I don’t remember the children but I remember the homes.
I don’t remember how we served but I remember being told the truth.
The smell of rotting hills have long since faded but the shock of knowing that the people I was meeting lived in the city’s garbage dump will probably never leave.
No one told us before we entered that many of the children had AIDS. I guess they thought it would leave us prejudice, hesitant, and fearful. As an adult, I realize they probably should have told us for safety reasons. But I’m glad they didn’t.
I remember the laughter contained within that small contained area that was their “park.” I remember the homes that were so creatively built from other people’s trash. I remember thinking how cold it must get and how I would always be afraid of it falling in on me.
I don’t remember the details, I just remember that feeling.
There was a new people, a different people, a different place, a different language.
We would drive past businesses, each unique in their own way but possessing the same commonality, the armed guard with a military issued weapon. Only the soldiers weren’t military — they were freelance. The businesses have long been forgotten but the fear of making the wrong move still lingers.
I played with their children. I visited their homes. I listened eagerly, trying to catch what the fluent speaker spoke to the women. For that’s all they were — women. The homes were empty but a man was hard to come by. Years of civil war had robbed children of fathers, wives of husbands, and the future of balance.
I don’t remember the communities, I just remember that feeling.
The world turned again and I was standing once more a trash heap. Only this time it wasn’t an actual dump — it was just a place where government services didn’t reach. The people spoke differently and my hair had more gray but the stories sounded much the same.
The cycle of the un-educated, poor was clearly evident. Food for the children was provided with money earned from prostitution. Without city services like electricity, running water, sewage, trash pick-up, or bus services, the lives of the people spiraled down further and further.
I don’t remember the faces, I just remember that feeling.
In another time and another place, I can vividly recall the translator sneaking in explanations while the women wept harder. I don’t remember her face but I remember the tears.
I remember the feeling in my stomach as she told me about how they had just sold off their teenage daughter to some man in Germany to keep her safe from the terror in Iraq. I recalled the faces of the teenagers I see weekly and pictured them. I pictured their parents and what they would do if faced with the same predicament.
Helplessly, I sat and held her as she wept. I couldn’t understand her pain. I couldn’t understand her words. But I understood her tears.
I heard other stories there — sometimes in broken English and sometimes through a translators. I don’t remember all the stories, but I remember that feeling.
Their stories have become faded and their faces have blurred. But that feeling of helplessness, that feeling of knowing that I was barely scratching the surface, the longing that I could stay longer and praying that someone else would, that feeling stays
Then I think again…
Sometime between these other stories, I found myself crammed between mountains somewhere in the Andes.
I recall the beauty of those majestic peaks and the joy I felt in knowing that the God who had formed them said that I was His best creation.
Then I thought about the people who lived in the few scattered houses. I asked about them and my heart shattered.
Most of them had never heard about the God who formed their protection against invading armies. As bygone centuries disappeared, the people who dwelt in that hard place had been protected. Those very mountains were difficult to breech and the land resting inside was hard and unforgiving. Hope was placed in the mountains instead of the One who formed them.
They were hard to the outside world, even if a missionary had tried. It would take a lifetime to finally scratch through the hard exterior.
“And no American church would want to hear those stories.”
In other words, no American church would support the missionary because the feel good stories would be rare and the success rate would be low.
I think about this moment most of all.
Sometimes I’m ready to pack up my bags and head to that dark and beautiful place to live an immensely frustrating, unproductive, and eternally rewarding life. And sometimes that sounds like the worst decision I could ever make.
Life as an American Christian comes not with the challenges of imprisonment, lack of resources, or even lack of choices.
It comes with something very different — apathy.
The opportunities to live half a Christian life are plentiful. It’s expected that we mix political views with God-spoken values even if those political views don’t line up with Scripture. It’s easy to blend in but cry out when we can’t live a lazy Christian life or when something stretches just a bit too far beyond the God drawn line that we’re already dancing across.
I think about the hundreds of conferences that happen each year. I think about the mission trips that people claim will change them forever. I think about these things and I wonder — What happened?
Okay, okay, I get it. Some changes are “small” according to world standards but huge within that person. Some changes are trickling. Some are gradual from glory to glory.
However, I do wonder about thief that steals those encounters back. I wonder what could be done if we held onto those moments a bit longer. I wonder how amazingly powerful and God-reflecting the Bride of Christ could be if we didn’t so easily slip back into those “regular” things.
I don’t know. I don’t have the answers.
I do know this —
If you don’t wanna deal with these same thoughts, if you’re happy with your Christian life, go to that Christian conference, say the right things like “I’m forever changed” afterward, but go back to the same habits.
If you don’t want your kids having these kinds of feelings, pray they go on that mission trip and slip back into their “teenager” ways quickly.
If you don’t want to question the mainstream “Christian” political views, then just sing those songs on Sunday, read your Bible a few times, and shelf God’s prodding, teaching, and correction for “another” time.
If you don’t want to do scary, uncomfortable things, well, maybe Truth-filled, God-breathed, Radical-calling Christianity isn’t for you.
Mission trips, Conferences, and all those other Christian events aren’t bad. In fact, I think they’re blessings from God. We have the opportunity to expand our knowledge of Him and share in a magnificent time with other believers.
However, for me, those events have create an aftermath of questions and lingering feelings.