My wife and I and 3 youth from my church joined a group of people from all over the U.S. for the Journey 117 trip. We met at a state park in Washington D.C. to do a couple days of orientation and training before heading of to Addis Ababa for two weeks which I'm sure has changed everyone's life. Funny how getting out of you're little North American bubble for a few days can turn your whole perspective upside down. Truthfully, I knew it would do that. I have enough friends who have gone off to a foreign land to have their hearts totally stolen by the people they went to serve. Truthfully, too, I knew I wasn't really going to cause some great change in Ethiopia (I hope everyone knows that when they go on a trip like this). In fact I knew the trip was more about what I was going to do when I got back then what we did there. Even if God does call us to Africa at some point, in the mean time there's plenty to do in Cape Breton to keep us busy.
So here's a couple huge things I took away from the trip.
1)Faith: a lot of us think that faith is just what we believe, and that it's dependent on us. Faith really is the ability that God gives us to believe, it's not us at all. In Ethiopia I think I saw what this looks like in action. We met so many people who seemed to have immeasurable faith, that actually believed that God was going to do what he said he would do - either in scripture or in the things He'd spoken into their hearts. At first I was taken back a little bit by some of the project leaders we met as they began to talk about what their projects would do. For instance, one organization called Hope for the Hopeless takes in street kids to the inner city drop-in center, rehabilitates them from a couple years of living on the streets then has an orphanage in the country side where they eventually live, getting an education and loved by some pretty incredible people. Their plan is to start a children's ministry which will lead to a church of 500+ people in 3 years, a boarding school that will educate 50+ children from the town of Saluta who would otherwise not get any education and send all their children to college or university. They have very little resources and their facilities are not the Ritz. So far they've sent more than 60 kids to higher education. since they started in the mid 1990s. They have literally rescued and changed the lives of hundreds of street kids with little to nothing to work with except depending on God. When Fekadu talks about the church, the boarding school, the rescue center, growing to get more kids of the street, there is no doubt in his voice, he's saying it as if that's just the way it is. And I believe him. As he told more stories of ways he'd seen God provide throughout his life, it's not hard to understand why his faith is so strong. God has continually added more and more to him, not because of what Fekadu has done himself but because he's had to depend completely on God. Therein lies our lack of faith a lot of times. We don't have to depend on God for many of the basic things that they do at Hope for the Hopeless. We have resources, we have help, we have security. Faith is added when we need faith. I want to try depending more on God and less on my own feeble attempts to make things happen.
2)Hope: many of the projects we visited had "Hope" in their name. Hope for the Hopeless, Embracing Hope, Great Hope Ministries. In places where, in my mind, hope should be absent, hope abounded. Different than the North American idea hope though. My dad hopes he'll win the lottery although there's very little chance he will. He thinks it will make his life better, and it may in some ways, but I'm sure it won't fix all the problems. That's the kind of hope we generally have. If this almost impossible thing happens it just might improve things. It's a really unsure hope. But that's not what real hope is. The Hope I saw was more like a guarantee that something better is in store. First it was Hope in Jesus. Not like "oh it would be great if I got to go to heaven some day, but I'm not really sure that's what happens" which is what lots of people think hope in Jesus is unfortunately. People their had experienced the promises Jesus made; they'd experienced his unconditional love so they knew that the rest of the promises had to be true. Many of these people still lived in the slums, they didn't come to Jesus and get a great job, a fancy house and sweet ride. They got the assurance from God they were important to Him, even if their immediate circumstances didn't confirm that. The truth that they were important enough for God to send his only son was enough to ensure them they were important. Then, the fact that some other human thought they were important enough to give up some of their life to help, however they could, provided a second level of assurance. As if this isn't some distant, disconnected God that I'll get to be with some day, but he's actually demonstrating his love through the people who claim to follow him and also experienced this same hope. I want to give up more of my life for other, because I'm sure that God thinks I was important enough to send Jesus for, I just haven't been very good at showing that to others. I want the rest of you to know how important God thinks you are.
3) Love: The day we left, Satu, a lady from our church who's family adopted a girl from Ethiopia a few years ago, asked me how I was feeling about the trip. I said excited and scared. I hadn't really been anywhere before this that was really different. I grew up in a very small town and wasn't sure how I would handle the culture shock. Her response was perfectly to the point and right on target. She said, what are you afraid of, they're just people not aliens. They have needs just like the rest of us, they just want to be loved. So simple and so profound, to me at least. Guess what I discovered; beautiful people with beautiful hearts that had been so impacted by the love of Jesus that they were exuding love to some of the most vulnerable and helpless people on the planet. And in turn, those people were pouring that love back out to others, and especially to us. As we visited different orphanages and widows projects we saw this over and over. The single most transforming thing in these people's lives was love. Who knew? So how then do we show that to people here? If our most basic need is to know that God loves us and wants a relationship with us through Jesus (which is what it means to be a Christian when you boil it down), then why are so many people around me not getting that message? The 'church' isn't loving people all that well is the only answer I can come up with, I by the the church I mean me and the other people who call themselves Christians who make up the church. What I saw was the people who were looking after orphans and widows and lepers and HIV victims were willing to give up their own life in order that someone else could have a chance at life. I don't mean "give up" as in death (although I think some of them would) but give up comfort, give up status, give up time, give up money, give up meals, etc. All the things that I often want to cling to. In return for this, we saw people who had little or no worth in the worlds eyes, regain a hope and a dignity that comes from being loved by someone. They had the hope that comes from knowing Jesus loves them and the dignity of knowing another person has gone out of their way to notice them and care about them. We should do that more. Jesus left with some pretty clear instructions about this, it's all over the book of John. In John 13:34 He says, "Love one and other the way I have loved you." It doesn't get much more clear than that. I know we've come up with a big list of do's and don'ts but this is really the most important one. In fact, a lot of those do's and don'ts you won't really find Jesus endorsing at all, they're just things that people thought sort of sounded good. But loving others is definitely on the top of whatever list you want to come up with. In fact it's so important that Paul tried to tell the church that it was the only thing that would be important at the end. After his amazing description of what love is in 1 Corinthians 13 (which is really a description of who Jesus is) he ends by saying this, once all the imperfect things have disappeared "these three things remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."
I'm glad Jesus showed me some stuff about what Faith, Hope and Love are, I Hope he'll let me show that to someone else, in Ethiopia or Sydney Mines, or wherever else I happen to be.