Tag: obey

Lessons Learned

Lessons Learned

My adventure with Haiti has been spread over many years, most of them before I ever bothered to visit the country itself. When he was in first grade, my son Hunter raised money on his own to support the Church of God orphanage, the House of Blessing, in Petionville, Haiti. This was the start of my friendship with the nation and people of Haiti. Along the way I have learned some important lessons and I am sure I will continue to learn with each trip (by the way, this is one of the most important reasons for short-term mission trips: learning!). Here are a few lessons that came to my attention as I prepared our Haitian dinner last night at church.

First, God will send you helpers of all kinds. Welcome them, accept anything they can do. Then celebrate with them the accomplishments. As I began cooking yesterday, one of my wife’s teacher friends asked if she could help. All afternoon her and my wife helped me cook, chop peppers, onions, and mushrooms, and then get all the food to the church and the tables setup for dinner. Stephanie is a young teacher who made friends with my wife last year at the school where they both taught. She has come to be as close to me as a sister and although I did not expect her help yesterday, I think God sent her to be there when the work would have probably overwhelmed me. When I visited Haiti several weeks ago, I met some people who had simply been available at the right time when Yvan Pierre needed them. In any ministry, but especially in mission work, the ability to build a team from those who are available rather than those who are qualified is essential!

Second, real ministry is a relational and community event, not the work of just one person. Even when one person is the visionary and the leader of what happens, they are powerless to create anything meaningful. Partners are essential! Not just workers and far more than mere supporters. Partners capture the vision of what is going on and can discern their own contribution to that larger vision. The shared contributions of many people make the ministry or mission far more successful than one-man shows or single focus programs.

Third, sometimes the discernment of a call is not a single datable event, like God calling Samuel, but more of a progressive unfolding of God’s will for you. I think God usually has to work this second route with me! If he had showed me at 16 what I know now, I would have probably run like Jonah!Instead, God has led me step by step into my current ministry. My current ministry activity is thrilling in both the emotional and spiritual sense, it is challenging in so many ways! Only my life experience has prepared me for these challenges. So I have learned to be faithful wherever I find myself in ministry and not only perform well in that position, but also look for what God might be trying to teach me through the phases of my life.

On my most recent visit to Haiti, I spent a lot of mornings and evenings in prayer. One thing God revealed to me is that my essential calling is still to be a pastor. Although now I am more of a pastor to pastors, the nature of what I am and what I do is unchanged from my initial calling. With this in mind, I am learning to not only submit to God’s leading but also to submit to the human leaders he places in my life. God has sent me “Apostles” who can expose me to new pastoral opportunities and help me discern specific tasks. Just as I trust God, I must trust that in placing me under the authority of these individuals, he is placing me right where I need to be to accomplish his will through me.

Putting the “GO” in the Great Commission

Putting the “GO” in the Great Commission

Having made trips to China, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and now Haiti, I am often asked, “Do these short term trips really accomplish anything?” Or I am asked, “It costs so much for you to take a team to Haiti (or wherever). Why not just raise the money you raise and then send that to Haiti?” I want to try and answer these two questions because I think they actually miss the point about why we do this.

First of all, yes, these trips do accomplish a great deal. The team that Tony Geinotta takes from Cape May county in New Jersey have made seven trips and are scheduled to be there again this coming October. Each time they complete a measurable task in terms of building. On my last trip with them in 2012, we completed the framework for the forms that allowed the next team to pour the entire ceiling for the first floor of the Center of Hope. This is how the teams work: One group may dig and pour only the foundations; The next assembles the walls using concrete block. Another team like ours, sets the forms and the last team pours the ceiling, which then  becomes the floor for the next level. Some might protest that it would be cheaper to just send the money and pay Haitians to do the work! This is true, but it would not accomplish the full task of these teams.

You see, the goal is not just to build a building or clear new farm land or even teach pastors and church leaders (something I usually do). This is only a part of the task and often not even the most important one. On all of these trips, we work right alongside Haitians. We get to know them, share some meals with them, even laugh and play with them (I learned on my first visit not to challenge the Haitians to a Dominoes tournament!). A team traveling to Bayonnais, where ICDM has their main campus, is likely to meet and play games with students from Institute Henri Christophe. We will meet and sometimes even help the teachers there. Our cooks are all Haitian as well. What happens by the end of one of these trips is that we have made friends with many of the Haitians. When the team returns home their vision of the world is changed because they now see these people as real, as human, and as friends. Although their attitude on the first trip may be, “I am going to do something for Haiti,” after their first trip it usually becomes, “I am going to do something with Haitians!” This may seem like a subtle difference in attitude, but it is an important difference. Now that they know these people, the reasons behind their work all change. Even the reasons for fund-raising will change. I remember the first trip with Tony’s team, we saw fund raising as primarily to pay for our trip. After that first trip, fund-raising was more about what was going to be done and who we were going to help on our next trip. The actual going leads to people coming home like the disciples after Jesus sent them out: Praising God and proclaiming, ‘even the demons obey our word.’ This goal of making friends and partners in Haiti is easily more important then the work we actually accomplish, although both are the result. However, there is still another reason to go.

When I took this team from New Jersey, there were numerous complaints by church leaders. Some thought we should be working directly on a United Methodist project and ICDM holds no denominational affiliation. Others felt that our fund raising would diminish the money given for current mission projects of the church. Still others thought that we needed to work at home before we went overseas to do missions. Here is why I still say we should go: 1) ICDM does not hold a denominational affiliation and this has given them the ability to work across many denominational and theological boundaries. In fact it allows them to work with (that “with” word again) other mission organizations and churches with far more flexibility and influence; 2) Instead of diminishing church funding for missions, this group actually increased the giving for missions supported by the church. This happened two ways. First, the persons who had gone on the trip found themselves more sensitive to and responsive to mission needs, whether local or overseas. Second, the group shifted their fund-raising to the community rather then from the church and then tithed all they raised to the church’s mission fund; 3) When Jesus said “go” it was to the whole world. Whether you read the Great Commission as found in Matthew 28:18-20 or Acts 1:4-8, the command is to go to the whole world, not in some sequential steps (home first, then the nations next door, and then the ends of the earth), but rather to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and the ends of the earth, all at the same time.

In conclusion, I think every leader, particularly every pastor, should go on at least one foreign mission trip. We need to see the world through a wider lens and make friends with those whom we would help. My first trip to Haiti changed the direction of my life. Once I saw these people as God’s children, abused by their neighbors, ignored by the world, and yet joyful in their existence, I could not accept the idea that I could do nothing. So I keep going and taking new people with me. They come back transformed and as often as not lead transformation in their church back home. So who will go? Will you?

Answer the Call

Answer the Call

For almost as long as I have know him, my friend, Yvan Pierre, has tried to teach ┬áme that when God calls, God provides. Being the hard-headed learner I am, I nod my head but really don’t get it. However, Yvan’s teaching is very biblical and is certainly the directions God gives to his followers. When Jesus sent out the disciples (Matthew 10:5014):

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts–no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. (Mat 10:5-14 NIV)

This lesson does not come easy to me or to many others it seems. As a pastor and leader, I have often been in the position of sharing a Godly vision only to be asked by church leaders, “How will we pay for it?” When I find myself asking the same question in response to God’s call and direction on my own life, I have to share a guilty smile! You see, this is fundamentally the wrong question! We should not be asking, ‘How will I/we pay for it?” but rather, “How can I best answer this call and trust God in my response?”

I a previous post I discussed the provision of a lens set for the Optometrist in Haiti. I was so busy trying to provide for this need, I missed the very real fact that God was providing. My job was to ask, seek, and knock until the door opened. I did not need to raise the money, make the purchase, or even shop for what was needed. Through Marie Claude’s request, God had called me to present the need. Even though I had to ask many times, seek in several places, and knock on as many doors, so to speak, God was providing in his own way and his perfect timing.

This leaves us with the clear direction to simply answer God’s call. Rather than worry about the funding or the supply, we need to just move forward. It is interesting to read the response of the Twelve when the returned from their assignment. They were amazed that people were healed and that even the demons withdrew at their command. They were provided for along the way, as they went, and as they answered the call and command of their Lord. This is a matter of trust! Since I struggle with this, I want to end this post with a prayer:

Lord Jesus, help me to simply respond when you call; to answer when you lead; and to move when you direct. Let my heart trust in you even as my feet, hands and voice work at your command. I ask it all in your precious name, Amen!