letting God do it all
With four days and one meeting left before I head off to my first short term missions in five years (and as a "real adult") I thought I'd take time to hash out the journey it's been for the past 8 (perhaps 10) weeks, and how I am constantly surprised by the Lord.
I think it goes without saying that I started this missions prep with insanely high expectations - fully knowing God always overdelivers - and continue to grow in my anticipation of what He's about to do. I'm also constantly aware that nothing goes according to our plan, and rather God shines in the unexpected, much of which makes sense much down the line in hindsight. I do believe that as you get closer to God and your walk deepens, you get better at seeing this from ahead, but even then we are capped by our human limitations and it's in this constant and consistent surprise that God truly shows His divine nature.
A big part of missions this year can't be detached from how much we've all been deprived of Church activities in the past two years. While music festivals, night clubs, 100+ cast movie sets, and more were opening up with restrictions, it seems that church and school (which I believe are actual essential institutions) have suffered the most with prohibition of activities and events we've taken for granted. Of course, if we truly believe God is always in control, we must admit to ourselves that the pandemic has also been a part of his plan. But as someone who's been frustrated and overall skeptical of the whole ordeal since March 2020, being able to go to missions this year was not only exciting, but also rather "frustrating" looking back at how the two summers we were not able to go in my adult years prior. Furthermore, back in 2019, due to a completely waste of a time during investment banking training (none of which added any value to my actual job), I had to forego one of my last chances to go to missions with my entire family (including my cousins). It's actually one of the biggest regrets of my life, but I intend to end my complaints here.
As someone who's attended missions since the eighth grade (with much of it, in reflection, for the wrong motives), one thing that got to my head during the past two months of prep has been my experience. In fact, this tripped me up at most times, with utter arrogance that I've "seen it all" and that it was indeed my time to shine when it came to the execution of what we must do - from logistical planning to delivering content. I do think it's important to highlight that such things are quite important and going to missions (and other work at church) operates rather similarly to how a company operates (which I've gained massive experience recently) and requires the hard work and attention to detail any corporate job would demand. I don't think there's anything wrong with that and most churches, especially ones of size, commends those that commit to such roles. However, what sets apart the body of Christ from an organization on the NYSE is that the earnings call isn't given by a human CEO. In fact, there's no revenue figure to report, no analyst predictions to satisfy, and previous metrics to beat. The company has already won it all a long time ago, and the CEO dictates the entire market. You just need to understand and believe that He's done it and will continue to do it. Will pause the cringe extended metaphor, but you get the point.
I think I continuously struggle with this as someone who has always been task and goal oriented and often have arrogance and criticism issues when working with those that may serve in different capacities. I do want to semi-pat myself on the back as if I was the same Bryan that served in missions in 2017, I probably wouldn't have the same good relationships I have with my current mission team members. I think through the past 5 years, God has continuously extended a daily training of humility and humblization, reminding me that I am truly nothing without Him and we're all called with different talents, not lesser or greater ones. Through this mission training, it's been emphasized to me over and over again that no one is of more or less use to the Lord, and He has designed us to all be complementary in our work together for His kingdom. It's something that I need to do an active job reminding myself as a cocky and talented individual and I wouldn't be surprised if more events of humblization (I made this word up) comes my way in both serving directly or out in the world.
Missions at the end of the day isn't about the programming. Of course, we must go prepared and missionaries on site have some level of expectations for what we're bringing, and rightfully so. In some ways, our short term missions serves as both a break and recharge for them, a spark that allows them to re-gain their thrill for missions but also give them new ideas and insight for how to lead their ministries. The reciprocal is also the same - we also have expectations on what we're looking to learn and grow from during our 1 week there. Some of us may be going at a time where our walk has been dry, others looking for a break in the hustle we know as NYC, and the remaining may just be seeking another opportunity to work for God in a more direct way. There may even be some that have no expectations and are treating this just as a trip in the summer - I find no fault with any of these reasons, and frankly don't believe it matters as God will deliver everything according to His own plan and surpass all expectations regardless of what we hold.
Through the preparation and training under our pastors and various leadership during this missions season, the thing that the Lord seems to be teaching me is that we are simply tools for His work. A line my dad always uses at the end of every missions is that God has always prepared the table on our behalf and all we're doing is setting the spoon. Just the cherry on top. I'm now realizing that even the spoon is handed to us by the Lord and we're told where to put it. In some ways, we are the spoon. We need to acknowledge this fact and commit to the work that we're given, especially amidst human conflict, arrogance, and doubt as all those are small but hard to ignore blockers in a grand journey we know to be Christianity.
The verse that I've been holding on to - and the one that I typically share as my "favorite" during small group - is Romans 8:28
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
There's three things this verse tells us:
We love God.
Therefore, God works for the good of us.
We are then called according to his purpose.
I really don't think anything else matters, especially in the mission field. We can bring to the table the best worship songs, the greatest skits, and the most well crafted VBS programming, but at the end of the day what we're there to do is love God, love others, and tell others the good news. The good news is that God loves us so much that although we deserved death, He sent His son Jesus to die for us and live again, allowing us to re-establish our broken relationship with Him and have everlasting life instead of death. That's all there is to it.
As I head out on Saturday morning (I'm also very selfishly looking forward to being completely disconnected from the virtual world as it's overtaken my life for the past 9 months), I'm actually trying my best to further grow my anticipation for what this mission trip will be. I originally thought about trying to contain it with worries that I'll be disappointed, but that's what a lack of faith would lead to. I'm truly excited for what God will bring to the table this time and know that He'll surpass all expectations according to His purpose.
Pray for me as I'll need it and let me know if you're fluent in Spanish so I can practice last minute and look good while I'm there (just kidding).