Yesterday my friends dropped me off at the airport just after 1pm. My flight was scheduled to leave at 3:10pm, and I checked it and got through security with just enough time to go to the bathroom and buy some bread sticks before I boarded. Things were going great. Then I got to the gate listed on my plane ticket and saw a Jet Blue flight to Orlando. I was on a Spirit (blegh) flight to Ft. Lauderdale. No big, I thought. Gates change all the time! I found one of those big screens with all the flights and quickly scanned it. No Ft. Lauderdale. No Spirit. Uh. So I went over to the woman standing at the desk at the gate and asked her, kindly and in Spanish, if she knew anything about the Spirit flight. She didn’t. She said I had to keep checking the screens and wait for them to announce the flight.
I checked the screens again. Checked another screen. Got a little anxious about missing the flight. Called Melissa and asked her to check my flight information online. Spirit’s website said it was on time. (Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.) Found another man behind a desk to talk to that wasn’t in front of any one gate – I thought he might have more big picture information. There was another American guy talking to the behind-the-desk guy. They were speaking English and I butted in – “Oh! Are you going to Ft Lauderdale, too?” He was. By this time our flight should have been leaving and still there was no sign of it. The man behind the desk said, “You see those screens right there?” and the American guy said, “It’s not on the screen!” and I said, “No esta en ninguna pantalla!” The behind-the-desk guy said, “You just have to keep checking the screens and wait for them to announce it. I don’t know about the status of the flight.” I said, “Quien sabe entonces?” He repeated, “Quien sabe?”
By this time the American guy had walked away and the behind-the-desk guy told me in Spanish that he’d call someone else and see if they knew anything. He called and told me that as far as whoever he called knew, the flight was still at A4, so we just had to wait at the gate and it would come.
I cannot help but wonder if I got more out of behind-the-desk guy because I spoke Spanish. His English was flawless, but there’s something about speaking someone’s native language in their native country that earns you some respect, you know?
The church I attend in San Pedro is big into missions. You know, like Jesus was. The church I attend in San Pedro is also big into being used by God. The church I attend in San Pedro understands that God’s desire is to know and grow everyone everywhere and that once we make ourselves available to being used by Him, He will do crazy awesome things. The church I attend in San Pedro is comprised mostly of Dominican members and attenders, but there is also a significant group of Americans (obviously), some Haitians, Brazilians, and Cubans. And these Dominicans, Americans, Haitians, Brazilians, and Cubans are supporting missionaries in Peru, Spain, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. And in 2015, the church I attend in San Pedro is sending a group of 11 (or so) church members to Peru on a 12 day missions trip! And guess who signed up?
It was me. I totally signed up.
I have never passed up an opportunity for short term missions and I’m not sure I ever will. Especially as my knowledge and understanding of missions and short term missions expands and deepens and grows. Which may sound contradictory, because the more you learn about short term missions, the more you realize it’s kind of a broken system. But, here’s the thing. Knowing that short term missions isn’t always helpful (and in fact can be harmful to everyone involved), and knowing that getting on the plane isn’t always the answer (because believe it or not they might not need or want you), means I can set myself up for good and useful short term opportunities.
Like YouthWorks, which if you’ve been around tattooedmissionary for a while you know I adore. And like what we’re doing here at IBEM, which is sending a group of Dominicans (and you know, me) to Peru to support a missionary we support all year round. This trip is an extension of our preexisting relationship. IBEM (my church in San Pedro) has already been to Peru once before and were able to give not only their time but also a sizable donation when they left. (Let’s be honest, missionaries – groups are fun but we’d rather have a sizable donation. Am I right?) IBEM sends funds and prayers to this missionary family and their church in Peru routinely and consistently.
I have a confession. For someone so (self-labeled) missions-minded and for a (again, self-labeled) lover-of-diversity, I have been woefully close-minded about missions. I just have never thought about other countries sending out missionaries, short-term or otherwise. I just hadn’t! I thought that this was an American thing that we American Christians did. Which is a really silly thing to think since the very first missionaries were going on trips long before America was even a thing. Also, I’ll be the first to remind folks that the Christian church is blowing up in the southern half of the world. Jesus is restoring and redeeming all over Africa and South America. If part of his restoring and redeeming me was sending me out, why wouldn’t He be using that same method in the lives of my brothers and sisters around the world? Well, He is. We’re reading the same Bible (albeit in a million different languages – hooray!) and in each Bible God commands us, in whatever language we understand, to Go and Tell and Share and Be Light.
And people are listening. Like, much better than I listen. And they are Going and Telling and Sharing and Being Light. And they are Saliendo and Diciendo and Compartiendo and Siendo Luz. The church we will be visiting in Peru has/works with/supports/partners with (I’m not sure on the specifics) a seminary. Which means there’s a group of people in Peru learning about who God is and what He’s doing and who we are and what all that means in Peru, just like there are a group of people in Michigan learning about the same thing. You probably don’t need me to tell you this, but God is doing His thing all over the world and, in some cases, people elsewhere are responding much more appropriately than North Americans.
The Dominican church has something unique to offer. Not only the church but each of the church members have a unique redemption story that is active and fruit-bearing. The culture and experiences of each of the members contributes to a beautiful body of believers, each moving forward in communion with Christ and each other. We speak Spanish. This trip will not be financially easy for anyone, but if IBEM knows anything it’s that nothing is impossible for God. The Dominican church knows that God shows up and shows out way more often than we want to give Him credit for. The Dominican church knows the power and rewards of unshakable faith.
Each of our talents and gifts, backgrounds and experiences, will assist us in supporting and serving the Peruvian church. We will be able to communicate with church and community members without a translator. Which to me is reason enough to get on that plane.
What I’m trying to say here is that the North American church does not have a monopoly on anything (except the prosperity gospel, which nobody else needs). God is bigger than I give Him credit for and He is doing work. Big, great, life-changing work. And sometimes, probably lots of times, He does that work without the help or money of a North American. I need to acknowledge that. Perhaps you do, too. But sometimes, He does use North Americans, bless Him, because I have my own set of skills and experiences, talents and gifts, background and culture and those things are Kingdom-useful, too.
What I’m also trying to say is that knowing someone’s language is so, so important when you’re trying to communicate something. I know that everyone who’s ever been on a mission trip to “Africa” (which is a continent, not a country, and so, so big you really shouldn’t have a problem specifying which region/country you are actually visiting) will tell you about the language of smiles and hugs. And, yeah, okay. But how much more valued would that person feel if you told them in their native language, their heart language that they think and pray and dream in, about a Creator God who does the impossible and who loves them?
God is a relational God. He does work through relationships. How many Sunday School teachers have explained prayer like this – What if you got married and then never talked to your spouse? That wouldn’t be a very good marriage, would it? Well what if you went on a short term missions trip to support a church body and then you never talked because you couldn’t speak the language. This may be going too far here, but that wouldn’t be a very effective mission trip, would it? Because anyone can paint a church. I am confident that there are Dominicans and Haitians and Kenyans that know how to pour cement. International churches don’t need your youth group to do that. But if you spend money and get on a plane and sit next to someone and say, Tell me what Jesus has done in your life and then you can listen and understand and share and tell and PRAY TOGETHER – Oh. What a much more lasting impact.
More than anything, we need each other. More than we even need money. We need to be understood and valued and loved. We need to be those things – understanding and value and love – for and to each other. I understand and value and love my Dominican brothers and sisters by having learned Spanish. This is not to say that you cannot love people without speaking their language, but oh, how much more effective could your love be?
If you have no desire to learn a second language, boring ol’ North Americans need to be understood and valued and loved just as much as the people living in the exciting places. And without having to spend money on a plane ticket, without having to go home at the end of the week, oh, how much more effective could your love be?