[Today’s post comes from Emily Amburn]
A mission trip consists of different components, each important in fulfilling God’s work. The manual labor, which today included mixing concrete, hauling it in wheelbarrows, and passing it in buckets down an assembly line, deemed “The Bucket Brigade”. While this part is extremely important, and the most visible thing we leave behind as Burke United Methodist Church, I feel the most important part of a mission trip is the building of relationships. Through working with the construction workers, learning about the Iglesia Evangelica Dominicana and its mission with the United Methodist missionary Sarah and the local pastor Sairy, and playing with the kids at the site, each plays a special part in building and maintaining relationships with the Dominican people. I think it’s imperative to build these relationships not only to spread God’s word, but also to educate ourselves and share what we’ve learned about the people. Continue reading
The word jóvenes means the “young people.” It basically covers both youth and young adults. In Latin American culture, there isn’t a huge gap between people who are under 18 and over 18, probably because going off to college is an exception rather than a norm. In any case, the Iglesia Evangélica Dominicana is a church that is run largely by jóvenes. Continue reading
Maureen Glaser and I have come down ahead of our Dominican Republic missions team to visit a couple of places we’ve worked in the past. We are staying with Carolina Marinez, the pastor of two congregations in San Rafael and Samangola, which are two colonias of the larger town San Cristobal where Carolina lives in a house with about a dozen extended family members and works as a full-time pharmacist to pay the bills on top of being a pastor which is either volunteer or very low paying.
Several months ago, someone from the United Methodist communications office emailed me to see if I could blog about the Methodist “Imagine No Malaria” campaign. She gave me statistics about how many kids in Africa die from malaria each year and tried to make a case for it being an important enough issue for me to write about. To my discredit, I didn’t take her up on the offer. Why? Because campaigns against malaria and the other quiet, methodical ways that God’s people change the world aren’t sexy enough. They just don’t get blog hits the way that scandals do! But this weekend, Methodist churches around the world will be doing a coordinated missions push called Change the World in which the world will be changed through hundreds of thousands of humble, unglamorous acts of Christian servanthood, even if people like me aren’t paying attention because we’re wrapped up in our favorite scandals. Continue reading
I have gone on several short-term mission trips. I love going and think they’re awesome, but not because I think that I can “save” anybody in a week. Actually the reason I go is to be further converted to Christianity by serving people who seem to have a deeper, richer relationship with God than I do. In Methodism, missions is mostly about service and awakening to the realities of global injustice for the person going on the trip. In the evangelical world where I grew up, missions was primarily about saving souls; if you gave people a “cup of cold water,” it was so that you could talk to them about Jesus. But as missionary Laura Parker shares in a recent post, when you use a bait and switch missions approach, what you end up with are “rice Christians.” Continue reading
On Tuesday at an ungodly hour in the morning, I will get on a plane to go to the Dominican Republic with 11 other people from Burke United Methodist Church. This is my third mission trip to Latin America though I’ve also traveled there for secular reasons both business and pleasure and I’ve worked with Latinos in this country for most of my adult career as a union organizer, high school teacher and Latino student union adviser, and then as a youth pastor to a youth group of mostly Mexicans with a handful of Hondurans and Salvadorans all of whom I miss terribly.
I don’t know what it is about Latin America that makes me feel more at home there than in the suffocating world of suburban northern Virginia. My youth told me that I was like a reverse Oreo — white on the outside and brown on the inside. I can’t explain why. But it’s actually been culture shock to finally be among “my own kind” in northern Virginia, people who share my socioeconomic background, level of education, race, and anxiety about success. The cynic in my brain suspects me of fetishizing Latino culture as a way of being the cool white guy who speaks another language and can look down on other white people for not being as multicultural. It does feel really cool in an unreal way to be invited into the intimacies of another culture’s family traditions. I’m going to be the padrino for the quinceañera of one of my former youth later this summer.
In any case, I’m going back (home perhaps?) to Latin America. I feel like I’m going to be apprenticed, to learn how to be a Christian from people who exude the heart of Christ unassumingly and matter-of-factly. And when I say that, I realize I haven’t met anybody where I’m going. I’m just superimposing my experiences in the church in Peru and El Salvador and romanticizing real people who aren’t perfect just because they’re poor and whose lives aren’t necessarily “simple” just because they don’t have Internet. But I really do feel like they have a lot more to teach me than I have to teach them. Who am I to tell them anything about putting their trust in Jesus Christ?
There is a palpable hope and trust in the kingdom of God in all the Latin American churches I’ve ever visited. Is there a way for a rich white guy to somehow carry that back with me to my land flowing with anxiety and existential “crises”? Is there inherently an inverse relationship between hope and economic security? Can you have plenty of stuff but not be a basket-case? Certainly there are poor people who are basket-cases too. I’ve met and ministered to some. What I pray and hope is that somehow God will reveal a truth to me in the way that the Dominicans do church and I’ll be able to bring back some new insight that is somehow applicable in our completely different suburban context. God, help me to be a faithful apprentice.