During the weeks preceeding the mission trip, I have to admit that the cynical part of me often doubted the usefulness of our attendance. Often it seemed contrived…sort of fake…for my two little princesses and I to travel to West Virginia to help “poor people.” Who were we kidding as we bought dust masks, safety goggles and work gloves? Was our playing construction worker really going to impact the lives of anyone in any meaningful sort of way? Wouldn’t all the money we spent buying supplies for the trip be better used by a reputable charity organization to make a real difference somewhere? Would our group of 40 blowing into town for a week of “do-gooding” really change anything in the lives of the people hurting in West Virgina….and, for that matter, what about the people hurting right here in Northern Virginia? Or was this all just a feel-good field trip designed to assuage my liberal guilt the next time I spent $80 filling up my fancy SUV or blew $100 on a new pair of boots this fall?
As I adjust to life back here in Northern Virgina, I have given a lot of thought to the value of our trip to West Virgina. How, if it all, did we move closer to experiencing/ bringing about the Kingdom of God? Maybe some of my cynical suspicians were true…at least partially. If my ability to serve my fellow human beings is limited to strangers in West Virgina, than perhaps the value of our participation ended as we crossed the state line. If my skills as a construction worker are a measure of the work I did, then I’m afraid it may have been a wasted trip. While I believe we definitely helped the folks we met in West Virginia by completing the projects that we were assigned, did we impact their lives in any way that will matter 3 months from now….6 months from now?
While there may be many questions left unanswered, there is no doubt in my mind that God ordained this trip and that it did matter. I am hopeful that we all learned something last week about the way God calls us to be servants. Jesus gave us a beautiful example of being a servant in the 13th chapter of John. This is the familiar story of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples and of Peter allowing Jesus to wash his feet, despite his discomfort with Jesus performing this demeaning task. During these very intimate moments, Jesus showed them that there was no task too lowly or dirty when we are serving from a place of love and grace. I think maybe…in a small way….we learned a little bit about washing feet when we were in West Virginia.
My life is very different from the people we met in West Virginia…yet, in many ways, we are very much alike. Stripped of the fancy trappings of my Northern Virginia existence, I too am just a sinner in need of grace. Thankfully, I am someone who is very aware of the outpouring of God’s goodness and grace in my life. I am blessed beyond what I deserve and, truthfully, I don’t really understand why. Without all the adornments and comforts of my privileged life, I had the opportunity to reconsider my dependence on God for everything that I have and it brought me to my knees…literally. And kneeling is the position we must be in to wash the feet that God places in our paths…
In the moments we spent in the home of J.B. and Max, I saw God at work powerfully. As I mentioned before, I was blown away by the generous spirits of the children with whom I was privileged to serve. Our job at their home involved some construction, repairs and cleaning. It also involved celebrating our common humanity with them by getting involved in their lives. We spent precious moments on their front porch, talking and laughing together. And we laughed A LOT! They were precious people who had experienced difficult circumstances but still found joy in life. It was a pleasure and a privilege to serve them…even when it was dirty, hot and uncomfortable. From the moment J.B. first prayed for us on our first day… thanking God for sending us to help them…our time there felt like a divine appointment. God was in charge and was using His people to make things a little better for all of us. J.B. and Max having a safer, more comfortable home makes the world better for all of us because we are all connected in Him. That, it seems to me, is what the Kingdom of God is all about. Opening our eyes to the world outside of our little safe cocoon…one person at a time. But did we bring those eyes back home to Virginia? Only time will tell…
(By the way, in the picture on the right, we are wearing hats that J.B. gave us. We got lots of presents from them!)
Here are the lyrics to a Michael Card song that I listened to today. It is called The Basin and the Towel and I think the lyrics fit beautifully with the lessons God is trying to teach me. Enjoy!
In an upstairs room, a parable
is just about to come alive.
And while they bicker about who’s best,
with a painful glance, He’ll silently rise.
Their Savior Servant must show them how
through the will of the water
and the tenderness of the towel.
And the call is to community,
The impoverished power that sets the soul free.
In humility, to take the vow,
that day after day we must take up the basin and the towel.
In any ordinary place,
on any ordinary day,
the parable can live again
when one will kneel and one will yield.
Our Saviour Servant must show us how
through the will of the water
and the tenderness of the towel.
And the space between ourselves sometimes
is more than the distance between the stars.
By the fragile bridge of the Servant’s bow
we take up the basin and the towel.
This is such a wonderful post; my wife is a very big proponent of mission work, and traveled to Honduras several years ago to spend some time there helping to rebuild in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch. We are also fortunate to attend a church in Alexandria that puts an incredible amount of emphasis on mission and outreach, both here in the Northern Virginia community and at points across the country and around the world. If it’s okay with you, I’m going to link this post to my blog so that other folks can read it and be inspired by what you’ve learned from — and what you gave during — your trip to West Virginia.
Thanks, Matt. Feel free to share what God’s been doing with your readers. I appreciate the link.