The Gift of Presence
For nearly two weeks, those of us in the Saint Paul Area Synod have been blessed by the presence of ou[...]
In a couple weeks Deacon April Trout will be arriving in Iringa to begin two years of service as our long-term volunteer Program Coordinator. Preparing for this new call involved 16 days of international orientation in Chicago, consecration at the Lower Susquehanna Synod Assembly, commissioning in Saint Paul, and an anointing and blessing by the Global Mission unit of the ELCA.
Last Sunday, in a farewell sermon at her home congregation, she reflected on those experiences and the call we all experience to join in God’s mission. Here is a bit of what she shared…
… I've had some people tell me that I am very brave to be doing what I'm doing. I think that's very well meaning, but I don't consider it brave at all. I am simply responding to what God has called me to do, and I am privileged and honored (and VERY excited) to be doing it.
I DID do one brave thing recently, though, during my missionary orientation. Just over a week ago, on the next to last day of the Summer Missionary Conference, I did one of the most terrifying things I have ever done in my life. I went ziplining…
You have to understand that I do not like heights and I do not like speed, and it's a rare day that you will find me on a roller coaster or a ferris wheel. Ziplining has never been an item on my bucket list. But it was an activity that was built into the missionary conference schedule… so off I went to the zipline course with a group of fellow global mission personnel.
We all listened carefully to the short orientation, put on our safety harnesses and helmets, and picked our partners. When my turn came I climbed up the platform with only a little bit of trepidation (it wasn't too terribly high) and hooked my trolley onto the line. I looked down the long, steep hill at where I was headed… took a very deep breath… and stepped into thin air…
I will tell you that that single step was the most terrifying part of the whole experience.
I took that step and for a very brief moment I was freefalling with absolutely no support around me anywhere. Then the trolley took up the slack in my harness and I was hanging securely from the zipline - zooming down the line in the most exhilarating rush I've felt in a long time. It was a blast.
I've been reflecting on my ziplining experience, and it occurred to me that it has a lot of parallels to mission work. First, it requires some orientation and preparation. It requires some trust in the people who are helping you. It requires not caring what you look like or what anyone else thinks (especially when you scream the whole way down the line, which is what I did!). And of course, it requires a whole lot of faith.
In my own faith journey I've learned that there's a lot that goes into doing God's work, whether you're doing that work in Tanzania or in the yard right outside your church door. The first step, I think is discovering what it is that you are able do. This involves some discernment - first to uncover your spiritual gifts and learn how to make use of them, and then to listen carefully to what God is calling you to do. Pray, read scripture, and talk with others; in the process, your calling will become clearer. Even Jesus spent time alone, as today's gospel story tells us, to pray and to discern in order to gather strength for his ministry.
Once you have discerned your mission, don't let your life get in the way. Don't make excuses and do not worry about what other people think of what you're doing. If you need to sell your house and your car and dispose of all your belongings and traipse off to Africa because that is what God is calling you to do, do not be concerned about what the neighbors think. Don't listen to the family members who tell you that you are crazy. JUST DO IT! Jesus did. If he had worried about the Roman government or the Jewish authorities, he would never have become anything more than a carpenter from Nazareth.
As you go about God's work, expect God to act - and if you keep your eyes open, you will see plenty of evidence that this is so. Know that God goes with you and that you are not doing this work alone. With the help of the Holy Spirit, you don't need much to accomplish great things for God. Look what Jesus did with 5 loaves and 2 fishes!
As in any venture in life, there will be bumps in the road. Just because you're doing God's work doesn't mean that there will be no difficulty, no setbacks, no failures. Expect these things, because they will happen. Embrace them, negotiate them and learn from them, and keep on going. The gospels record many instances of Jesus' frustration with the disciples when they just didn't seem to get the picture - but he didn't give up on them.
Finally, when you're doing God's work, prepare to be surprised! This, I think, is the greatest gift of doing ministry. God will use you in ways you never expected, the work will be challenging but fulfilling and the outcome may be more than you could have ever hoped for. All of it will be filled with joy and wonder. All that is required of us is to plant the seed; God will produce a bountiful harvest…
Deacon April Trout – BKB Coordinator in Iringa