08 July 2013

Observations from Roatán

From the 29th of June through the 6th of July, I spent a week doing ministry in Roatán, Honduras.  The trip was a fantastic learning experience, and represented some significant firsts in my life.  For starters, it was my first time leaving the U.S. (which also meant it was my first time being a minority).  It was also the first opportunity I've had to truly attempt communicating in a foreign language.  Unfortunately, the three years of high school Spanish molding under my belt accounted for very little.  This was my first time being away from my wife for longer than a weekend, which was less a challenge than a disappointment that she couldn't go and minister beside me.  Finally, it was also my first real missions trip, and I am truly blessed that it was such a positive introduction to ministry abroad (despite numerous complications, including a teen losing his passport and a last-minute school cancellation on the island; God is sovereign!).  Contrary to popular opinion, it was not my first time driving a stick, but we'll leave that matter be.

In a nutshell, we flew 20 students and 8 adults including myself down to the island where we partnered with Peter and Sandi Silseth, and Jerry and Mildred Peterson - all missionaries serving via HRGS Radio.  During the week, we ran a sports-themed VBS for the local children, which averaged between 60-85 kids each day.  However, while our ministry specifically targeted the children, it was also a unique tool for building relationships between our team and the community as well.

From my all-too-short experience in Roatán, I gathered a couple observations.  The first strikes me as both introspective and a bit ethnocentric.  In America, we have a deep-seated sense of entitlement.  We're all about getting our due and making sure no one takes advantage of us.  However, we also appreciate fairness and equality.  Just last week, we celebrated Independence Day, commemorating ancestors who fought for the fundamental rights of men.  It's in our blood to root for the underdog and to desire fair playing fields.  There's a little bit of a humanitarian in each of us.  In that regard, if there was one thing I struggled to communicate to the Honduran children, it was this principle of fairness – of sharing.  They don't understand it because life has been unfair to them.  The poverty line in Roatán is fascinating because it doesn't exist geometrically.  There are no rich communities and poor communities, separated by fences or highways.  In the Flowers Bay area alone, there are sprawling mansions with white-washed walls dominating hillsides, surrounded within 15-20 feet on all sides by bungalows and shacks, with yards demarcated by broken automobiles and odd assortments of trash.  It's difficult to get boys and girls who have literally been forced to live in the cold shadow of privilege their entire lives - while they themselves own only a single shirt and pair of pants - to let someone else go first.  In their experience, if they don't seize something for themselves and claim it as their own, they might not get another chance later.

My second observation came to me in light of John 4.  In Roatán, the water is undrinkable.   Every resort, hotel, and private residence that can afford it purchases filtered water in 5-gallon containers.  What we take for granted – turning on the spigot for safe drinking water – they can't rely upon.  It was an inconvenience for me just brushing my teeth in a water bottle during the week.  But through that minor aggravation, the realization struck me that the Hondurans are a lot like the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well.   Jesus offered her living water, and her mind immediately went to excitement over the fact that she would have one less chore if she accepted – not needing to go through the drudgery of gathering the day's water supply.  We brought living water to Honduras.  We brought the gospel.   I praise God for the children who professed to love Jesus on the last day of VBS, and I praise God for the opportunity we had to be His vessels in such a thirsty environment, but I also recall Jesus' words to His disciples later in that same chapter of John: “the fields are white for harvest.”  While I'm deeply blessed by the experiences we were privileged to have and humbled to have been used by God even in a small way, I'm also sobered by how great a need still exists.  The harvest is indeed plentiful, but the laborers are few (Matt 9.37).

Going on a missions trip designed for teenagers meant my role was slightly different than simply going as a worker.  I was ministering on two fronts - on one hand to the children of Roatán  certainly, but also to the teens I brought along for the ride.  In that regard, my role looked a little different than simply managing the baseball diamond (by the end of the week, my favorite thing to do was emphatically yelling "Fuera!" [Out!] whenever the opportunity presented itself; the kids loved it).  I was also responsible for twenty teenagers - for their safety, their encouragement, and their spiritual growth.  In that regard, my favorite part of the week was having the the opportunity to teach them through evening devotions, spending time with them during off-hours,  and ministering to the Honduran children beside them.  I'm fairly confident that not a lot of youth leaders out there can boast the same level of pride in, and adoration for, their teens that I can for mine.  Without exaggeration, it was an absolute joy to get to know each one of them a little better during our week together.  In fact, there were times when the other leaders and myself would eat together or send the kids to the beach in their own groups, and I'd be disappointed to be staying with the other “grownups” and not going with them.

The pride I have in them came primarily during VBS hours.  Whether I was umping the makeshift baseball diamond with Nathanael; acting as Katie's dastardly sidekick in our group skit; seeing Tori, Annie, and Mikaela playing with little girls on their laps; playing fun kids' songs on the guitar with Nick; or watching Sammy serve water while clad in a boot cast (and the list goes on), I was both deeply impressed and emboldened by the level of enthusiasm each of them brought to the ministry we came to do.  Their love for the children surpassed mere obligation.  There was never any reluctance in what they did.  It was always all about making sure a). that the kids were having fun every second, and ultimately b). that they were aware of the reason why we'd come.

All that being said, the real challenge comes with returning home.  I'd term it "back to the grind," but that's exactly the type of mentality I want to avoid.  One of the things my teens all had in common upon returning home was the desire to bring the ministry mindset back with them.  They come from a home church full of its own children, and it would be inexcusable for them to ignore those opportunities to serve when they are so prevalent.  What they all embrace is the understanding that missions work doesn't begin overseas, and the type of spiritual high that comes from doing the Lord's work abroad isn't our motivation for living a life of godliness.  Our motivation is to glorify our Savior in everything we do, all the time, because of what He gave for us.

With that as the focus, a ministry mindset isn't difficult to maintain at all.