Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Trip Name for the Application is "Sudan III"

When I was first asked about going on the trip to Southern Sudan, I did not realize that I would have to complete an application. I received an email from Geoff Ashley on June 30, 2009 asking me if I what I had decided about the trip. That is when I learned about the application. Geoff said, "If you are interested go on and fill out the application ... The trip name is Sudan III."
Filling out an application is not a new thing for me. Over the years I have had my share. My wife and I had just completed a very detailed application required by our church in order to become home group leaders. I knew from that experience that there would be nothing simply about the application for the trip called "Sudan III." I was not disappointed.

When I looked at the mission trip application required by our church, I knew that I had a new problem. My first thought when I read over the application for the first time was that I would not be able to complete it in time. In fact it was already past time to submit the application. I was not sure what effect that would have. Filling out the application would require thought and I was not sure how much thought I could provide at that time. I had just about used up my thinking in making the decision to go. Of course, I was still thinking largely in terms of "me." I do have to say, though, that part of my concern was related to being sure this was what God wanted. I will address that aspect later; but, for now, I can just say that it did account for some of my concerns.

I knew that our church had a lot of mission trips; but I never realized what was involved in going on one of those trips. I quickly learned though that there was nothing casual about the process or the "vetting." Now that I had decided to go, I was not sure how things would work out once my application was considered. Initially, beyond putting my name in the application, I was at a loss as to how to properly fill it out. I am looking the application again as I write and remembering how blank my mind was the day that I first looked at the application.

The first thing staring me in the face was "Passport Information." Filling that part out would be easy because I didn't have a passport. I had know idea at that point how long it would take to get one or if I could get it in time for the purchase of tickets. There was a section in the application about ministry participation and then a whole page about medical information. I was in good health but I didn't know how my age would be weighed. I knew that I needed to talk to a doctor about the matter. I later did and his first reaction was, "We need to get you set up for a stress test right away." I guess health and age was a factor. It turned out that I had taken a stress test in February 2009 and had received great results. Health was a factor; but thankfully I was fine and as it turned out I never had any health problems while in Sudan or after my return.

Next was a section on my overseas experience and ability to speak foreign languages. That answer would be simple - "None." I had never been outside the United States and could not speak a foreign language. I didn't figure the Latin that I had studied in college would count. I would also be required to express in writing my personal testimony. I was given a page and a half to do that; but eventually only used half of page. I was not sure how a whole blank page would look. Another question was "How is God at work in your life now?" That caused some concern because of the struggle I was having about going on this trip. In looking back at the application, I had written a question that could have raised doubts. I had said, "Why after all these years have I been asked to be part of the presentation and teaching of the gospel to people on the other side of the world?" I haven't fully answered that because I am still learning, but even if I don't come up with a full answer, I am satisfied just to say, "Thank you, Lord. What a blessing." I am praying that it will be more than that and that one day I can fully see how God used this trip and time of teaching for His glory. I turned another page in the application, and it didn't get easier. "Tell us more about your passions, talents, work experiences, unique skills, cross cultural experiences and anything else that has shaped who you are." At that moment I knew that I wanted people to have a clear understanding of the gospel in terms of living because that is what I wanted. I thought, "Maybe I can answer that one." I skipped to the next series of questions - "What have been some of the defining moments of your life" and what "cross-cultural experiences have you had?" "What do you believe is the biblical purpose/goal of global missions?" "Why/how do you feel God is leading you in this trip overseas?" The questions just got deeper and deeper and I was pressed for time. By then I was feeling the pressure.

I guess that once again I was wanting an easy route and way through this. I knew that I was going to have to start thinking at a different level. I was also going to have to trusting God at a different level. I was starting to realize more and more that I really needed to turn to God in all of this. I also had a sense that maybe I had waited too late to do that. I was left with heavy weight on me. Had I sacrificed obedience for struggle and doubt? Had I listened to "Adam the First" too long? Had my delay really been retreat and had I crossed the line of going farther with God? Through out that day and evening I would try to fill out the application; but I drew an absolute blank on these questions. Guess what? I still had not quit trying in my own effort. I should have spent the day in prayer instead of trying to escape the reality that I would not be able to do this on my own. When I went to bed that evening, I did not sleep. I don't think I ever closed my eyes. I started praying; but even that was a struggle. I had decided to go but I could very well still sink the whole thing over the application. I am not sure what all God was letting me experience in this step of the process; but it was agonizing. What I needed the most at that time was to just give up on my own ability and admit that I couldn't do it without Him. Why has that been my struggle so much of my life?

I say I had decided to go on the trip, but I still had thoughts that maybe I wouldn't get to go. I also knew that God was not closing the door - yet. I was coming to the point of being troubled that after weeks of struggle, I might not get to go. I don't know if Josh Patterson, our Executive Pastor, was preparing me for that possibility. After I submitted the application, Josh told me that if it worked out for some reason that I couldn't go then maybe I could help the team in some other way.

After that sleepless night, I remember going to my desk at 5 AM the next morning and thinking "What am I going to do. It can't end like this." This was Thursday. The first meeting was on Sunday. I was far behind the curve. I had an early breakfast meeting with my friend, Dr. Steve Glaser. He and I lead a men's Bible study group and we were meeting to talk about that. Before I left home that morning, I sent Josh Patterson a note expressing some of the struggle I was having. Later, at breakfast, I told Dr. Steve Glaser, for the first time, about the trip and my concerns - especially about the physical aspects considering my age. We talked about a number of things concerning the trip; but one response he made that I won't ever forget was when he said, "Look at it this way. What is the worse that could happen to you?" I laughed and said, "That is one thing that I am thinking about." But I did begin to think about what he had just said in a much broader sense. I realized that the worse things that I had been thinking about included a bucket list of thoughts not worth pursuing and that the worse thing was not the worse thing. The worse thing would have been not to go. When I got home around 7:30 AM, a weight had started to lift. It was like the first ray of peace began to shine into my situation. I found that I had received a reply from Josh Patterson. His son had been sick and he was up at 5 AM that morning, as well, when my email came. He was able to reply immediately. With his response, my talk to Dr. Glaser and more talk with my wife, Betty, that morning, things began to come into focus.

For the first time I could actually do some clear thinking. They all had been encouraging me, in essence, to press forward in the Spirit's strength. Josh spoke in terms of putting off the old and putting on the new and of mortifying those things that were dragging me down and hindering a heart felt response. I recently asked Josh whether I should write about this struggle. The heart of his response echoed the words that he wrote to me the morning of July 9, 2009. He said, "I definitely think your writing needs to include the challenges to obedience and how this process exposed areas of your life. The vast majority of people who read this will identify with the struggle to obey and get to see how the Lord is faithful and gracious in it. They will see the process for what it is…a process. None of us are complete yet and certainly nobody is “finished”. So, we press on and see the love of the Lord and patience of His hand as He chisels and molds us into the image of His Son." For the first time on the morning of July 9, 2009 I had a peace that I had not had. The guilt that I was feeling over my struggle in the process began to lift. I knew that I had to take the baggage of fear, pride, concern about my reasons for going, physical concerns, financial concerns and get honest before God. I told Betty, I think, for the first time, at least in confidence and peace, that I wanted to go. It was becoming more and more a heart-work thing for me. I even felt that all I had been through was part of the process of preparation for the trip. I still had to pray, though, that I would not carry any unnecessary baggage with me. I am not referring to the 33 lbs limit on physical baggage that we were under. I immediately began to work on the application and within an hour it was completed. That in itself was a miracle. In fact, words were coming so fast that I had trouble typing fast enough. It was just one more gracious indicator that I was moving in the right direction. But the battle wasn't over. In fact, it will never be over this side of heaven. I was about to be reminded of that and those reminders would keep coming - not to drag me down - but to keep me heaven bound in my thinking - to keep me moving forward in dependence upon God. At times, though, I could still hear the call of "Adam the First." He never gives up.

“Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

No comments: