I’m in another part of the world again, only this time it is not with the military. This is a short-term mission trip to Peru, a country located about mid-way down the west coast of South America.
Not long after assuming the role of senior pastor at my church in Ripon, I shared a deeply held belief I have with the head of our Mission Committee. That belief, which is not unique to me, is that a church that is not involved in missions is a dying church. I challenged the committee to think big, because I wanted God to receive the credit and the glory for any missionary endeavor we engaged in. So, our first trip was to Ethiopia in the spring of 2002, where we worked in a new medical clinic in the capital of Addis Ababa, plus missionary work out in the farther regions of that historic land. We followed that up with a trip to Malawi in the fall of 2003. This time we labored in back-breaking work to erect a church in the town of Mzuzu.
The trip to Peru is actually our 2004 trip that was bumped to late winter of 2005 due to climactic conditions. In any event, we are here, and already the experiences have been memorable, as well as challenging.
Last Thursday night, the seventeen team members stayed the night in a hotel near the San Francisco airport. You see, our flight was leaving at seven the next morning, which means we had to be there at five. Everything worked out just fine, and we were on our way to Peru, stopping in Atlanta, Georgia for our connecting international flight to Lima, Peru. The two flights totaled ten hours of flying time.
We arrived at the Lima airport at eleven-thirty at night on Friday. The shuttle that was to pick us up, didn’t. We wound up taking five cabs loaded with people and luggage to the Holiday Inn in the center of the capital city where we had reservations. Or so we hoped! I will not bore you with the details of our experiences with the hotel. Suffice it to say, all did not go smoothly, but we managed to work it out.
We spent several hours Saturday walking around parts of central Lima, taking pictures, and being amazed at seeing a huge McDonalds, along with a Pizza Hut, Burger King, and Dunkin Donuts, all in the same circular intersection. That afternoon we had a shuttle bus to take us back to the airport for our continuing flight to the city of Tacna, Peru, our final destination. This place is located in the southern most part of Peru. The Free Methodist Church has several churches in Peru, but this one in Tacna is where we are to help complete the building project for their new church facility. Currently, they meet in an old theater house for their Sunday night worship service. They also have a Saturday night Youth service, so after we arrived last night, the youth all came barreling into the pastor’s house where we are staying. These young people, aged fourteen to twenty-five, were refreshingly gracious, greeting us with hugs and a kiss on the cheek. They stayed until quite late, repeating the hug and kiss as they left. It was quite a welcome for us.
Today, Sunday, the mission team had its own worship service in the house before heading out to stroll around the markets. Many of the same young people spent the day with us, showing us the local restaurants and making sure we got the best deals on souvenir items.
Tonight we attended the worship service in the theater where Pastor Samuel serves. He arranged for some cultural exposure for the ¨norteamericanos.¨ Several young men and women dressed in the traditional colorful garb representing the areas where the Free Methodists have churches. They also served us samplings of the food from those areas. Pastor Eduardo Paulino, a friend who pastor’s our Free Methodist church in San Francisco, and one of our team members, was the preacher. We sang and had a wonderful time of worship. I was wondering about the offering and whether they do it the way most churches in America do, by passing the plate down the rows.
Well, they do take the collection down the rows, only it’s not an offering plate – it’s a Bible. The team (all seventeen of us) was seated together in two rows, and none of us were expecting to have an open Bible passed to us as an offering plate.
It did make me think for a moment. How appropriate, really, to have the open Bible used as the spot for you to place your monetary offering. Would any person really want to have their life be an ¨open book?¨ After all, here’s the book that lays bare the soul of everyone. The written Word of God emanates from the pages, causing a person to, hopefully, be a bit more honest in their dealings with God.
Am I likely to institute this same practice in the Ripon Free Methodist Church? No, I seriously doubt it. But it did give me pause to rethink the way we give back to God what is his in the first place.
But I can’t quite shake the question: Am I comfortable having my life as an open book when held up to the light of Scripture?