. Nurturing one another. Learning from one another. Perhaps getting more out of the service than we have given.
The entire experience is about community. Building mutual respect. Sharing equally. All in the name of God.
And so when we return, the mission continues. We must have the courage to go outside ourselves to experience another perspective. Lives reconnecting. Finding God anew in the faces of people who now seem strange. Sharing a common love. Nurturing one another. Learning from one another. And allowing ourselves to get more out of the service than we can give.
Then, and only then, will we truly be transformed.