I got back this week from a twelve day mission trip to the Philippines. Of course, the experience contained far more than I could ever (or should ever) put in a blog post, so I’ll spare you all of the wonderful and gory details and leave you with just a couple of take-away moments.
1. Who says you’re ever too old for mission work? Every member of the group I traveled with was old enough to be my parent and almost all were retired. And yet they ran circles around me! While there we built a house, visited day care centers and hospitals and elementary schools, taught sewing classes, started multiple livelihood projects, painted a new shelter, and built relationships with our local partners. Whew! I’m tired just thinking about it! Everywhere we went people joked about our ages. We became the group of “senior citizens with a school-girl pastor.” I was proud to be with a group of wise, older folks who showed what foolishness it is to equate vitality with the young or usefulness with youthfulness. God calls us at all ages and in all walks of life.
2. Hello, old friend! Those are words you don’t often get to say in mission work, at least not the way we tend to do it in American churches. We tend to take one of two approaches to international mission work. Either we commit to a place or an organization primarily through the sending of money or goods, or we travel to different exotic places every couple of years. The first approach tends to be how adult mission works and the second is often what youth mission looks like. There are good reasons for both, but neither is nearly as rewarding or as effective as traveling to the same location year in and year out. This group has traveled to the city of Dumaguete for 11 years. They’ve built partnerships with the local Habitat for Humanity organization, the local university, and a local congregation. These partners help guide our work, steering us away from projects that aren’t needed, and teaching us how we can be most helpful. The idea that we have all the money, resources, and answers faded several years ago, and the work we do in Dumaguete genuinely feels like a partnership. The people we visit aren’t strangers anymore, but friends. I spent most of my time building and got to know builders that our group has been working with for years.
Su-sing was our boss. He’s a master builder and kept us all on schedule, for work and breaks.
Domingo (on the left) and his friend were two of the silliest. For the record, this picture was their idea, not mine.
And last, but most certainly not least, is Marino. Marino is also a master carpenter and was probably my favorite person on the build site. He spoke little English, but watched out for me, taught me how to waste less concrete, and made me laugh every day. After I took this picture and showed it to him, his immediate response was, “I’m so beautiful!” Isn’t he?
3. Waves of grace: Every morning started with devotions. We would all gather and sing, reach scripture, and pray, rooting ourselves in Christ before we went out to be his hands and feet in the world. Imagine my surprise when the first songs we sang on the first morning were songs I’ve taught a thousand times at summer camps and on youth trips in the states. The praise song Every Move I Make became one of the group’s favorites and we sang it almost every morning. The words are simple:Every move I make, I make in you. You make me move Jesus. Every breath I take, I breathe in you. Every step I take, I take in you. You are my way, Jesus. Every breath I take, I breathe in you. Waves of mercy, waves of grace, everywhere I look, I see your face. Your love has captured me. Oh, my God, this love, how can it be?
Simple and verging on the corny even. And yet what grace there was in finding myself singing this so very familiar song thousands of miles from home among people I barely knew. What grace in feeling that the work we did there was of a piece with the work I do back home. What grace in feeling that I already knew these people, that we really are all one body in Christ. Those words became my touchstone for the week. There were indeed waves of mercy and waves of grace crashing down all around. Everywhere I looked, Christ looked back. And I was so very thankful for the love that has captured me, that brought me to that place and brought me back, that has brought me into work and joy that I never could have imagined. Oh, my God, this love, how can it be?
Beah Grace and her brother, neighbors to the new homeowners. They sang with us some mornings, and blessed us with their watchful presence all week. Waves of grace, for sure.