Sorry for the delay in posting, we have been back for about a week and it has taken us some time to process and recover. I decided that since my wife is much more gifted at writing then me, she would probably be better at describing our trip, and how we are processing the experience. And a HUGE thank you to all who prayed and helped support us on this trip, God did some amazing things and i am so thankful that YOU all helped us make that a reality. Any now without and further adieu i give you my wife’s first blog entry…
Well we made it back to the States. I think I should be happy to be home and sleeping in my comfortable bed in my heated apartment (it’s been in the 30s here – brrr!). I think I should be happy to be back to hot showers and consistent electricity. I think I should be excited to drive my car again on a highway system that actually has rules (in Haiti the rule is don’t get ran over and use your horn often). I think I should be happy to be back in my home church, with full roofing over our heads as our expensive sound system cranks out the praise music. And honestly, I am. I am grateful for all of these things. But in all of these things I have discovered something I didn’t expect to find: distraction. Shouldn’t we have a better capacity for prayer if we aren’t concerned with freezing or starving (or heatstroke if you’re in the Haitian heat)? Shouldn’t our comforts free us up to focus more on God and draw closer to Him? Shouldn’t the privileges of a hot shower, running water, sleep without a mosquito net, or even privacy – shouldn’t all of these things enable us to move closer to God? I’m frustrated by how easily my attention is shifted away from Christ and to my comforts, my rights, and my entertainments. The thing is I don’t think anything is wrong with any of these comforts – the issue is when we use these comforts as an excuse to drop God a notch down on our priority totem pole. The truth is any of us could have been born into any other circumstance than the one we were born into. So why do we take these blessings and use them to curse God?
Distractions. We have allowed gifts of comfort to transform into distractions. It seems illogical to envy an impoverished, barefoot orphan living in the slums of third world Haiti. But their joy was impossible to ignore. And their joy was not sourced from the old adage “ignorance is bliss”. These kids knew how to use our iPhones and cameras, they knew that the clothing we wore was nicer than theirs as they worked feverishly to wipe us down every time we stood up from sitting in the Haitian dirt, they knew the world we came from as we tried to understand theirs. These children were neither unintelligent nor unaware of our “privileged” backgrounds. But maybe we have gotten things backwards. Maybe they are the privileged ones. Maybe, their simple smiles hold more joy than we have ever experienced because, maybe, they have experienced God in ways we haven’t allowed ourselves to. What if we have gotten it all wrong? What if the American Way simply isn’t the Way?
In chapter 8 of the gospel of Luke Jesus introduces us to different types of soil that seed (the Word of God) can fall on. In verse 7 we see that some seed fell among thorns, “and the thorns grew up with it and choked it”. Verse 14 explains that the thorns represent “the cares and riches and pleasures of life”. I don’t think Jesus is bashing a heated home, running water, or a fully roofed church building. But I do think Jesus is hitting a hard point for our American Dream chasing society. Jesus recognized that these comforts, if chased after only for self-consumption, would create enough white noise to drown out His sweet voice.
The joy of the Haitian people I met who knew Christ reminded me of another story Jesus told. In the gospel of Matthew we are introduced to one verse, but in this verse is described the abandonment and love we as Christians should have toward our Savior.
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter into the kingdom of heaven (Mark 10:23)! The truth is there are far too many American Christians who would not be willing to sell all they own to gain the kingdom of heaven. But look at that scripture again: in his JOY he sold all he had. This man, probably thought as foolish by those around him, was overjoyed to part with all of his belongings because he knew the reward for being able to purchase the field that contained his treasure. I think back to all the yard sells my family had when I was younger. I can remember having to go through my toy chest and pick out items to sell. I can remember specifically a teddy bear my mom wanted me to include in the yard sell. Do you know that I had not even touched that toy in a year, at least? Yet as I was asked to give it away there was a strange clinging that occurred at the thought of having to part with this cute and cuddly toy. Everyone has experienced this odd and sudden connection to that item we don’t want to rid of. Why does this happen? Why do we place so much value in our items and our belongings when Christ says, “Look! In this field is buried treasure! But you must come see for yourself!” Sorry Jesus, but I’m too busy mourning the loss of my teddy bear to come look at your field (or flat screen TV, dream home, or whatever it may be). Alas, we are too quick to choose complacency and mediocrity over the greatest thing there is!
Sure, we’re ok with choosing to become a Christian, attend church on Sunday, give our 10%, write checks to those who travel for missions, applaud those who do “crazy” things for their faith, but that sold-out, taking-the-bible-too-literally Christian culture just isn’t for us. Or is it? What if that crazy, sold-out, taking-the-bible-too-literally is exactly how Christ tells us we should be living? Scary? It should be to those who don’t want their comforts tampered with. Now all of this isn’t to say that I am the fiercely obedient Christian that Jesus says we should all look like. Far from it. But I am saying that the reality of Christ has been exposed to me and it hit me directly in the face. It kind of hurt, actually. Jesus stepped up and started pointing to all of these areas in my life where I choose comfort, security, anything else over Him. God is a loving and gracious God certainly, but He is also a jealous God. He does not want me choosing His gifts over Him. That brings me to my next point.
What are we pursuing? When we say “yes” to Jesus are we choosing Him or His blessings? When we pray do we pray to get closer to Him or to get an answer from Him? When we give do we do so out of obligation or to be able to pat ourselves on the back, or do we give in hopes of blessing God? These are questions I have to ask myself. What am I ultimately after? The benefits and blessings of God, or God Himself? I pray this question catches in your throat the way it did for me. Because I think we do have it wrong, have it backwards. If the way is Jesus and not comforts, rights, etc., then shouldn’t I be after Jesus, not comforts, rights, etc.? Shouldn’t I be after the One who is able to justify, not His justification? Shouldn’t I be after the One who knew me before I was born, not His answers to my future-seeking questions? Shouldn’t I be after the One who is able to pardon all sin, not His sin insurance? Do you see what I’m getting at? It’s not that the offspring blessings of Christ are wrong, but when we are ultimately seeking those to bless ourselves instead of seeking Christ Himself, we are missing it! Christ is THE greatest thing there is. He and His Father are the buried treasure!! We have to see this. We have to be willing to sell everything to gain the kingdom of heaven! O that God would remove the American Dream haze and untint our vision so we could see what we’re truly pursuing verses what God tells us to pursue.
I am grateful for my brief time in Haiti and pray for future moments there. I pray also for those reading this – that these words wouldn’t be read and brushed aside as something written in an emotional response to a “mission trip high”. I pray you hear the truth in what God is revealing to me and I pray that God begins to reveal those same areas to you. And maybe, God will turn things upside down for you. And maybe, we’ll see those comforts solely as gifts and not rights. And maybe, that will shift our focus from things to God and, in turn, from God to people. And maybe, we will begin to see the work that we were intended for all along. Just maybe. But we have to choose God. We have to choose Christ. And we have to stop choosing “me”.
This is another segment of a doctument that Courtney wrote for shelterwood… “Jesus really made himself known to one of our Shelterwood girls in Haiti. This beautiful girl struggles with food and weight issues and these had really intensified in the weeks leading up to the trip, so much so that leadership questioned if she should still be taken on the trip. The first morning we were there she confided in staff that during the trip she was going to remove herself from the center and not make the trip about her. This must have been just the remedy she needed to free her from the bondage she was in because during our time in Haiti our team got to see the lively and free
girl we all knew was hiding behind her chains. Praise God that the love of those beautiful orphans showed our Shelterwood girl that God is REAL and God is BIG – bigger than her problems, as she testified at the end of the week! The normally quiet and insecure girl has broken out of her shell and shared her story with the entire Shelterwood campus upon return and now volunteers to lead the girls house in prayer whenever she can. God is good! (pictures to the rights)
Finally here is a link to the slideshow i made for the trip. Please do not repost this publically. We do have confidentially rules at shelterwood so unfortunately i will probably have to make this link private in a week or two.