Sunday, July 27th
I’m blogging tonight from Jaco, Costa Rica. I’ve been here with some of our high school students for the past week. We’ve renovated a community park where a local church holds weekly Kids Club, we’ve painted the roof of the Hermosa Elementary School, we’ve helped with the Kids Club, and we’ve taught kids how to surf, to name just a few of our activities.
Coming to the end of a trip like this is always a combination of bitter and sweet. Bitter, since I’m now leaving a wonderful week of ministry, not to mention spending the week surfing one of the hottest beaches in the world for surfing. To put it plainly, its been an epic week.
But not a typical “mission trip” at all, however. And purposefully so.
You’ve have perhaps already read my blog called “Mission the Point” about my disdain for “mission trips”. And where most mission trips, retreats, and other various youth events end with the “final night”, I have chosen instead to let kids simmer in the final few moments–not in tearful and emotional declarations, made sobbing en mass, but rather….well, swimming at the pool.
Here’s my logic (or lack thereof): If the closing night event, in the mind of students, serves as the “period on the sentence” of the weeklong experience, then by taking away the closing night “event” concept, I remove the perception that we are about to move from “here” to “there”. And in doing so, perhaps allow the transition from “here” to “there” be a bit more seamless.
No, I’m not fooling anyone, nor am I trying to; I’m merely looking at the past, seeing what does and doesn’t work, and making the appropriate changes. If the “final night” meeting of the trip reaps only temporary and emotionally driven results, then I say drop it like that cut and paste clip art–the kind you literally had to cut and paste.
Another example of dropping what doesn’t work–this week we’ve had prayer/Bible study times as a group. Well, 2 nights in a row saw exhausted students with bobbing heads during our supposed Bible study time. I’d say 60% of them were asleep for most of the group devo time.
So, on the 3rd night, I give a couple important announcements about the next day’s schedule, I get them into groups of 3 to briefly pray together, and that’s it. And you know what responses I immediately got? “That’s it?!?” and “You mean we’re done?” I even got a prayer hug; one of my favorite kinds. If its not working, why do it, right?
I just don’t want to hold onto anything that doesn’t work. I don’t want the reason we do things to be “because that’s the way we do things.”
This week, by the way, has been absolutely incredible. It started with a domino line of events that put us in Costa Rica 24 hours behind our planned schedule. From a delayed flight, to a rebooked flight, to an unplanned overnight stay in Atlanta. And through those and many other circumstances this week, we were blessed, moved, and blown away to see the hand of God moving. And those unexpected hours spent together served to bond our group even tighter before heading into our week in ministry to the people of Jaco.
At our “Learn To Surf” event for children yesterday, one of our adult leaders Sheldon, took a surfboard to the mouth, ending him up at the local Red Cross clinic receiving 9 stitches in 3 different places, including the inside of his mouth, his chin, and his neck. And while he was getting stitched up, another of the leaders was speaking to one of the clinic workers, ultimately leading him to a personal friendship with Jesus Christ.
In the van on one of our many rides from point A to point B, Sheldon shared with all our students that we just can never know what God is up to. What was at one moment me helping him out of the surf while blood poured from his mouth, turned into another moment where one person’s eternity changed forever. In Sheldon’s words, “I’d take a million stitches if it meant having the chance to see one person come to know Jesus.” And on top of all that, Sheldon testifys that he has had NO pain whatsoever. Not when it happened, not after, not now. No pain. Even with no pain medication. Nothing.
And its in these moments–so many of them peppered all througout our week–that we had those “green pasture” times as a group, and as individuals. So, while a closing meeting might serve to help tie the week up with a nice bow, I don’t want any part of anything being wrapped up, concluded, or ending.
And even this morning, as we joined the local church (check them out at http://www.ccfjaco.org/) for worship, several of our students participated in the open testimony time. One of our high school guys in particular spoke pointed about waiting for God to hit him with that “boom” moment–the one that he had come to expect as a staple in any half-decent retreat or mission trip. But with the week not having one “boom” moment, God taught him that life with God is truly so much more about the moment by moment walk with Him. As I’ve heard it put so perfectly: “God is more often found in the moment, and less in the momentous.” It was throughout the week that this high school student learned that if he wasn’t “feeling” God near, it wasn’t God’s fault.
And if you’ve read my “Mission the Point” blog, you know that I so want to see even more life change as a result of mission trips, not just week change. (And yes, our mission experiences are only one part of the big picture approach to discipleship.) But I truly believe that so much of the “mission trip’s” fruit still remains to be seen. Jaco, Costa Rica looks different because we’ve been there, but what will our students’ workplaces, lunch tables, school hallways, classrooms, families, and neighborhoods look like because we went to Jaco this summer? To me, that’s just as much a part of the mission experience as the trip was–maybe even more.
Because if it was a weeklong trip without lasting results, both in Jaco and in us, then we’d better adjust our perspective and approach on the viability of such trips.
Some insights I’ve developed both over the years, and in the wake of this most recent trip:
1. It’s best to downplay the differences between here and there, and magnify the similarities. Highlight transferable principles that will be invariably born out of cultural experiences.
2. Its in flexibility that we see God work. Its often in the unplanned and uncomfortable that God does His thing.
3. Build a strong prep and follow-up that allows students to prepare spiritually, so that as much as possible, the activities of the trip aren’t done only on the trip.
4. Spiritualize everything–it all is, anyway.
5. Allow all participants to be led by God to their own conclusions and commitments about their experiences. I’m not saying don’t do corporate worship or sharing (I’m not an idiot), but I am saying it isn’t wise to shoot for a synchronized group-wide “aha”. Let God handle that.
I hate when people say, “I know what you’re thinking…” because I’m thinking “No, you don’t.” So, I won’t slap a bunch of qualifiers and disclaimers on this thing, trying to explain myself out of the things that readers might certainly disagree with in what they read here.
Heck, I might read this in a week and totally disagree with myself. I’m as teachable as they come, but I doubt it.
So, I’ll just leave it right there.