Friday, June 7, 2013

Not a Title, But a Way of Life

The plane touched down on the narrow strip of concrete in the middle of the jungle for my first trip to Iquitos in June 2002.  As I walked across the tarmac to the terminal with my church's mission team I heard the whisper of the Holy Spirit say that this very foreign, very uncomfortable zone would one day be my home.  In July 2004 I was no longer just a mission team member as in the two previous years - this time I was the trip leader.  Leading added a whole new dimension to the experience, which began with half of my team, myself included, getting involuntarily bumped off our flight from Atlanta to Lima.  Fast forward to 2005 - Amazon Mission Fellowship was born of a loose but committed group of pastors and Peru missions veterans devoted to seeing the ministry continue and I gladly accepted a spot in this group. 

I continued as trip leader in 2006, but rather than just a week with my church mission team, I spent my first summer in Iquitos acquiring Spanish and learning the ins and outs of hosting the summer teams.  At home in the U.S. this was the year I was elected as an elder in my church and began a three-year term on the missions committee.  In the summer of 2007 I coordinated and hosted the mission teams with the help of a returning intern.  This was also a big year for AMF as we officially formed our organization with officers, board members, bylaws - the works; I became the first President of Amazon Mission Fellowship.  Along came 2008 and I was a solo act.  Now in my third full summer, I lead my own church team as well as hosted six other teams.  This would be the year the familiar voice of the Holy Spirit would speak again with only two words - "It's time" - and I understood. 

In 2009 AMF got the exciting news that we were now a legitimate non-profit organization recognized by the U.S. Federal Government.  That same year I uprooted myself - walked away from an 18 year teaching career, left family, friends, and home, packed my things and created a new existence for myself in the Peruvian Amazon.  Usher in 2010 and I had a year of life in the jungle under my belt and had learned a great deal about the significant differences between being in a foreign country for one week vs. two months vs. year-round.  The summer of 2011 was the busiest one to date.  By this time AMF had grown from one U.S./Peruvian sister church relationship to five partnerships in addition to two new churches beginning to invest in the mission and a group that partnered with the local schools for handicapped children.  In June 2012 I had come full-circle.  Ten years after my first trip to Iquitos I spent what would be my final summer (at least for awhile) helping so many precious friends - gringo and Peruvian alike - grow their investments in each other.

They tell me that this is the process by which I became a missionary.  I disagree.  I submit that I gained the title of missionary on November 20, 1997 when I acknowledged myself as a sinner in need of a Savior and became best buddies with Jesus.  Call me crazy, but I'm pretty sure I still carry the title, even though I no longer live in Peru.   And I don't just live in the U.S., but (brace yourself) in South Carolina! Yes, I hear the collective gasps as those of you outside of the Palmetto State perpetuate the false notion that Jesus would never come here.

Whether on the banks of the Amazon River or in small town South Cackalacky (and if you don't believe that's legit vocabulary feel free to consult the urban dictionary),  people are lost, hurting, searching, looking for a better way, longing for the love that is found only in the arms of Christ.  So how are they supposed to hear the Truth?  Find the answer?  It's gonna be pretty tough if real missionaries are only those who live and serve in foreign countries.  Last time I checked I wasn't in heaven (though South Cack is VERY close!), and if heaven is home, then that must mean I'm currently living in a strange land.  The question is, am I serving in this foreign place?  Am I putting myself out there among the poor, the lonely, the downtrodden?  Do I know the homeless, the drug addicts, the abused?  Could I tell you where the widows, the helpless, and the hungry live?  Or do I wear my nice clothes while driving my nice car to my nice church where I mingle with other nice people and hear a nice sermon before going to a nice restaurant for lunch after which I will take a nice Sunday afternoon nap?

I've got a lot of work to do processing the experience of Peru.  Significant chunks of that work will play out here on this blog through the retelling of stories and the analyzing of one of the most amazing legs of my journey, through which God fully intends to show me (and you if you're brave enough to go with me) what a missionary really is.  Think you've got what it takes to tackle it with me?  I invite you to come along - no, I dare you to!

Recommended Reading

  • The Bible
  • Serving with Eyes Wide Open - Doing Short Term Missions with Cultural Intelligence - David A. Livermore
  • Cross-Cultural Servanthood - Serving the World in Christlike Humility - Duane Elmer
  • Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It) - Robert D. Lupton
  • When Helping Hurts-Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor...and Yourself - Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert
  • Shadow of the Almighty - Elizabeth Elliot
  • Messy Spirituality - Michael Yaconelli
  • The Irresistible Revolution - Shane Claiborne
  • Peace Child - Don Richardson
  • If God Should Choose - Kristen Stagg
  • In the Presence of My Enemies - Gracia Burnham
  • Inside Afghanistan - John Weaver
  • Same Kind of Different as Me - Ron Hall and Denver Moore
  • Through Gates of Splendor - Elizabeth Elliot
  • End of the Spear - Steve Saint