Here are some scattered thoughts I gathered from my missions trip.
(Our group visited three countries on our trip, but the majority of us only visited two–Cambodia and Laos.)
In Cambodia there is freedom of religion…the Buddhists don’t even mind the presence of Christianity. In Laos, a “creative access” nation, it is the opposite. “Proselytizing” is forbidden and Christians cannot even carry their Bibles around in public.
In Cambodia, the church sings hymns with all their might…a joyous, vibrant sound of praise. In Laos, church gatherings often cannot include songs because that would alert the public to their unwelcome presence.
In Cambodia, passing out tracts is a weekly thing. In Laos, it takes years to build enough of a relationship with someone to invite them to church or witness to them.
Those Christians possess the joy of the Lord…I have never seen smiles light up faces so quickly anywhere else. They give hearty testimonies, sing songs from their souls, and gladly give time, food, or gifts to each other .
Christians there will drive miles and miles to go to church twice a week. It is the highlight of their existence to gather with fellow believers and rejoice in the fellowship of being accepted in the beloved.
Mothers are told that nobody will want to marry their daughters if they continue in the Christian faith. They continue anyway.
Maybe God let my camera be spoiled in the river to help me focus my sight on other things…not taking pictures of people, but actually being with those people. Maybe in my concentration to see things to shoot, I missed seeing other things that didn’t need to be photographed to matter eternally in heart and memory. My photography tends to isolate me from the crowd so I can capture them. Missing my camera made me able to SEE. Really see.
In Cambodia and Laos, people are beaten for going to church. Does church matter that much to me? What does church mean to me? What would I sacrifice for it? Do I care about the body of Christ as these Christians do? As Jesus does?
The waterfall we hiked to see reminded me of the bit in Hinds’ Feet on High Places, when Much-Afraid is taught about the joy of the waterfall…how it joyously gives itself over the cliff, abandons its own safety and place to leap over the edge, to spill itself out for others. That’s what we should be doing each day, laying down our lives for the brethren, dying daily to self. Because this is obedience, and obedience brings joy.
The butterflies at the Killing Fields, dozens swarming around wildflowers that had grown over mass graves from the Khmer Rouge…a strangely beautiful picture of life in death, of beauty from ashes, of joy from pain, of hope after suffering.
The single water lily in a pot outside a store in Laos. A picture of life in the slow lane… that lily could not bloom in the ocean, in a river — only in a quiet stream or pot of water. Sometimes missionaries are led to busy places. Others are led to still waters. Both are important to furthering God’s kingdom.
Time is no object…in ministry, in life. If it takes all day to visit with one person, that was a day well spent. There are no task lists or boxes to check off. If a sermon takes two hours to preach as the Holy Ghost leads, then they sit for two hours in the sweltering heat and allow themselves to be fed on God’s time clock.
I thought traffic in Long Beach was hectic… nothing compares to the utter mayhem of a Phnom Penh street gushing with life!
Second-generation Christians today in the West lack self discipline in their walk with God. We grow up hearing about a personal relationship with Jesus so much, our ears dull and we slumber and don’t care. What does our relationship with the Lord mean to us? Does it matter enough to drive us from our bed to our knees in the dark of the morning, from our schedules to our Bibles, from our plans to His will?
We take for granted clean water, laundromats, irons, American snacks, trash cans, shower curtains, sanitized utensils, soft beds, toilet paper, church, cars, restrooms…
A friend of mine was scared of all the foreign germs and such; “Everything except fresh air is entering my lungs right now.” But this is real life. It’s raw and smelly and dirty. This is the natural consequence of sin in this world. Civilization can try to hide the ravages of sin, but only so far. Civilization can create a sanitized world of seared hearts and blind eyes and spoiled senses; it can give comfort, employment, distraction from reality. This developing country atmosphere is reality for most of the world. This is real. This is normal. Not that it is right or that it should stay that way. I’m not against cleanliness and fresh air and good water and traffic rules and western civilization. I love America and the triumph of capitalism. But our neat little American lives can be suctioned, siphoned, of any perspective and shrivel us until we are just as much prisoners of comfort as these third-worlders are prisoners of need. Not every prison is a visible, tangible one. I feel so blessed to have been raised a missionary kid in a third-world nation. It gave me an ounce or so of perspective if not refinement.
The world’s most beautiful people can live in the most squalid conditions. I saw girls, barefoot but graceful, move like princesses through streets piled with trash. Children not much older than five years old roam the city, selling homemade bracelets and other knick-knacks to help support their families. Entire families crowd into one-room shacks at night to sleep on mats made of palm fronds. It’s places like this that make one appreciate Heaven even more.