Monday, August 07, 2006

It All Means...

Well, writing those posts was quite an experience, but I know it was worth it and that's why I plugged on. It meant writing a lot, reading my journal a whole lot and looking at over 1300 pictures. If you read all of these posts, let me know, I owe you a gift or something. The narrative of our trip on this blog was just a representation of what happened - of course, a trip like this contains so many more details. Also, the narrative would be somewhat useless without my own debriefing, so here it is. Keep in mind, these are thoughts directed at me, not you. But if they spur on your thinking, thats awesome.

The Standard Stuff

Photo: G and me.

You know the standard stuff. I don't want to minimize these ideas, because they are important, although sometimes a bit cliched. But important enough to state:

- How great the team was. [Well we did hand pick them so we had big expectations and they rose to just about all of them.]
- Hoping that we - our community of faith - has used this trip as a small piece in the discipleship of some precious students, not just a one shot mission experience that serves only itself.
- There are not many families like the Nens, nor the other families we have worked with, that can leave the comforts of their own culture to risk, serve and bless people and communities in a vastly different culture. After the first three days, I found myself muttering, "I could never live here." They are almost another kind of species.
And over the past few years, every family we have partnered with has said, in effect, "We are honored that you would think of coming here." These families give up a lot and in my conversations with them, they always say how privileged they feel to be doing what they are doing. They are giving life to receive life.
- That students all around the world have pretty much the same concerns. Besides relationships, their future and right from wrong, they all want to live significant, impactful lives.

Ok, now on to the more weighty stuff.

The Church [big C]
I know I've used these two quotes at least a few times on this blog before. But they capture the essence of what I'm thinking.
"But she will live on. She is indestructible. When she dies in one part of the world, she explodes in another. She's global. She's universal. She's everywhere. And while she's fragile, she's going to endure. In every generation there will be those who see her beauty and give their lives to see her shine. Jesus said the gates of hell will not prevail against her. That's strong language. And its true. She will continue to roll across the ages, serving and giving and connecting people with God and each other. And people will abuse her and manipulate her and try to control her, but they'll pass on. And she will keep going." - Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis
"Church leaders invest too much time answering this question: how do we keep new followers from falling away from the church? Church leaders should instead ask: how do we develop people who MUST? Having a sense of "must-ness" is not about social conformity [ i.e. reinforcing acceptable patterns of going to worship services, giving money to the church, attending a small group, etc]. "Must-ness" comes from an internal motivation inspired by a Jesus like understanding of God's activity in the world.
He calls his followers of both the first and twenty-first centuries to give their lives with him to something greater than themselves. When any person hears Jesus' call and recognizes the intrinsic beauty of what Jesus is doing, he will run with red-hot passion and join swords with anyone and everyone who hears as he does."
- Alex McManus

The Church in Cameroon that we were witness to is amazing. It is filled with leaders that MUST. Therefore, it will be indestructible. Though the Church may be fragile, we met many men and women that will give everything they have, have already given everything, and will continue to give whatever the costs in order that the Church may shine. No building, no budget, no location, no social conformity - no matter. And what happens when these types of people rub elbows with students? Multiplication of more of the same. There is a new culture being birthed in Yaounde. My prediction - in the second most corrupt nation of the world, the Church will shine.

This means we should take good notes from a movement of Jesus followers that relies not on the material nor the programmatic, but on bands of friends that sacrificially give in order to build deep relationships so that students are reached and so that Christ's bride - the Church - shines on.

Sense of Community
"Stark notes that there were at least two great plagues in the first three centuries (160 and 250 AD) that actually were instrumental in the nascent church's incredible growth rate, which he estimates at 40% per decade. When the plagues came, those who were able fled the city but not the Christians. They stayed and ministered to the sick and dying--Christians and non-Christians alike. Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria, writing of how believers responded to the plague of 250 observes:
'Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead. The best of brothers lost their lives in this manner, a number of presbyters, deacons, and laymen winning height commendation so that death in this form, the result of great piety and strong faith, seems in every way the equal of martyrdom.'"
- Eric Swanson
This description of community sounds like what we experienced, especially the sacrificial part. The people we met in Cameroon gave a lot. Not only material and tangible things, although they certainly did that. Our host families were extremely giving and gracious, cooking the meals [which included special preparation for Americans - and the average Cameroonian meal takes at least a few hours to prepare], opening up their homes and giving some incredibly thoughtful gifts to some of our students. But more than all of those things, they opened their hearts and considered us family.

Family and community are intertwined ideas in Cameroon. Many of our friends lived very close to family and if not, they made visiting a priority, no matter the difficulty of transportation. Every host family had some sort of family time every evening, whether it be songs and dancing, a short Bible study or prayer time. I observed a great deal of gratefulness among the families we got to know - grateful for a relationship with the Creator and grateful for how God has blessed them.

Cause creates community and maybe this is a glimpse of the intersection between a family that is called to meet the world deepest needs - a supreme cause - and the weight of that responsibility. In other words, I suspect that the families we became friends with know that their existence on Earth isn't just for themselves - and they teach that to their kids. They teach it to their kids in how they act, how they care for their families and how they worship and have fun as a family. Not only are they committed to each other because that is what family means, but they are tied together with a common and significant cause.

This means that my idea of community and family is too small. There is much more to unpack here, but the essence is that I need to move our family to some habits of community that relate to getting to know our neighbors better and deeper, to model a concern and priority for our neighbors AND family and to continually challenge the concepts of how our family interacts with the world.

My [I mean, Jesus'] Leaders

Photo: the ladies of the team, and female leaders NLind [second from left], ESunde [third from left in front] and LB [fourth from left in the back.]
"The best leaders are not those who win the most followers, but those who create other leaders." - Neil Cole
75% of this leader team was made of students from the ministry, now turned into leaders. I would like to think I had a little bit to do with their development - the Developer strength showing up again. On a long term scale, I feel like I, or we as a family, have invested a lot in three of them. One of them was in D's 03 dteam, and the two others came up through SPACE in high school right when it first started. Nonetheless, all four leaders, and these three in particular made me really proud. There were many times during the trip where I just sat back and paused, instead of jumping right in, watching them shape, mold and challenge - all with the end goal of creating leaders from our team of students. Seeing them develop was, and will continue to be, one of the most exciting aspects of my life - exciting because I know they will go on and do much, much more than I am ever capable of, whether SPACE is the context or not. These are the leaders that are creating other leaders.

This means that investing in leaders must be done not with followers in mind, but with future leaders in mind. One of the first goals of SPACE was about preparation of others and this means that the preparation goal - now moreso than ever - must be at the forefront of everything we are doing. And SPACE isn't the only context where this leadership idea must be applied.

Empowering Me
I've dealt with a slight undercurrent of low self confidence for most of my adult life. If you have read Wild at Heart, you could think of it as my wound. It certainly has had an affect on all elements of my life from career to fatherhood to ministry. But this trip, oh man, this trip empowered me. Not only was it one of the most riskiest endeavors I have attempted, but besides fatherhood, it was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. Difficult because of the differences in culture, difficult because I was a bit sick at the end, difficult because it was a ton of travel. But heck - I was in charge of a team of 12, going to three different continents, 6000 miles, and a pygmy village, I spent an afternoon crossing Paris by myself. I was in freaking Africa for a week. We all came back alive and no one was hurt. We all had a great time. And all of us contributed to something much bigger than just ourselves.

This means that when it comes to the abilities that God has given me and the calling that God has on my life, I should not back off with the thought of, "God could never use me." If anything, I should be saying, "God, what a life you have given me - let's go together for even more."

Engaging Students for the World's Sake
I'm just as convinced now as when SPACE started that we are on the right track. Just like last summer's team to Brasil, we did it right. A local, indigenous connection. Partnering with a family we knew and that knew us - both who we were and where we came from. A simple, easily-reproducible strategy for follow up. A hand picked team of students that gave of themselves to total strangers and walked away with friends for life. A leader team that knows how urgent the world's needs are and that we cannot, and should not, do it ourselves.

When it comes to multiplying students to engage culture, to serve out of themselves, to be embarrassed because they don't understand the language, to learn to be leaders - all of it is because the world is desperately waiting. And someone better go.

So this means, the more trips we can do the right way, the more students we can engage within the right framework of our must-have goals, a simple process and top-notch leaders, the more the better [and not necessarily within SPACE all the time.] It also means we should continue to do our homework and press the boundaries of conventional thinking on what makes a good missions trip. And, when we have done that homework, when the planets line up, when our top-quality, sacrificial leaders sign up and go for broke; we will see human history be marked, our friends and family will witness centuries - not decades - be transformed, we will see the multiplication of students and leaders that catalyze individuals, families, communities and nations. And that's the logical outpouring of having God's word in our hearts.

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