Math and I have a strained relationship. We never got along all that well in high school, but he’s proved to be helpful from time to time through adulthood so I have not written him off completely. As a visual learner, I gravitate toward picture problems like bar or line graphs and pie charts. This I understood better because I could see it broken down in single dimensions. I realized recently that I tend to view my spiritual status on a bar graph too. When my prayer life seems good, my household is thriving and temptation to sin seems fairly low, I feel best positioned for ministry and service. Unfortunately, this type of “if…then…” approach to ministry doesn’t always work and certainly does not last. I can recall a time in my life when all my bar graphs were looking pretty good and I decided to graciously sacrifice my “holy self” by spending an entire day in prayer for others around me in need. Although my motives were pure, the hidden pride that prompted this endeavor could not have anticipated the events that would unfold the following day. I received heartbreaking news that day. The kind of devastation that made my prayer seem like a distant memory and in one fell swoop had nothing to give. I will leave that story for another day, but the truth is I had not arrived at some super spiritual level; rather, I was simply measuring my relationship with God through the lens of my circumstances when it should be the other way around.
My daughter Sidney and I took a trip to Guatemala for a week this past July. My very dear friends, Blake and Christina Davis are missionaries there and serve as the directors for an organization called Students International (SI). SI’s ministry in Guatemala and other countries works by establishing long-term relationships within the communities and families for which they serve. SI consists of individual occupational ministry sites which serve as the primary catalyst for community development and cultivating relationships all for the ultimate purpose of sharing the gospel. The most unique part of SI’s ministry is the various positions available for opportunities to join and serve such as: permanent year-round staff, semester students, summer staff, and short-term summer mission teams. Every aspect of Students International is relationship oriented. From staffing to community sites, their one common thread that is woven through this entire ministry is connecting people so that they may share the hope of Christ. During my short time there, I was able to witness how these different aspects of the ministry work so well together. Although we did not go on an official “mission trip,” during my time there I gained a better understanding of how multi-dimensional God is and how he works through the challenges we face and not just despite them.
The first night we were there we joined Christina and Blake as they hosted their weekly dinner and bible study with their summer staff students. This special time set aside for Blake and Christina to spend with their summer staff allows them get to know each other personally and openly share their struggles each week. It was neat to see the diversity of the group. This summer there were four female college students all from different places with various backgrounds, ethnicity, and interests, but they each came to serve this little rural community in central America. I listened as they shared their individual challenges they face as they work in their assigned sites. From relationship issues to personal fears, they each openly shared the areas where they had concerns. As close friends with missionaries on the field, I was already aware of how internal and relational challenges do not disappear when you enter the mission field. In fact, one could argue that those battles might even be illuminated when immersed in a new culture while relying heavily on relationships with people whom you’ve only recently met. This particular aspect of this ministry allows the students and staff a unique opportunity to grow in these areas. Through this I’ve learned that immersion is not only the most effective way to learn a language and a culture, but also the most effective way to learn about ourselves. Just like in life, the pain we experience through these challenges shouldn’t be viewed as an inconvenient hurdle we must jump over quickly so we can get back to easy living; rather, it could be a critical part of our growth that we must intentionally walk through while continuing to serve the Lord.One of the things SI teaches their students is that we all have areas of poverty in our lives. We may enter the ministry or mission field with this superhero mentality of “I have something someone else needs” when we should simply empty our vessels of prior expectations or personal agendas. God always has a plan and it doesn’t change as we exit a familiar setting into a foreign one. Micah 6:8 says that we should do good, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. There is no special addendum to his word in reference to a mission trip. He knows us better than we know ourselves so we can trust that he has every detail orchestrated for his glory, but for our benefit. So we can strap on our backpacks full of love, gratitude, and mercy along with our brokenness, fear, and flaws knowing that he can use it all and teach us through it as we humbly serve him. We must remember that God may not place us in particular position of service solely for one purpose. We serve a very big God who can use us in the lives of those we serve alongside just as much as those we are actually serving. In the past I’ve resisted taking a trip or volunteering to serve for various reasons, but anytime I say “yes” I’m always enlightened or impacted in a profound way. We do not need to wait until our bar graphs line up perfectly and we feel that we’ve reached a spiritual peak to be used by God. He knows all the intricacies of our brokenness and individual circumstances, but he is faithful to use our brothers and sisters in Christ to help us learn more about him as we accept these unique opportunities in ministry as we draw near to Him.
To Learn more about Students International and how you can support this wonderful ministry visit http://stint.com/.