This is our first Sunday back from our Mexico mission trip. In a sentence, this was a great trip. I am speaking from my own vantage point. As always, it was extremely hard work. There are always glitches ... mid-course changes. It's all to be expected. How people deal with these hardships is a wonderful sight to behold. They deal with them with grace. It's not the more typical response which is to insist on a perfect world. My conviction is this, that our commitment to a common goal overrides our grasping for entitlements and rights. In a sense, we sacrifice them for the common good of service in the name of Jesus Christ. I wish we could transport this attitude to the whole of our country. But, it doesn't work that way.
Our trip was also marked by a noticeable absence of illness. We had but one sandstorm, whereas we had 4 last year ... all at the most inconvenient time. We built, according to plan, one fifteen by thirty foot house and the first phase of a thirty by sixty foot, two-story community center.
Sometime during the summer we have a worship service dedicated to this trip. We share about the trip. Typically, I do not speak. There are so many other stories to be heard. We will still do this. However, I am going to get my say this year ... this morning. This is my opportunity to share my perspective.
Ephesians, four, is a passage about the church ... church structure and organization and function. It is not organizational flow charts. It's not titles and positions and job descriptions. It is simply people pitching in and using their gifts ... God-given, Spirit-given gifts. Paul uses an analogy, one that he also uses in I Corinthians 12. He makes reference to the human body ... hands, feet, eyes, ears, etc. The body isn't all feet. The body can't be all hands. Imagine a body that was all eyes. Where would the hearing be? How would it move? The eyes are not better than the hand. The hand is not better than the feet. The mind might think, "without me you would be nowhere." That's correct. But the mind shouldn't get too cocky. The heart may decide to rebel. And then, where would the mind be? Each has its place. Each part is needed.
It's the same way on these mission trips. We watch the scriptures unfold before us. We each take our gifts and run with them, all for the common good. Those who lead in worship, a very upfront, visible, audible kind of function, are thankful in the extreme to those who unplug the toilets. No one sees it getting done, but everyone benefits.
In the orphanage where we stay, we have toilets. There is even a little handle on the side. That's only because that's how toilets are made. To flush these toilets you pour a couple of gallons of water into the bowl. Then you go out and refill the bucket for the next person. One thinks of the other who will follow. That's the way the world should work - though it doesn't.
It's a bit of a paradox, that although we are so removed from the comforts we have come to expect, we are actually so much closer to heaven in the way we are to consider and take into account those around us. Because we have everything that we need - here in West Chester for example - we end up not needing one another. We end up poorer for it. The richness of a mission trip is our mutual interdependence. Whoever uses the bathroom depends on the person before them who fills the bucket. When I'm on a wall, toe-nailing a 2X10 joist with Daniel or Ken or Laura or Jackie, I depend on someone to grab more nails when I run out.
Don't think it's all man's work here. Jackie Mueller and Laura Gregory were grabbing 2X10's, 16 feet long, some still wet, handed to them from the ground by Josh and Shane who are really big puppies. Jackie and Laura would set them on the top plate and nail them in. Each one uses their gifts for the common good.
I mentioned before we left that this mission trip to Juarez, Mexico, is not only about those of us who go. The mission trip is all of us. Anyone who prayed for this trip, anyone who put anything into the offering plate, who encouraged those who went, who helped with the planning, contributed some item, were part of this trip. Your gifts were as important, as indispensable as other's sweat and blisters. It's all service in the name of Jesus Christ.
It's obvious that it's not possible for everyone to go on a mission trip like this one. Yet, there are advantages that come with it if you can go: the same or some of the same advantages that come through suffering and illness and hardship here. Mission trips have a way of stripping away distractions ... TV, radio, parts of our culture, things - things which clutter our lives. When we get rid of the clutter we can better see what's important. And, as I say at most weddings, few things in life are important. In Mexico, washing your hands before you eat is important. Finding a place to sleep is important. Relationships are important ... relationships with God and to each other. Then when we get back to our Ohio home, some of that carries over. We realize our lawn is not that important. The kind of car we drive is not that important. Relationships are. Serving others in the name of Jesus Christ is important. Using your gifts to serve is important. Mission trips help us to see this - what's important and what is not. So when we come back and we don't get bent out of shape by a few smudges on the wall in the youth room, now you will know why. Hardship has a way of putting things in their proper place.
There is a person many of you have not met. His name is Tim Gamwell. Looks a bit like a '60s hippie. Don't be deceived. He is one solid person. He is a missionary to Mexico as was his father before him. Using the analogy of the body, Tim is like the nervous system. He is our Mexico contact. He has a talent for connecting ministries and resources. He is able to see the big picture. And, he is wise. He shared with us a passage of scripture. I don't remember which, but it said in essence, "walk circumspectly." The word "circumspect" carries with it the idea of being aware of the circumstances and consequences. So, to walk circumspectly means to behave or act in a way that takes into account consequences. How will it affect other people? Will God be honored by this behavior?
He tells a story. It was Christmas time in Juarez. In a neighborhood where he was working there were 700 kids. The ministry team brings 700 wrapped Christmas gifts to the neighborhood, does some ministry things, and passes out the gifts. Sounds great, doesn't it? How did the fathers respond? Here were the fathers, unable to buy their kids anything, not even a small Christmas gift, in a culture where there is a lot of macho built around the male and here are these missionary Christians giving their kids gifts. They leave feeling worthless. They go out and get drunk, resenting the Christian missionary.
Tim looks around - no fathers. Why? They failed to be circumspect. They failed to consider the consequences of their generosity. The lesson for us might be to ask, "what good do we do our spouse, our kids, the poor that is really more harmful than good?"
Tim learns quickly. From now on the plan is to invite the fathers and only the fathers to the community center ... much like the one we started. Tim and crew will still buy 700 unwrapped gifts and paper. They will sell them to the fathers for one peso each. The fathers will wrap the gifts. They will send the fathers home. The fathers will give their kids gifts they bought with their own money and wrapped with their own hands. Their kids will think dad hung the moon. The dads will feel a sense of self-respect and now they will listen to the Christian missionary when they talk about Jesus Christ.
Tim brings that big picture perspective. Tom and Sandy Winston ... you might call them the heart of the trip in that they bring the heart of worship each evening. Sandy was also part-time nurse and interpreter. Jane Wiggers was the healer. Peter chronicled the event with his camera. Doug Fraits. Doug works for Ethicon. Ethicon happens to have a plant in Juarez. For years now, through Doug's contacts, Ethicon has supplied our drinking water. This is no small gift on their part.
Dick Moran is our materials man. Each year the quality of the wood improves. Dick suffered a wound that needed attention. Doug suggested they go to Ethicon to see if they have a doctor on site. It's a long drive to El Paso and maybe a longer wait in an emergency room. Somehow, Dick gets connected to a physician with 15+ years in plastic surgery. 11 stitches and a couple of hours later Dick is back with us. God always comes through with what we need.
If we used a car analogy instead of a human body analogy, Woody Trimbell is the steering wheel. He gets us going in the right direction. Don Chain is our travel navigator and interpreter. Susan Chain - quiet, behind the scenes, and if she did not do those quiet "little" things she does, life would be miserable for us. Cindy ... with her crew of cooks. Nathan, another interpreter who was constantly breaking the 10 foot rule with Callie. There was the early morning muscle crew of Chris, Jason, Ken and others who would help load supplies at the warehouse. Then there was the rest of us who drove nails, held up walls, cut wood, wired the house, the drywall crews and the world's fastest insulation crew. We also had our painters who could not always discern between a wall and people. All of us were amateurs.
No whining, no complaining when things did not go our way, no blaming when things went wrong. There wasn't a lot of ego on this trip. People were others-oriented which is exactly where Jesus was. We had to be because we can't do a project like this alone. There was a clear purpose. And where there is a clear purpose, people will put up with a lot of inconvenience. That's why no one complained or whined. When a church doesn't have a clear purpose, that's what they do, they complain, whine and attack each other. It's a form of self-destruction.
You can build up or you can tear down. We have chosen to build up. It can be a house in Mexico, a church you belong to here in the states, a child next door, a son, a daughter, a spouse ...
The trips are special because you can see all of this intensified in a condensed form as God works through His people to build people. Thanks for helping us get the job done.