Reentry and the Blessing of Guilt

FB_IMG_1534425282693Our short-term mission team recently returned from a week of service in Guatemala. It was a great week. We bonded into a strong, close-knit team. We accomplished a lot of good work in the name of Jesus Christ. Two single mother led families received new houses, 52 people received new wheelchairs, and a lot of food and clothing was distributed during our numerous home visits.

To God be the glory!

FB_IMG_1534509860013My return carry-on bag was packed with filthy laundry and I was wearing the only clean tee shirt and over-sized gym shorts on the flight back home. Pulling into my driveway at 1:30 am felt nearly as good as the hot shower that followed. For the next week, it felt like I could sleep for 12 hours each day. Boy, did my own bed feel good!

Going to work was hard. My body ached. My mind wandered. I felt like it was hard to stray very far from a bathroom. After a few days of adjustment, I was able to determine that I had lost a total of eight pounds, even though we had eaten very well.

Slowly, gradually, life has returned to normal. With the passing of time, I began to discern that something had changed.

A trip to the local supermarket to obtain food for tonight’s dinner cost me about thirty bucks. My internet bill for the cottage is due, totaling seventy-eight bucks. I just paid my thirty-five hundred dollar VISA bill. On Sunday morning, I wrote my weekly pledge check to the church. “Yikes!” I thought to myself, “Money seeps out of our household like sand between your fingers.”

Then, it occurred to me.

The cost for just one good or service is equivalent to the annual income (or substantially more) of most of the families I had just been serving. Income inequality smacked me flat in the face like a shovel, and has left me with a whopper of a guilt laden hangover. I don’t own the entire responsibility for all the economic sin of this world, but I do own my own share of it. What can I say when there is no defense?

“Your honor; I stand guilty as charged.”

Recognizing my own guilt, naming it, and taking responsibility for my own guilt is the beginning of redemption.

What a blessing!

There is no shame in confession. There is no shame in conviction. There is only shame in denial and stubborn self-refusal.

I can’t fix global income inequality. I can’t fix poverty. It is beyond my ability to save the world. This is why we’ve been given a Savior, and it isn’t you or me. His name is Jesus.

It’s a blessing to live in the grace of Christ’s redemption. Jesus Christ confronts our sins, cleanses us of our sins, and rehabilitates us from our brokenness and the brokenness we have caused. He confronts us with our guilt, then leads us down the road towards the redemption and salvation of the world. The price paid for our guilt was his crucifixion. By his blood, our sins are forgiven. By his grace, our redemption, and the redemption of the world, is progressing full steam ahead.

Who could ever imagine that an admission of guilt could become a blessing in God’s kingdom? I couldn’t just a month ago; but, I can today.

I am guilty. At the same time, I am blessed because of my guilt. A difficult re-entry this month from a short-term mission trip to Guatemala taught me this. What else can serving teach us about ourselves, each other, and our God?

Sign me up for another short-term mission trip. Are you in?



Managing Risks

Jesus walked through the storm on the sea. He came near the boat. The disciples were terrified. “But he said to them, ‘It is I; do not be afraid.'” – John 6:20


In seven days I’ll be joining a team headed to Guatemala for another short-term mission trip. We will build two houses, fit 50 people to newly re-manufactured wheelchairs, and distribute food and clothing to many households … mostly single mothers raising children living on the brink of malnutrition. 20170813_083617

Most importantly we will be making friends while sharing the love of Christ.

There are some new members of our team; there always are (which is a good thing!). Undoubtedly, fears and anxiety will surface, not only in their minds, but in the thoughts of their families, friends and loved ones. “Will it be safe?” “What happens if … ?” “I just saw on the news …” “Maybe I made a mistake and should back out.”

I know about fears and anxiety because I’ve been there. This will be my 5th trip to Central America in six years, three of which have been to Guatemala and two to Nicaragua. I still get a little nervous, but each trip gets easier.

A few thoughts.

It is impossible to eliminate all risk. This is true, both home and abroad.

Natural disasters happen. Earthquakes roll and volcanoes blow. Mudslides, floods, and fires happen. Other than taking some common sense precautions, there isn’t much that can be done to manage mother nature.

People can be cruel to one another. Sin manifests itself in violence, oppression, and injustice. God’s laws and civil laws are broken by those who live a life of crime. Ego, hubris, greed, and pride incite atrocious acts, locally, regionally, and nationally.  Tribalism, partisanship, populism, and history can add gasoline to a burning fire. Oh, yes; don’t forget to add in religion, especially deeply held divisive or extremist issues and values.

Our police escort were all business for the photograph. Immediately after the photo we all broke out in smiles, laughter, and high-fives!

It is possible to do something about the human factor. It is possible to manage risks in such a way that overall risk is reduced to an acceptable or tolerable level. This is my strategy; I pray it can be helpful for you:

  1. Partner with a stable non-governmental organization (NGO) that is based in the location of your mission. Local personnel know the neighborhoods, the security network, the police, and community leaders. Bethel Ministries International in Guatemala know when police are needed for an escort and which neighborhoods to avoid. Bethel works months ahead of time with clergy and faith community leaders to build a network of  support in an area where we will be working.  Trust is built. Friends are made. Risk is reduced.
  2. Follow the rules. Your NGO will provide some basic guidelines for your safety. This is one time where it is essential that you completely comply with their rules. Rules from past trips have been: Travel in pairs. Never walk more than a block from the hotel. Don’t leave the safety of the hotel after dark. Leave the driving up to locals. Handle money with modesty. Keep your passport on you at all times. Trust in the experience and wisdom of those who live locally. They know how to enhance your safety. Risk is reduced.
  3. Follow the example of your team leader and fellow team members who have served on previous mission trips. Listen. Watch. Learn. Then, relax and make a friend, or grow a friendship that has already started. Follow in the footsteps of experience and Risk is reduced.
  4. Draw upon your faith. God has made possible this awesome opportunity to serve and love our neighbors; do you think we are called but meant to fail? No! God gives us partnerships with our NGO and its members. God sends us people to protect us, guide us, even direct us. God gives us the power of prayer, not only for ourselves but also for for those who are supporting our mission. God softened your heart for a reason. God filled it with love to share for a reason. God’s gift of grace is everything. Because of God’s gift, Risk is reduced.

Keep your eye on Jesus. “It is I,” he tells his frightened disciples. “Do not be afraid.”

Have a spectacular, spiritually moving mission experience!