Several years ago I went to visit my father in his retirement community out in Tucson. One night we went to dinner in the dining room and I found myself watching the couple at the table next to us. The woman was tiny and frail; she didn’t look well at all. He seemed fine. When they finished eating and got up to leave he took her arm. Then my father made an interesting comment. “I’m never sure who is helping whom.”
He was right. I assumed he had taken her arm to help her out – she certainly looked like she was the one in need – but as I watched I saw that she was in front, and he was following her lead to the door.
I thought of that couple again this year when we were in Guatemala.
Traditional views of mission work have depended on a model that suggests that we are ‘unevenly yoked,’ that there is an imbalance of need and power; one party is ‘weak’, poor or without necessary resources, and the other party has what they need. One party gives, the other receives.
It doesn’t take you long in Guatemala to come to the same conclusion my father did: We are never sure who is helping whom. Yes, we have financial resources that can make things possible for the church there to do things they couldn’t do otherwise, whether it’s re-doing Sunday School classrooms or reaching out to the homebound in their congregation and the community. We can help them do ministry in their own setting just a bit better. But we would be mistaken if we thought that they were the tiny and frail ones at the table. In the end, they have been the ones leading us to a greater understanding of what it means to praise and trust God for life itself, not just the goods, freedoms and privileges that accident of birth have bestowed on us. They have shown us what life looks like when you don’t have a lot of other stuff and activities and priorities to crowd God and true Christian fellowship out of the center of it. When I visit them, I imagine that that must be a lot like what the early church looked like.
We are already thinking ahead to next year’s visit (mark your calendar for June 30th-July 8th), and hope to have a small group from Bethel visit us in the coming months. Take a moment to read about this year’s trip on the Tales From Our Guatemala Mission blog. We have so much to learn from them about being disciples and the church of Jesus Christ, and I treasure this time together. But for now, the one thing I have gleaned so far is that I need to have a far better appreciation for what God has done for me already, and spend more time being grateful and joyful than thinking how much better life would be, if only_______.
Maybe I’m wrong, but that probably holds true for all of us.