Well this will end up being a 10 day trip but it looks like I’m only going to have 7 days worth of blogs. Yesterday as we spent our last day at the work-site in Samangola, I was contemplating what scripture to use in my sermon for Saturday’s LifeSign service since I will have very little prep time after I get home about 3 am Friday. I figured I would preach on the trip. And it hit me that the most fitting scripture is the one that we adopted at LifeSign as our vision statement “to tear down the walls that keep us from loving God and each other completely” (Ephesians 2:14-15). I’m going to preach on the whole surrounding passage for context: Ephesians 2:11-24.
In this passage, Paul is talking about how Christ has destroyed the dividing wall between the Jews and the Gentiles by setting aside the Judaic law in order to open the door to “foreigners” to receive the gospel. So who is the foreigner in a mission trip to a “foreign” country where it seems like people “do church” with way more integrity and openness to the Holy Spirit than we do in our world where church is about fifth on the priority list behind the soccer matches and social engagements that always take precedent? (I can’t judge anybody else based on the fact that I spend all my time at church because I get paid to be there.)
My only point is that in the Dominican Republic we were not the ones being sent to invite the foreigners to join us in our way of doing things. We were the foreigners fortunate enough to be invited into a strange and beautiful fiesta that was originally called the ek-klesia (which means in Greek those who have been called out”). We were “called out” of our normal ways of doing things and found a world where Jesus dances to merengue and salsa way more feverishly than Celia Cruz ever did. There’s an old guy at the San Rafael church who stands up front and plays maracas ferociously with the kids in the praise band. I’ve never seen a more perfect depiction of worship. Even though it might have been sacreligious, I took a picture of him which I’ll probably add to this blog when I can transfer the image file.
So in the process of being called out of our world to build a physical church building out of the simplest of construction materials (cinder blocks and big rocks slathered in a gravy of concrete), we found ourselves “being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (Eph 2:24). We now are part of an eternal church building that we share with Dominican people who will never stop being our brothers and sisters.
It was particularly beautiful to see how God’s Holy Spirit worked in two of my favorite people, Ballard and Mariah Hall, two spiritually hungry and fired-up young adults in our church who both decided to follow Jesus this past fall. Some of you know Ballard. He’s a pretty gruff but very good-natured and fun-loving Marine who lost one of his legs in the war and worked harder than anybody else, prosthetic leg and all. Last night at our going-away party, he asked two of the Dominicans who have spent the most time with us, Jochi and Juan Luis, to stand up in front with him while he gave a speech to about 100 people from the church who had gathered to send us off. He said that he was a little hesitant to make friends with people at first but that now Jochi and Juan Luis would be his brothers for life. (He almost choked up though he would probably beat me up for saying that.) I suppose this might be the kind of thing that “always happens” as part of a mission experience but that doesn’t make it any less meaningful.
I preached about a month ago about how the way to change the world is not to be somebody important who does something important but to invite others to join God’s family and to reconceptualize our relationships with other people in terms of God’s family. God has used this Dominican Republic trip to make us more deeply a part of His family and to bring us together with brothers and sisters we had not known before. It feels like there’s nothing too earth-shattering about saying that. This is the point at which Internet blogs fail. Something strangely beautiful and eschatological has happened to us this week. We cannot look at the world in the same way again. Don’t take my word for it. Next time, come with us!