March 13, 2005 Newsletter

Spring is just around the corner and, as is becoming my custom this time of year, I'm planning some international volunteer missions.  You should try it!  I have found this to be the absolute best use of my vacation time.  And you would be amazed how quickly and completely it eliminates all your stress and restores the balance we all need, far better than fighting through the traffic of other vacationers to get to typical overcrowded vacation spots.

In preparation for this summer's trips, I find myself remembering the first of such trips I ever made with a group of forty people I had never met before.  I thought one of the reflections I wrote about that trip might make a good newsletter article this month.

If you find yourself curious or interested in volunteer missions, please contact me through the contact page of this website, so I can help you get connected!


The Mission Trip

By  Rhonda Jones

Today I am on my way to the Casa Aleluya orphanage in Guatemala.  I write this as I sit on the plane stuck at the gate waiting to depart Atlanta airport.  We are delayed.  It seems ridiculous now that I let myself get so stressed on the bus ride down here.  But, I did.  The old control freak in me kicked in.  I wanted so badly to just sit back and allow all the details to be taken care of by the men from the Baptist church who have taken groups on many such trips before.  

I couldn’t do it.  I had soon calculated the number of hours I typically needed to drive to Atlanta for the many business trips I’ve had over the years . . . compared it to the crawling speed at which the church van was traveling with the luggage trailer pulled behind . . . and concluded we would never make it.

Having flown internationally before I knew how far we would have to drag our luggage, weighted down with the many items being donated to the orphanage.  I knew how crowded and chaotic the check-in would be.  I had heard horror stories about the ninety minute wait to get through the long security lines . . . we were never going to make it.  But, I willed myself to close my eyes and go to sleep.  We had finally pulled out of the church parking lot at 4:15 AM . . . fifteen minutes behind schedule already . . . God please help us make it. 

When I woke from my brief, uncomfortable nap, what did I wake to but our leaders, Greg and Chris discussing the map . . . trying to figure out how to get to the airport . . . and the ladies discussing where we would STOP for breakfast.  I could feel the stress level rising by the second . . . we’re not going to make it.

I tried to suggest directions to the airport.  They ignored me.  I tried to recommend we eat on the road.  They ignored that, too.  In the restaurant I had already swallowed half my biscuit whole by the time everyone else took time to pray and give thanks together.  I sighed . . . we are never going to make it.

“Let’s stop for gas!”  Chris said, just as we finally got back on the road.  “We will be in a hurry to get home when we get back and we won’t want to stop then, so let’s just go ahead and fill up now.”

I couldn’t take much more.  “You know, this is a real test of my patience.” I heard the words coming out before I even thought about them. “I’m so accustomed to being in control.  I’m a nervous wreck.  I almost didn’t even ride with you.  I almost decided to just call and tell you that I would meet you at the Atlanta airport.  But, I believe this is part of the lesson God wants me to learn from this mission trip.  So, I’m really trying to remain calm.  But, THIS IS REALLY TRYING MY PATIENCE.  It is 8:00 a.m. and we are nowhere near the airport.  Our international flight leaves at 10:30!  We should be there getting our luggage unloaded RIGHT NOW!  We are really behind schedule!”

Everyone just laughed at me.  It didn’t even faze them.  This is what I get for not driving down alone and getting a hotel room the night before, I thought.  We are NOT going to make it!

I was already mapping out contingency plans in my head.  At least I knew there was a later flight to Miami that would connect with our flight to Guatemala.  The other two-thirds of our mission team was booked on that flight.  It would be full.  Maybe too full for all ten of us to get a seat on it.  But, I would get one.  I will make it to Guatemala!  I will not be deprived of the opportunity I’m going to have to learn and grow in that environment.  I’ve waited my whole life for this.  If I ever get to the airport and I can get my hands on my luggage, it will be every man for himself, I decided.  No matter what happens to everybody else, I have to make it to Guatemala!

I hopped nervously from one foot to the other while my teammates seemed to me to be moping through the process of unloading luggage.  I couldn’t take it anymore.  Grabbing my cases, I headed for the terminal.  It was a long hike . . . across the large parking lot in the humid Atlanta sun, through the massive multi-deck parking garage to the terminal entrance, up the towering escalator, dragging my one hundred and twenty pounds of luggage behind me, as the pack on my shoulders grew heavier with every step.

That wasn’t all that was growing heavy.  My arms and legs had stopped burning and just gone completely numb.  My arms will be too sore to pick up any of the Guatemalan children, I groaned, as I realized the American Airline counter was all the way at the far end of the check-in lobby.  I glanced back and didn’t see any of my group.  I kept on trucking.  One way or the other, I was going to make it.

The line was so long; by the time my group caught up there was only three or four other passengers between us.  The thought flashed through my mind that I really hadn’t accomplished much by racing out ahead.  But, I quickly dismissed it.

Soon, Lewis, the man from the agency who was managing our trip, arrived and began conversing with the group behind me.  He briefly wandered up my way to chat with me, but quickly returned to the rest of the group.  I could sort of overhear their conversation.  But, I was separated from them.  I had already been separated from them due to the fact that I don’t go to church with them.  Now, I had separated myself even further.  I didn’t want this to happen.  But, it had happened, and I was too tired and stressed to worry about it now.  I simply had to get to Guatemala.

The clock was ticking toward 10:00 a.m., and we were nowhere near the check-in counter yet.  I thought I could finally detect traces of concern on the faces of some of the others.  It would be a miracle if this line could move fast enough for us to make a 10:10 a.m. boarding.

Then I heard Lewis’s voice again from over my right shoulder.  “Excuse me . . . excuse me, please.  Can we all move over and let these folks go through?  They have a ten o'clock flight.”  He sounded so calm.

What?!  What in the world is he doing?  I wondered in amazement as I watched Lewis squeeze by leading an elderly Indian couple and their luggage through the crowd.

“If they are waiting to check in, they need to get in the back of the line and wait like all the rest of us!”  I heard a lady in line behind me say.

That’s right!  I thought.  If Lewis wants to expedite someone to the front of the line, it had better be his own mission team!  I grumbled to myself, when the couple, dazed and confused, wandered past me.

While I stood there panicking, Lewis became the candy-striper of the check-in area.  Had it not been for his bright orange t-shirt identifying him as a member of our team—our trip sponsor’s idea—you’d never know he didn’t work for the airline.  He was back and forth, shuttling people through the line, while the rest of us stood there waiting and staring at the backs of each other’s heads . . . creeping forward inch by painstaking inch . . . until finally we were almost there.

Then, as quickly as the line had seemed to start moving, it shut down again.  One young man was the problem.  His large suitcase was overweight.  He had both cases opened in the floor trying to move contents from one to the other.  I watched him in disgust.

Socks!  He’s transferring socks!  I thought.  How in the world is that going to help?  Move something that will make a difference!  Why don’t you at least put the heavier of the two cases back on the scale, so you can tell when you’ve achieved your goal?!  My mind was racing.  Good grief, now he has stuffed that small suitcase so full, he will never get it zipped shut!  This is exasperating!  We all stood there glaring at the back of his head.  His face was crimson with embarrassment.

Then, there he was . . . our own orange-shirted candy-striper, Lewis.  He swooped up beside the young man, dropped to the floor beside him and began grabbing and stuffing contents from one suitcase to another as fast as his hands would go.  The young man who had almost given up was rejuvenated and began working as hard and fast as Lewis, as he looked up at his savior with sheer relief.

Lewis buried one knee in the top of the cloth-sided suitcase.  Together they tugged and mashed and mashed and pulled until their hands finally met holding the two ends of the zipper.  And, when they put the cases back up on the scales, they just managed to squeak under the seventy pound limit . . . 69.5 and 70.5.  They looked at each other with pride.

“God loves me today.”  The young stranger smiled.

“Ah, God loves us everyday.”  Lewis smiled back.  “We just don’t always receive him.”

I was stopped cold in my tracks.  It was finally my turn to approach the check-in counter, but I was frozen.  In that moment . . . in the face of the stranger . . . in Lewis’s words and actions . . . I instantly knew why God had sent me on this mission.

I had prayed for the many weeks preceding the trip that God would use this trip to change my life.  I had decided that would mean I would discover a new career path.  Once again, I had tried to be in control . . . in control even of what the answer to my prayer would be.

Already, before the trip had even really begun, I had turned what was supposed to be a love mission focused on others into a mission focused on me.  In fact, before it had even begun, I had completely distorted the whole meaning of a mission.  I was so focused on getting to Guatemala . . . the destination . . . I had completely ignored the journey.  In so doing, I had already begun to miss opportunities to do exactly what the mission was all about . . . to show God’s love to my fellowman.

I am convicted.  And so I bow my head now, as I sit here on the crowded plane, and ask God to hold this moment fast in my memory and to write the lesson upon my heart.  This mission . . . this life . . . is about each moment . . . each step of the way . . . each face I see.

In a microcosm, this mission trip will teach me how God wants me to live this life.

In Lewis’s example, God has already taught me.

We haven’t even left Atlanta yet . . . and already my prayer has been answered.