Pee Wee Herman used to have a bit called the secret word on his Saturday morning television show. When someone said the secret word, all of the characters, including Cowboy Curtis, played by Lawrence Fishbourne, were to scream real loud.
Todays secret word is integrate.
Now when we hear that word, for many, our thoughts tend towards racial issues. Today though, I want to talk about how difficult it can be to integrate [everyone in the office is now screaming] certain realities of our faith, with life and short-term mission.
A while back I attended the funeral of a good friend who was also one of the early participants of Adventures in Life Ministry. Speaking about my friend Brian’s life was Paul Kaak, one of his pastors.
Paul said that one of the struggles Brian had faced in life was integrating his life and faith. There were times when he was simply unable to reconcile the call of faith and what has become American life.
Like Brian, I too struggle with this reality, because I am always in the middle. Let me explain...
Many people who serve in short-term mission suffer from some level of depression when they return to the home front. It is almost inevitable as little back home will rise to level of world changing work when forced to stand side by side to the sometimes heroic seeming ministry that we call short-term mission.
Not many of us here in the United States work with people who live on pennies a day, sometimes go for days without food, and live without hope. For us a life of suffering is just not on our radar, contrary to one Christian cab driver I recently encountered in Oaxaca who told me that Oaxacans were “Born to suffer.”
Yet when we serve overseas, these are the people with whom we serve and work, often for only a week, and then we return to our boring day to day lives, until next year.
Soon after we return home, the new novelty of flushing toilet paper, drinking from the faucet, or getting up and taking a hot shower begins to wear off as we leave that place, where ever it was, behind and get back to our real lives and things return to “normal.”
But what if that doesn’t happen? What if we are unable to return to normal? What if “normal” has changed?
That is where I find myself living more often these days as I spend more time in Mexico.
No longer do I go to serve them. I serve my friends. No longer are poverty and suffering concepts I think about existentially, I live in them almost daily. No longer do I count the days till my next hot shower back home, I watch the calendar marking the days until my return.
Maybe this is where the Apostle Paul wants us. Maybe because of my time in Oaxaca, I can now understand a little more of what Paul means when he writes of longing to visit Rome. Maybe. If so, then I am thankful.
But I am struggling to integrate all of this into one easy package.
When I return to the states, it gets harder and harder to eat out when I look at the price and after a quick calculation, know that one meal with drinks and appetizers at Applebee’s for me and my friends will cost the equivalent of a weeks pay for many, not just in Oaxaca where I serve, but around the world.
How do I justify spending $2000.00 for a patio in my backyard when that same amount will build an entire house for a family in my adopted country of Mexico?
I remember a conversation I had years ago with Tony Campolo on this very subject. As we walked and he listened to my questions, he stopped, looked me in the eyes and said “You’ve got to bloom where you’re planted.”
And that worked for many years until somehow I got transplanted.
I could go, serve, and come back and fit right in again.
Then one day recently, I realized I feel like an alien in my own land.
Maybe this should be our goal.
When we struggle to see where we as Christians fit and don’t fit in the world, when everything does not fit nicely into neat packages, and when we can’t get everything in our lives, our faith, and our world integrated, then just maybe this is where Jesus wants us.
If so, then even though it can be incredibly difficult, it will be worth it.