I like to imagine that the reason I feel called to the Spanish speaking population of the world is that during a small meeting in heaven, someone asked, “Who should we send to South America?” To which someone responded, “You know what would be funny? Is if we sent someone really tall and white who will struggle to speak the language.” Then everyone laughed as they picked me. While that probably didn’t actually happen, it is fitting with how God works. In that He usually picks people others would count out, that He uses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.
I would certainly count myself to be the least likely to be called. My worst grades were always in Spanish class, I didn’t like to travel when I was younger, and in college, I wouldn’t even remotely consider dating someone who felt called to missions. I really wanted no part in it. So what changed? While I did have a certain spiritual ‘knowing’ that I needed to keep working on my Español, it wasn’t until my relationship developed with the Lord that He was able, usually during deep moments of worship, to drop the mission in my heart. I’m not speaking of specific direction of what to do or even a mission statement to hang as a banner over my life but rather He gave me a love for the people. It’s that agape, God kind of, love that really pulls you into missions because you’re not simply following an order, but rather you are following your heart.
Worship is a big part of how you have the courage to go because without the peace and assurance that comes from His presence you’d probably just stay home. Travel, even for tourism, can be scary even though some of the mechanics are simple: you get a passport, you buy a ticket, and you get on the plane. Missions especially involves a lot of trust because you are getting off the beaten path and into the real lives of real people. I once had a friend of someone I kind of knew invite my family and I to Argentina for three weeks. We spent every dime we had and more to fly our family thousands of miles because of a few emails. It was only at the airport that I then realized that I had no idea what they even looked liked and had no way to contact them if they didn’t show up. Thankfully, they did show up and it was the beginning of a crazy trip that stretched us to the breaking point. However, as we have often found, when you go out on a limb you find that’s where the fruit is.
I have found that in moments when you feel unqualified, barely speak the language, and stand a full balding head and white shoulders above everyone else’s flowing locks of thick black hair, that you quickly realize your need for the supernatural ability of God, called grace, to be actively working in your life. Moments like when we were in several very rough neighborhoods as the guest of complete strangers where we were the only ones who spoke a lick of English and yet I had the microphone in front of a room full of people. So you say a prayer and give it your best, trusting that God is going to work through you. Though it seems crazy now, it felt like a great decision then, only because we knew that God was in it.
For us, worship is usually a big part of what we do when we get there, as the other part of our ministry is to help teach, train, and mentor worship teams. Though separated by many kilometers and a completely different set of words and customs, I will say that it is truly amazing how much we actually have in common. We do, after all, serve the same God, we enter into the same presence, and at the end of the day, we face many of the same challenges in ministry because people are still people.
It is often said of missions that it changes you more than it changed others. While these trips have certainly increased my faith walk, it has also exposed me to how people live in areas beyond where I usually reside. Interesting to me is that though while I am in a foreign country, I’m actually the foreigner. Everything I am seeing for the first time is normal to everyone else. It is in this, fish out of water, situation that you really can see, and then learn from, what is different. Working for several weeks in an orphanage will vividly teach you that you don’t have to have much in order to be happy. Where communist economics makes the purchasing of sound equipment impossibly expensive you are given the chance to learn the skill of maximizing what you already have. Seeing people who can’t afford monitors put one speaker behind them and one if front seems a bad idea until you realize that if you know how to adjust the gain of a microphone correctly it works amazingly well.
Many of the things we have learned have changed our entire outlook on ministry and some of the differences we’ve discovered are just funny. Latin people tend to clap on 1 and 3 instead of our 2 and 4. They don’t use a pedal on the keyboard and usually don’t even have one or ever heard of one (hint bring your own). They might serve you drinks and cookies on the front row. Women might nurse their babies without covering up while you are preaching. When an older lady offers you food you pretty much have to sit down and at least pretend to eat it. Basically nothing starts on time by clock definition and depending on where you are the people can be very stoic or overly expressive. But when your agenda is to follow the leading of the love that God has placed in your heart, people can tell, and in return, they love you back. It becomes what Paul described in Romans 1:11-12 “For I long to visit you so I can bring you some spiritual gift that will help you grow strong in the Lord. When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours.” (NLT)
I believe that wherever there is one person, God is sending another person to tell them about Jesus. While we often think that means we have to go to the person on the other side of the planet, it can also just be to the person next door. So no matter where God calls you to go, I would encourage you to worship your way there.