It’s been just over two weeks since we returned from La Plata, and I am still processing what we did and what happened there. Some days it seems like it must have been a dream, and we weren’t actually there. Other days I am SURE we were there, but it is like thinking about something that happened a lot longer than two weeks ago. Of course, a lot of catching up at work and then a week on travel for work as well has made it seem like a distant event.
If I try to write about everything that happened and how it has affected me, this will become a novel that nobody will want to spend the time reading…so I will try to capture just the high points, and as much as I have processed them. Anyone who has spent time on a mission trip will know that it will be a very long time, if ever, before I can fully capture internally this trip, as I am still “running into” my last trip to Africa from time to time.
The biggest, by far, take away from this trip is my relationship with God. I will confess that I never felt God as forcefully or personally as I did during and since the trip. I am in awe of His presence, constantly, in my life now. Having spent concentrated time with God for a week, my conversations with Him have changed into, well, real conversations. True he does not “speak” to me in a conventional sense, but MY end of the conversation has certainly changed and I speak to God more conversationally now. It FEELS like a two way conversation, and it is. His responses may not be audible or immediate, but they are responses I can see or hear or feel now. I suspect they were always like that, and it is me who has changed, certainly not God. Finally, my prayers don’t feel like such a duty these days as they do a desire. It is like talking to my oldest dearest friend.
Less spiritually, but marginally so, are my views on several topics I had thought had been determined. For one, the concept of “working poor” has changed. Prior to this trip, I would have said that term was an oxymoron. If you are working, how can you be poor? And if you are, work harder! What I saw in La Plata were people working as hard as they could, and still not making ends meet; People who, if only they could FIND steady work, would work very hard for long hours. Certainly there are people who also simply refuse to work and rely on others to support them, but how do you know when you see someone who is struggling? Is that true here at home as well? Since my experience tells me that once you strip away language and cultural differences we are all the same, children of God created in His image, the answer is yes. Consequently, for me, I find I look at people differently. I find I can no longer assume someone in need simply needs to work harder and stop being lazy. I have not finished thinking through this issue, and recognize some discernment is required, if not to decide who to help at least to decide how to help. I suspect I’ll be working on this one for a LONG time.
Illegal immigration is another topic I thought I understood but am changing views on. Nate pointed out to me what, while it should have been glaringly obvious, is a point I had never before considered. His question to me was, “What would it take to make me leave my country permanently settle somewhere else?” Of course, I wouldn’t! I am an American! I love America! I would have to be totally desperate to move! Well, here is the epiphany, IMMIGRANTS LOVE THEIR COUNTRY TOO! Where I saw people wanting to come here to take advantage of the U.S, I now see desperate people who risk coming here illegally just to survive. This is another topic I am still working on, and I have not come to conclusion but I certainly have a new perspective to work from. I do believe it is wrong to come here illegally. It IS illegal after all. Perhaps we need a new Ellis Island, or something, but it is (my new conviction is) our responsibility to address the issue of desperation in other countries while still making sure that our solution does not result in a collapse of our economy and the blind acceptance of everyone including dangerous criminals. As I said, I have not come to a complete conclusion on this one.
Lastly (for this post anyway) is my idea of evangelism. I previously believed evangelism was something you “did”. I am realizing now that evangelism is something you LIVE. Another glaringly obvious point Nate helped me with that I was previously blind to is the idea that you had to leave the US to have cross-cultural evangelism. The truth is that ANY Christian being an example to and speaking about Christ with a non-believer is participating in cross-cultural evangelism! Believers have a culture of Christianity, and a non-believer does not. Even though we may be speaking the same “language” we speak from a perspective of a different culture just as much as if we lived half a planet apart. ALL EVANGELISM IS CROSS-CULTURAL!
This was an amazing trip for me personally. It was much more “difficult” than what I expected. I thought that doing something physical like digging ditches or building buildings would be more difficult, but to get and stay emotionally engaged and invested with God and our group for a week was EXHAUSTING. Doing something physical, while physically challenging, in my mind would be easier than a week of serious emotional investment. Not to discourage anyone. If you have an opportunity to do something like this, I URGE you to take it! While exhausting it is also eye-opening and completely rewarding!
Thank you to Nate and Deb, Rich and Jill and Brian and Tara for hosting us. It was a pleasure to meet you and your families, it was inspiring to watch you and get to know you and I for one look forward to returning to La Plata soon! God bless you all, we will continue to pray for you and the people of La Plata and Argentina!