Flash Mob Mission Theory

Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy. ~ Psalm 33:3

Since my family began taking mission trips last summer, many people have asked us all kinds of questions.  One question I have asked myself over and over is, “How do I describe what it feels like to go on a mission trip?”  There are simply so many feelings and thoughts, I don’t know where to begin or end.

Expressions used in every day genres such as: too beautiful for words, or words can’t describe, or I’m at a loss for words – come to mind to describe going on mission.  However, people patiently wait for an answer they can keep.  Something they can wrap their heads around to either be more informed, or perhaps, encouraged.

This morning, I had the delightful surprise of an email sent to me by my mother-in-law.  I often don’t have time to read forwarded emails, but this one caught my eye.  It is a YouTube link (the link is at the bottom of this post).  As I watched it, tears streamed down my face, and I didn’t know why.  Emotion swelled up in my heart and I didn’t understand.  I’ve seen many flash mobs and am always amazed at their creativity.  It would be so much fun to be a part of one some day.  I’ve seen many styles and themes and have enjoyed them all.

Oh, but this one was different.

This one caught my heart and I couldn’t figure it out.  Then, the Lord showed me the reason for my tears.  This particular flash mob describes how I feel about going on mission, though the flash mob itself has nothing to do with it.

Allow me to set the scene.  People, all over the world, are going about their daily lives. Without any hullabaloo, grand entrance or proud proclamation, a single person steps forward and does something out of the ordinary.  They begin to do what they do and people begin to watch.  One by one, people emerge from the crowd, from around the corner, from inconspicuous places, and join.  What appears to be completely spontaneous is far from it.

But, they look just like everyone else standing around!  They are.

Why do they do it?  They are called to and love what they do.

It is the same with missions.  Ordinary people come together, each with a different set of strengths and weaknesses, gifts and talents, and together they serve united with one voice to the world – Christ’s.  Individually, they cannot play all instruments in the symphony.  They have been given a specific set of tasks, and they do them with all their heart.  Unlike the flash mob below, short-term missionaries are not professional missionaries.  Rather, God equips them for the task for such a time as this.

Consider the sequence of events in this overture: they pray over the opportunity; begin all necessary paperwork, shots, etc.; meet regularly to discuss the overall plan as well as individual tasks each person will have; they continue to meet for months, all along gathering supplies and traveling sundries; they pack and hug family members and friends goodbye; they are off.  Oftentimes, traveling with people they have never known before this journey began.

They arrive in a land which may be foreign in landscape, language or culture.  They are the minority.  Settled into their temporary home, they continue to meet and go over details, supply lists, and prayer requests.

The time comes to serve.  As I watched our team in Ukraine recently, indeed, a flash mob began.  What looked like a motley crew of disjointed ages and seasons of life, we came together in perfect tune to make a joyful noise for the Lord.  We were a band of unlikely people, coming from various backgrounds and unknown futures, but when God, the Master Conductor, tapped His baton, all of our attention and eyes focused on Him.  We set aside our lives, schedules and agendas and took our place in His company to play for Him as best we can.

After a two-day flight and a long bus ride; after security and customs and baggage claim and a good night’s sleep; after attending Ukraine’s Sunday church service and meeting many new precious faces – in an instant, right after breakfast, on a sunny, warm Monday nestled comfortably on the calendar, we broke off into our musical suites – soccer, basketball, Bible, arts & crafts, volleyball and music.  We were not travelers.  We were on mission – with a purpose.  We weren’t there to put on a show.  We weren’t there for applause.  We weren’t there for recognition or reward.  Like a flash mob, versus the limelight of a well-publicized event, we were there simply because we were called to be, and wanted to be, to hopefully please God our Father and be a blessing to those around us.

We wanted to bring spontaneous joy.  We wanted to break out of the ordinary and let the extraordinary hand of God brings smiles, hope and strength to beautiful hearts.  I remained wide-eyed throughout the week, over what felt only to be somewhat organized beforehand, was really something God had a well-thought out plan for.  As the Master Conductor, He directed every moment, every step, every word – to stay in perfect pitch with His plan and for His purpose.  Whether in loud allegro moments of organized chaos, or in soft adagio moments of prayer and friendship, the tempo of our mission’s symphony stayed in unison for His glory.

We were imperfect people banding together for perfect purposes – to draw others into His symphony of love so that they might find their instrument, their God-given gift, and play it for Him in chorus with us.

A short-term mission trip is an amazing wonder of which to be a part.  Like watching a flash mob, and the faces of those participating shine with joy and enthusiasm, so we also felt the anticipation build from the inside out.  One major difference between a flash mob and missions is that we encourage others watching to jump in and join us.  Children, teens and adults played in harmony with us for a week of blessing.  We got dirty playing soccer, got sweaty playing basketball, got creative making earrings and crafts, and had way too much fun dancing.  Who was blessed more? Dare I say I went hoping to be a blessing, but was blessed beyond measure.  Our new friends’ voices filled the gaps in our choir.  We weren’t just a team united, we were one body united – no matter the language or cultural barriers.  We were one.  It is, in fact, how eternity will be for those in God’s cantata.

The flash mob below carries a tune for missions that I am unable to express with words.  Like music of the heart, going on mission touches the goer as much as the receiver.  One is never the same when it is over.  Memories roll around in my mind like a melody I can’t stop humming.  People there have changed my heart here, and God used them to write scores of new music for my life to dance to.  Missions has a secret that nothing else in the world can offer.  No amount of money, fame, or fortune can compare to a new reason to dance, a new song to sing, and new friends with which to enjoy it.  There is no greater feeling than to accept new brothers and sisters in Christ, from all over the world, into my life…forever.

There is nothing more satisfying than dancing in step to the rhythm of God’s heartbeat – which is His love for the world.  It is exactly why, for as long as He allows, we will continue to go.  To sing.  To dance.  To work. To play.  To laugh. To cry. To cheer. To love.  Christ is the reason, His salvation the melody, and the people we welcome in our family, both on the team and at our destination, motivate and inspire us as the harmony of their friendship hums in tandem with ours to the music God is playing around the world.  Stop and listen.  Do you hear it?

Click here to let this particular flash mob play the music my heart feels about missions.

Restless

I’m not sure where all of this is leading us, but Bruce (my husband) and I are restless.  We can’t pretend we never saw the need.  We can’t pretend there isn’t STILL a need.  We can’t  ignore the 26,000 children who will die today from otherwise preventable sickness and disease.

We can’t forget the love and friendship extended to us when we were in Kenya.  We can’t forget the smiles and humble nature of the Kenyans from whom Americans could learn a lot!  We keep circling back to a place where we are so confused.  Both of us knew only our way of life for our entire lives.  Yes, we saw impoverished people on t.v.  Yes, we learned about people groups from all over the world in school.  However, I think we have finally realized why we are different now after going on mission to Kenya.

There is a strong, idol-like filter on America.  Everything we see, heard and read about pre-Kenya passed through a filter that encompassed all of our senses and soul.  The filter is called, normal.  What people view as normal is what they come to accept for their lives as the way things are supposed to be.  The most frightening thing about this filter is that we grew up believing our normal is right.  Right for us.  Before our trip, we heard of needs and did our best to meet them through financial aid and giving our time and energy toward projects like Operation Christmas Child and Samaritan’s Purse.  We went to bed at night, resting our heads on our soft pillows behind locked doors in a safe home, and we slept peacefully believing we had done what was required of us as believers.

Our restlessness isn’t only about experiencing the devastating needs in Kenya, which is much like so many other countries, but about who we are called to be as Christ-followers.  Just as when I add filters to my camera lens, everything I see through the viewfinder is altered by the filter’s skew.  It’s the same way with the American filter.  It has been removed, and Bruce and I stand wide-eyed, to the point of nausea, at what we allowed ourselves to become out of pure ignorance.  Our society is so content and comfortable where we are, that we risk nothing out of that comfort zone that jeopardizes what we want.  For some to say that they feel solely called to help fellow Americans, which is important in its own rite, says, as David Platt puts it in his book Radical, we boast that we feel called to help only 5% of the world’s population.  Is that Christ?

During one of our annual events held to benefit Samaritan’s Purse, someone I know came up to me and said, This is good and all, but next year I’m keeping my money here and helping my homeland.

Again, that is great and noble and needed.  But, dare I say, it is not enough.  Would any of us be believers today had the disciples in Acts stayed right where they were and never acted on the Great Commission given by Jesus?

Our society is drunk on pleasure, gorged on greediness, and is caught in a sleeper-hold of comfort.  My family is among them.   I am ashamed to say that our society will take care of others, only after the portion we give ourselves is met first.  What could possibly be an example of this?  Most people in the world live on a $1 or less.  Our society spends hundreds of dollars, if not thousands, on sports and arts for our children, thousands on holiday decorations, hundreds of thousands on clothes, shoes and cosmetics.  This isn’t mentioning the billions on vehicles, homes and education.  The far majority of what we spend our money on will not last. There will be no legacy.  No lasting impact for the Kingdom.  No special approval from God.  It’s just stuff that has woven us in its web and convinced us that these things will mean something one day.  Will they?

Below is an email that we recently received from our dear friend, Joseph.  We met him in Kenya. He is an overseer of an orphanage that we fell absolutely in love with there.  Some friends of ours are back there right now, and delivered a box of supplies we sent with them.  When we read this, we cried.  Why?  Because Joseph is a fellow believer.  We will spend eternity with him.  For now, he is hurting.  A couple of months ago, he lost his oldest son, whom we met, while trying to earn money for his family as a taxi driver of a piki piki (motorcycle).  We were devastated by the news.

It is very true that until a connection is made, it’s very easy for people to shrug off what they don’t want to deal with.  Joseph and the children are family to us. We pray for them every day.  The depth of my heart that was touched by his letter is impossible to put into words.  I invite you to share it with me…

Hi,

Greetings in the name of Jesus, how are you? We are all fine here. God has blessed us with rain although to others it devastating. The crops are doing well despite only yellowing of leaves in corn.

Your friends came to visit us on Wednesday, and they relayed your greetings and your friends’.

We have received the supplies and we are all happy about them.

We are happy when we are with you in prayers and we will not forget you for being with us also in the time of grief.  May God be with you and guide you as we are praying for you .

I remember your compassion when you were with us. The love of Christ that I have for you is never ending, may God bless you.

 Yours Faithfully,

 Joseph

To me, his letter was like reading the New Testament.  Brothers and sisters in Christ sharing His love and friendship whether near or far apart.  This is what will last.  This is what will impact future generations.  This is what furthers the Kingdom.  The photos below are of the Kenyans’ normal.  Does this look okay to us who have homes and vehicles and jobs?  I shot these throughout Kenya, not one solitary corner of the community. Step outside of Nairobi (with its slums as well as the business sector) and this is the countryside – a small, but accurate sampling.

I am most certain this post today will upset some people.  Frankly, I am upset too, as I see what believers in our country are capable of doing and what it is NOT being done.  Bruce and I don’t have all the answers, but we are restless.  Are you?


Torn in two

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. ~ Micah 6:8

I was picking up the house recently when something stopped me dead in my tracks.  Literally, I took one step forward and froze.  Looking down at our coffee table, I saw some mailers that have sat for over a week.  Each one was complimentary and was delivered to my home – ironically arriving within a day of each other.  When they arrived, I placed them on my coffee table like I do with current mailers and never gave it another thought.

This time, my heart skipped a beat as I gazed, with fresh eyes, at the dichotomy of these things. See for yourself…

Do you see what I see?  Contradiction.  Two worlds clashing.

Both of those reflect me, and I am frustrated!  On one hand, my heart is passionate for all people and want no one to suffer.  I want everyone to know the love of Jesus and have all of their needs met; for everyone to realize their goals and dreams; and for peace and provisions worldwide.

On the other hand, I get stuck in what I know as normal.  I like Restoration Hardware (though I can’t afford most of what they sell).  I like their style, ideas, and clean lines.  It’s not just Restoration Hardware, but this is the mailer that happened to be sent at the same time as PrayerPoint.  I’m not picking on it, but I am confused with where it all stands with me.

I think I’ve spent my life like most people in America.  I have not been blind to the world around me, but honestly, it didn’t directly affect my daily 24/7.  The needs and injustices of this world have always made me want to help, and we do what we can, but within the longitutde and latitude of my life in America, there is a whole different normal.

I’m not saying there is not hardship and suffering here. There is. But, comparatively, we do not live in a war-torn land; we have freedom of speech & religion; we have basic things like paved roads, clean water and electricity;  we have sanitation systems that keep infection and disease down; we have laws (albeit not perfect!) against child labor, for safe working conditions, to monitor sanitation levels in restaurants, hospitals, etc.; truancy laws to keep kids in school; laws against child abuse, parent abuse and spousal abuse; and we have legal rights in the justice system.  Take away the tangible things and America is still, by far, a very rich place in which to live.

Most people in the world have far fewer rights and protections and live on $1 or less per day.  26,000 people, including children, die every day from preventable diseases and illnesses.  The rate of human trafficking, starvation, drought and political conflict is mind-boggling.  Does it affect where my kids go to school?  Where I buy my groceries? Where I go to church? I must admit, for many years I kept the two dichotomies separated.  We help locally and globally, but my daily grind did not know the physical hardships of most people in the world.

In the last few years, however, God has awoken me from a hazy sleep.  He broadened my narrow vision in a whole new way.  With the organizations we volunteer for, God has given us more work and responsibilities.  With our church, God has given us more opportunities to serve.

It’s a whole different story to know orphans that I call by name and pray for every day.  Whose faces are on the walls of my daughter’s bedroom and who are smiling at me every time I close my eyes wondering how they are doing in Kenya.  Children we’ve met, played with and held.  Teens who have dreams and hopes and goals, but little to no help to achieve them.

No one is less important than anyone else, but “here” and “there” have felt light years apart for years.

I’ve always been a huge advocate for water conservation because I grew up in an area where there was a constant threat of drought.  I try to do my part by taking very short showers; turning off the water when brushing my teeth; dumping boiled vegetable water on my outdoor potted plants; watering indoor plants with leftover cups of water; using large shade trees to cool the grass instead of a sprinkler system; and using water-saving car washes (only when truly needed) versus the hose water running down the gutter.  Very little water goes to waste in our house.  Even still, I feel so guilty for using any of it because I saw the miles people walk, barefoot and carrying plastic jugs, to fetch their daily water supply.  The water I wash my dishes with is far cleaner than the only water many people have to drink.

And, we have a house.  It’s not the biggest, it’s not the smallest.  We do, however, use every square inch of it – none of it wasted space.  One could look at the daily messes in it to know that it is true!  But, how many people in the world have a house?  Not many.   Every night when we say prayers with the kids, we thank God for a bed to sleep in and a roof over our heads.  But, we also pray for those who don’t have such luxuries.

That’s my point.  Why do some people call them luxuries and some call it a normal standard of living?  It’s all what we’re used to.

My life has been used to one way of living.  My heart has always known better.  As I experience more of this planet, the gap between the two dichotomies is only growing wider and it’s tearing me in two.

How do I enjoy things like flipping through a Restoration Hardware catalog and dreaming of the what-ifs, while I know children are dying because they don’t have simple vaccines or enough food to survive?

How do I serve those who need help, but still be thankful for what God has blessed me with like a full belly, shoes on my feet, and a home with doors to lock and a van to drive?

I can’t figure this out.  Part of me wants to sell everything and move to a faraway land.  Part of me feels called to stay put and continue the ministries that we do stateside that help people all over the world because of the resources we have here.

The summer before God called our family to short-term mission, we put a pool in the backyard of our home that we’ve lived in for 15 years.  It’s not a huge pool, but it fits the size of our motley crew.  We saved for a very, very long time and made sacrifices in other areas to make it happen.  It has been a great tool to strengthen our family time, and we love to have extended family and friends over to enjoy it with us.   But, the next summer we surprisingly found ourselves in Africa, and this summer we are preparing for another mission to a different part of the world, and my husband and I wonder if we did the right thing with the pool.  We are deeply thankful God allowed us to save the money to do it, but I also now know a lot better now how far that money could go to help people simply survive.  If we had the same choice to make all over again, would we build it?  And is this a contradiction to my water conservation awareness?

Ug.

I may never find a balance within my heart with these two parts of me.  The world itself is not balanced.  It does bother me, however, to not even notice the two vastly different mailers sitting right next to each other on my coffee table as if they were equal reading.  They are not.

One thing I can do is this:

  • Continue to teach my children the difference between need and want (Matthew 6: 25-33)
  • Teach them the value of serving others (Matthew 20:26-28)
  • Teach them to consider others more highly than they consider themselves (Philippians 2:3)
  • Teach them not to be afraid of hard work (2 Thessalonians 3:7-12)
  • Teach them to be grateful for what they have, not to have too much of it, and be willing to share it (Philippians 3:12-13; Acts 2:44-45)
  • Teach them the value of money and its proper place in our lives (1 Timothy 6:6-10)
  • Teach them to tithe (Leviticus 27:30; Matthew 22:21)
  • Teach them to work as unto the Lord and not for the glory of people or ourselves (Ephesians 6:7-8; Colossians 3:23-24)
  • Talk with them about ways they can use their gifts and talents to make a difference in this world (Ephesians 2:10)
  • Talk with them about what lasts in this world – and what doesn’t (Matthew 6:19-21)
  • Talk with them about love and who deserves our whole heart (Deuteronomy 6:5)
  • Encourage them to always look for good to do…and do it (1 Timothy 6:18)
  • Example all of this in my own life first.

Children truly imitate their parents – for better or worse.  If we want to play a role in helping this world survive for generations to come, change needs to begin with us.

Decades ago, my mom clipped a poem by Charles Kingsley and pinned it to our kitchen corkboard.  This little piece of paper is one of the only (and most beloved) treasures I have left from losing everything in catastrophic loss when I was a teen.  Below is a scan of the original.

Every time I try to wrap my head around the dichotomy of my world and the world, I end up with more questions than answers.  Returning from Africa, I feel like I have no home.  Like I told a friend, I’m not comfortable living in this society because we have so much, but I’m not sure I could handle living there with its unrelenting hardships.

I feel like I don’t fit in anywhere.

I think that’s exactly where God wants our hearts.  As Christians, we are citizens of another world.  A world our eyes cannot see, but one our hearts are drawn to.  This isn’t where we belong.  It shouldn’t be comfortable.  Pardon the double negative, but it shouldn’t be a place that we wouldn’t want to leave if the Lord called us home.

John 18:36 – Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” 

Philippians 3:20-21 –  But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

1 Peter 2:11 – Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.

I can relate as someone who finds herself a nomad at heart, a stranger passing through this life.

God wants us to enjoy His gift of life, to enjoy the tangible and intangible blessings of life, and be thankful for what He has given us (not which was attained by selfish desire).  But, He never meant for us to keep it all to ourselves.  I’m not only referring to money and physical resources, He also wants us to share our time, talents and energy; our love, friendship and humor; everything that makes us unique that He inspired in us for His purposes.  Most of all, He wants us to share the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ, the free gift of eternal life that the world cannot take away.

As the world economy and our American economy both feel the tremble of emerging fault lines beneath our feet, serious thought and prayer need to play a major part in how we spend every dollar and donate every hour of our time & resources.  Time is short.  Life is precious.  God help us.

I am here, my heart is there

I woke up in Africa today, if only in my heart.  We traveled to Kenya as a family last summer on a short-term mission trip, and I am convinced part of me stayed there.  If I close my eyes and draw a deep breath, I can still smell the smoke from the Masai warriors’ burned wood.  If I sink my ears into my pillow, I can hear the laughter of the hundreds of children we had the pleasure to meet.  If I dismiss the daily to-do’s waiting for me, I am able to replay the memories we made as a team and as individuals.

What I still can’t forget are the smiles.  Hundreds and hundreds of smiles shining at us.  I can’t forget the extremely special people we met.  We felt like we had known them for a lifetime.  I miss them.

And the tomatoes!  I’ve never in all my life had a tomato so sweet and delicious – you could eat them like an apple.  The smell of the night air.  Unpolluted.  Dewey. Sweet.  The fun we had!  Singing, sharing, working.  Standing on a mountain top, looking at people who have never seen white folk.  I’d never seen Kenyan tribal folk.  The language barrier – and how it really didn’t matter.  Love truly knows no language.  Smiles, playing, and just being together provided so much love we needn’t say a word.  I was captivated watching the children’s faces as they saw themselves for the first time – through my camera’s lens.  Never had some seen what they look like.  Never had they seen themselves in motion as on Bruce’s iPad.  The squeals of delight and fascination were contagious.

The poverty.  Heart-breaking poverty.  It was everywhere my eye wandered.  I couldn’t get away from it.  Even in our bunk rooms, children stood outside the door begging.  Give me sweets?  Give me Bible?  Give me sweets?  Give me Bible? they repeated over and over.  There is so much need.  They need clean water, dental hygiene, shoes, clothes that do not have gaping holes in them and that actually fit.  They need allergy medicine, education, medical care, and to hear they are loved.  My heart broke for them – with good reason.  They have many, many important needs.

However, when we asked them if they want what we have in America, they said no.  Hmm.  Why?  Because, they said, we see what it costs you to have it. Wow.  I was speechless.  They nailed it.  They are impoverished people, but they are hard-working, loving, accepting people.  They pay no attention to status, material possessions or anything that labels a person.  They are thrilled just to spend time together.  They have true community.  Something we lack.

We worked primarily with children.  It still amazes me that the entire time we were there, I heard not one single complaint from them!  Not one I’m bored, I’m tired, I don’t want to, but why, why not, I’m cold, I’m hungry, or a single negative comment.  Not one.  Children who have no parents, no shoes, no possessions to call their own.  Not even electricity or running water.

But boy were they happy!  They laughed and sang and took us by the hand and showed us their orphanages, schools, and church.  They played soccer with us, danced with us, braided my daughter’s hair, and showed us how to harvest corn in the fields.  They wanted nothing from us, but were so thankful for what we brought.  I met a boy who has the mind of an engineer, and I got to introduce a Rubik’s Cube to him.  I met a teenage girl that hopped on our bus to ride up the mountain that she climbs every day…just because she wanted to feel what it was like to ride in a vehicle.  She wants to be a teacher or doctor.

My kids fell head over heels in love with all of the children.  My daughter is still trying to convince us to adopt the special friend she made.  If only life were that easy.  My oldest teen made instant friends with another teen there who wants to be a pastor.  They were soul brothers just like that.  My youngest helped buy and cut wood with his dad, and played soccer every single day with boys his age.  They helped with VBS, led worship at church, and dug ditches to help build a kitchen onto one orphanage.  Our children were changed forever.  All of the children on the team were.  We all were.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so embedded is a video I made from the photos I took.  Watch with me.  I need to see their faces again.  Smell the dewy air.  Feel the rich soil beneath your feet.  Hear nothing but kids laughing and playing.  See the precious, beautiful Kenyan people.  They have many needs, but after being with them, I think they are some of the richest people in the world.