I suppose one of the harder concepts to acclimate to on a trip such as this is that we are coming from a culture that assigns high priority to time and productivity above all else and we are going to a culture that prioritizes relationship. We, as westerners, are productivity driven and its interesting how this is reflected on a mission trip. Typically, we have taken time off from work and have invested a fair amount of money to travel to a distant land. Early on, while the team is forming, the questions begin - Why are we going? What are we going to do? It’s never about who are we going to meet? And so, when we arrive and a project begins, there is always the temptation to be project driven. Finishing is most important. Productivity is the goal, “did you see how much we got done today?”
Does this remind you of a familiar story concerning Jesus and two sisters? According to the story found in Luke chapter 10, Jesus is invited to their house and this is actually no small thing as He didn’t travel alone. There would be an entourage and lots of preparation would be required. Martha is about the preparation – well, who wouldn’t be, right? After all, Jesus is coming and we need to put our best foot forward. As the story unfolds, Jesus and friends arrive before all is ready. Martha continues with the preparations while her sister Mary, takes a spot at the feet of Jesus and listens to “His words.” Martha comes to Jesus obviously frustrated and complains that there is much yet to do and asks Jesus to tell Mary to help out. Jesus responds, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away.”Jesus isn’t saying that Martha’s work isn’t necessary or unimportant – rather, it is about timing and at that particular time, sitting at the feet of Jesus was the most important thing.
This is such a hard lesson for so many of us, especially men, but not learning it comes at a high cost. I can’t tell you how difficult it can be for me to spend quality time in prayer and silence before the Lord. I mean, I want to – I realize the value of that time and I long to hear His voice of direction and assurance, but sometimes it just feels – so unproductive – like I should be doing something. Indeed, the absurdity of that statement isn’t lost on me – um, its unproductive to sit before the God of the universe and wait upon “His words?” “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) is an indication that we need to learn how to be still – do nothing, as it were, simply present yourself to Him or perhaps better stated, simply make yourself present to Him. Stillness is the place where we can find God – not in the middle of the busyness of our daily lives. God doesn’t shout at us over the chaos of life, but if we will still ourselves before Him, we will find Him waiting to meet with us. This, I suppose could be called relationship training. What we do in relationship with God, we are to do in relationship with others. After all, we are relational beings made in the image of a relational God. If we learn to sit well with God, we will learn to sit well with others.
I have had to learn over the years of going to Kenya that it is not primarily about the projects we complete - it is about the lives we will touch and the relationships we will make. The significance will be found in how we sit with those we meet and those we serve. I now take more time to ask about, and listen to, the stories of my new friends lives. I am trying to take the extra minutes to actually pray with folks instead of just telling them I’ll pray for them as I walk away.
Each team member has to sort out this balance between “sitting” and doing. We have traveled far and spent much to be here – of course we want to accomplish some projects. These projects will make a measurable impact on our friends lives so they are important to us. But if the project isn’t completed, I have never heard complaining or disappointment. I have only heard gratitude because we came to be with them and the fact that we came, makes the trip a success.
At the end of the day then, does the effort and expense justify the trip? That’s always the question, especially for the first timer or for those who simply don’t understand going at any level. For the masters of efficiency, sending the money over makes more sense than going. But it isn’t always better and more doesn’t necessarily get done because we send more money. In fact, something gets lost in the relational distance. History and statistics have proven over and again that sending more money to Africa isn’t the answer. So we go – because we felt the call – because we are realizing the value of presence - because we now have friends there – in a place called Kenya.
Be sure to also check out Jim's team blog here.