Most people, when they find out that I am going to be serving with Mercy Ships this summer, express some variant of a single reaction: "oh, that's so cool; you must be so excited." Occasionally someone will ask me what will be challenging about the whole experience. I really appreciate these people because they understand that Mercy Ships is not just a chance to travel to somewhere warm and sunny in order to meet new people and feel good about helping them. My time with Mercy Ships will be hard. Really hard. And I expect that not only will God teach me through this summer, but He will sustain me through it and chip away some of the rough edges in my life.
The different reactions of two particular people have caused me to do a lot of thinking. One is a coworker with whom I have had several good conversations about faith. This particular person is also a believer; because of that and the fact that we have had multiple discussions about faith and missions, I gave this person one of my support letters. Several days later, my coworker approached me during a quiet moment at work to let me know that they were going to pick up extra shifts at work in order to be able to support me. I backpedaled, extremely uncomfortable. I tried to explain that I don't really need the money that badly, that I have some money saved that can go towards my crew fees. My coworker persisted, though, and after a brief talk all I could say was thank you. And as I have tried to figure out just why the thought of someone picking up extra shifts to support me financially makes me so uncomfortable, I've realized that I don't like being on the receiving end of someone's generosity. I don't need the money, I told this person, essentially saying I can do this on my own; please please please don't sacrifice for me. But the more I think about it, I also realize that my coworker is a beautiful picture of Biblical giving: giving sacrificially and beyond your means. It is a lesson for me in grace and humility in being able to accept the generosity of others. And ultimately, it is a reminder to me of the ultimate sacrifice of the greatest Giver of all time, who "did not regard equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant." (Philippians 2:6-7)
The other person whose reaction to my Mercy Ships plans has caused me to do a lot of thinking is my grandfather. My grandpa is a strong, independent, and competent man, but he is not a Christian. I sent him one of my letters so that he would know what I was doing this summer. I thought (wrongly, it turns out) that I had at least mentioned my plans when I saw him at Thanksgiving last year. After being unpleasantly surprised by the contents of my letter, Grandpa called my mom to express his concern and displeasure. The gist of it is this: he's worried about me. He doesn't want me to get some horrible tropical disease, or to be hurt/kidnapped/threatened in any way. And he doesn't want me to "throw my life away" in the bottomless pit and the huge mess that in his mind, is all there is to Africa.
I've tried twice to call him, wanting to listen to his concerns and to talk with him. To try to reassure him that I know this isn't the safest thing I have ever done. I know there are risks involved, and I will try to lessen those as much as I can. But the way I see it, life itself is a risky business, especially when you throw Christianity into the mix. God has not asked me to live a safe, tame, comfortable-yet-Christian existence. Instead, I am asked to take up my cross and follow him; to lose my life that I might find it. My going to Benin this summer is in response to God's callings. But I haven't been able to say any of these things to Grandpa yet because he won't answer my phone calls or call me back. It's reminded me that Christianity appears utterly illogical and foolish to those who don't believe. It makes no sense for God to send his only begotten Son to die that I might have life. It makes no sense to lose your life that you might find it. It makes no sense to go to the people of Benin who live with great hurt, poverty, and disease, and know that I will not be able to truly fix those wrongs. None of those things make any wordly sense at all, yet I know in my heart of hearts that they are true.
Lord, you are the Great Giver. Soften my heart towards the things you are teaching me before I ever leave for Benin. Give me your words of love and truth so that I can talk articulately with people about what you are doing in my life. Grant me humility to accept the generosity of others. And Lord, help me to use this opportunity with my grandpa to show him Your love.