When we moved to the town we now call home, we bellied up to a church, pulled up a pew and sat ourselves down. Joined the ranks, so to speak. Didn't look around with a checklist or a single 'what can you do for me' notion in our heads. We just hauled our kids in and there we were. It was a substantial transition--death, job change, me back in school. You name it, we were doing it. But God was there and we were in it together, so what else counts, when you think about it?
So a few years and one Masters degree later, not to mention a turn as an elder, which wasn't nearly the spiritual, New Testament kind of leadership I'd imagined but more like a business meeting once (or more) a month--ah, the meetings!, and somehow, in the way, the very way of God, just like Him, if you know what I mean, I was part of the leadership team for a mission trip to the little town of Uruapan, Mexico, south of Ensenada. OK, so I was the lead-dog for a brand new kind of trip, a multi-generational trip. Our church hadn't done such a thing before, with children and teens, and adults all having a hand in it, all carrying the load, the vision and, in the process, seeing the Kingdom come, His very Kingdom come in and through and sometimes inspite of all of us together. But if you've been reading these blogs you'll have noticed that this wasn't a new thing to me. God is like that. He uses our lives to prepare us for--well, for our lives, actually. So those trips to Alaska with our 5 and 7 and 9 year olds, those three years of trips just the Genesis for these trips with children. And that first year the youngest was--yep, you guessed it--5 years old! The oldest, 70, and come to think of it, we took some retired folks with us to Alaska a couple years too. I just plain love God, don't you?
So there we were planning this trip, and I knew, I just knew it would work, that we could do it, didn't need some outside mission organization to help us, send us a packet of advice, or shopping lists, or devotional material, or whatever else we could generate ourselves. Seriously, we had the Beve, Mr. Shopper-extra-ordinaire, who'd shopped for 46 people one year in Alaska, and loves it! We were only taking 50 to Mexico. We had a couple great people those first years who were so gifted organizationally they'd put anyone to shame, and should be hired out, I'm telling you. In fact, the walls of the church could fall down, but you lose one of them--A, I'll call her-- and you've lost the real structure! And if we prayed, prayed, and prayed some more, God would give us everything else we needed.
And I took on the devotional. Felt the press of God to do so. And felt the press of Him to get out of the way as I did, if that makes sense. It was an amazing journey for me, creating it, studying for it, trusting God for the spiritual health of our team, especially that first year. We didn't know what we were jumping into. What it would mean for us, only that it would change us as we did the work. The building work and the relational work.
I only went on the first two trips to Uruapan. But I'm telling you, a person packs her bag here, thinking she's on her way to roughing it in a third world country, and drives down the dirt road to Bethesda Mission about 12 hours later (and that's after flying, waiting and driving), walks through the square brick building and out onto the veranda where the valley is spread out below, and it's paradise. My breath was literally knocked from my body the first time I walked through that door. Right at sunset, the towering cacti and rocks framing the picture, a lovely breeze that comes up only at the edges of the day, it was like God's grace. You know, we think we're going to suffer to do His work, but instead, He says, "I love you, I give to you--see how much more I give to you!" Yes, we worked. Some of us worked very, very hard indeed. (I merely lost my voice that first year!) But what I think happened, what has happened every year at Bethesda, is that in the work, in the sleeping and eating and sitting around the tables together, in the worship together each evening, and the campfires and small groups, and all the ordinary moments between, is that we--whoever the we is that week--become the church. We are the living, breathing Bride of Jesus Christ, in our sweaty clothes and wet hair.
And it's changed me to have been a part of it. My conviction that multigenerational mission can and should work--that was profound, from God, I believe. If you could see, as I did, what those children have brought to these trips. God's purpose in their presence. Why, there are children living at the mission--and they were stunned that first year that we had children with us. It was a God-thing, as a friend of mine likes to say. This thing I fought for, a God-thing. Of course it was. And that I was privileged to lead those first couple years, to help start this thing on its course--that changed me. And those devotionals, the thinking through those passages--the Beatitudes, the "I Am's", Colossians 3, The Lord's Prayer--as contexts not simply for study, but for daily life--that has changed how this church does these trips. Not just work and play, but never, ever forgetting the rhythm of Christ in it all. For me, every time I come to any of these passages in my own devotional life, I'm swept back to which ever trip it's connected to. I like that too. It reminds me of those people, to pray for those people.
I don't know that I'll ever go to Uruapan, Mexico again. But I'm glad--abundantly glad--that there is a team going this summer, praying their way toward whatever God will have them do--whatever building they will do, whatever VBS they will lead, whatever children they will hold, whatever church they will become. God's Kingdom will come through them, in them, and, in some ways, at some moments, in spite of them once again this summer. I feel connected to that. I always will, I think. It was church and ministry and mission all at once. That's just the way it should be, thank God very much.