The Father and Jesus were talking one day in heavenly places. Throughout the old covenant, the righteousness and faithfulness and compassion of God had been poured out from heaven onto the brokenness of humanity,
But still mankind rebelled. So one day Jesus was talking with the Father, and voicing out loud the possible strategies that would be appropriate at this moment of time for the restoration of His people on earth. Should it be another leader, another disaster, another miracle, another prophet again this time?
But the Father had already turned and was gazing distantly out of the window. He became quiet - very quiet, deeply thoughtful, intensely troubled. Jesus stopped in mid-sentence, and quietly, expectantly, nervously watched His Father’s back. Speak to me, He thought. Just speak to me. But the Father remained silent. Slowly, deeply, silently, the enormous truth dawned on Jesus, and eventually and with a cracked voice He quietly said to His Father, “It’s me, isn’t it? It’s me. I’ve got to go, haven’t I? This time I’ve actually got to go.”
For the rest of the day the Father sat with Jesus and outlined His ultimate plan for the salvation of the world. Every few minutes new depths of awareness crashed into Jesus, Son of God, Lamb, Bread, Bridegroom, Shepherd, Cornerstone, Rock, Vine, Word, as the Father outlined what sort of birth He would have, what sort of life He would lead, what sort of death He would suffer, and why.
Incarnation. It’s all about being. It’s all about being here. And it’s all about discovering and connecting with God’s fingerprint. By coming to another culture you are entering into a conversation that is already happening.
So, mission is a matter of finding where God is already at work, and joining in. My friend Gordie Lagore told me once of a First Nations lady in northern Canada, and how she had greeted him when he arrived in her community with a short-term mission team. “If you think you have come to help us, you are wasting your time. But if you believe that somehow your healing is tied up with ours, then come and let’s live and love and work together.”
Whilst on our short-term mission trips, we live an intense common-purse community lifestyle, and despite being well outside our comfort zones, we open ourselves up to the point of vulnerability, and give ourselves away in long hours of joyful self-sacrifice.
When we eventually arrive home, we are exhilarated yet exhausted, physically and emotionally. Subconsciously, maybe even consciously, it is easy to assume that everyone will understand that it’s now our turn to be looked after for a while. When these silent presumptions and expectations become crystallised into demands of the heart, however, we can find ourselves in more than a spot of bother.
To be honest, life was probably not actually tougher when we were away on our trip. In fact, in a lot of ways, it was probably easier. Adrenaline was pumping; we were fuelled by intrigue, excitement. Everything was so new, so special, and faith levels were high. We were able to encourage and stimulate one another through the wonderful, open, grumble-free, collective team dynamic. Despite the poverty around us, we were well looked after, didn’t have to cook or wash up, were treated like royalty, had an acutely heightened sense of identity and purpose, and virtually forgot about the distresses and debts, the discontents and difficulties that we had left behind at work and at home.
The first six verses of Luke chapter 9 tell us about the very first exciting short-term mission team experience of the twelve disciples. They give us an outline of their pre-trip training and orientation, their objectives, and how the team members were to respond to good times and to bad. These few verses even give us the team member packing list, right down to the number of shirts they were to take.
All sorts of things happened while the disciples travelled together, and God really turned up for them like never before. When it was time to come home, they couldn’t wait to tell Jesus what had happened.
But they were in for a big shock, and for another immediate and intensive growth experience. For the moment they returned, they were greeted with news of a massive tragedy. John the Baptist had just been murdered - beheaded at the manipulated wish of Herodias’ dancing daughter. Not only were the disciples utterly exhausted by their mission trip, but they were now in shock, completely deflated and full of fear. The euphoria and exuberance of their trip had been instantly swept away, completely lost in the blackness of this devastating news.
The wisest course of action seemed to be to withdraw, together with Jesus, and chill out for a while in Bethsaida. Here they could escape from life’s interruptions. But as they left, and to their horror, a huge crowd followed them. This multitude seemed totally oblivious of the disciples’ need for a bit of space and regrouping time.
When the crowd were still milling round late into the afternoon, the twelve decided that enough was enough. Along with the setting sun came a distinct chill in the air, and the disciples came to Jesus and told Him unequivocally to send the mob away. There was no food and no lodging, and the place was remote. There was a restlessness stirring in the crowd, as though they somehow blamed the disciples for bringing them so far out of town. Although this was so unjust, they could soon have a riot on their hands.
Jesus seemed totally unconcerned. Despite His intense grief over the violent end to the cousin He loved so much (to say nothing of what the disciples had perceived as the obvious priority need of Him giving them His time and attention for their mission team debrief and re-entry weekend), He had actually spent the whole day chatting easily with the crowd, and healing their sick. As John commented to no one in particular, “He just seems to have great compassion on them, as though they are sheep without a shepherd.”
“I wish He had as much compassion for us,” Thaddaeus muttered to Thomas. “We’ve flogged our guts out over the last few days. Surely He can see we’re at the end of our tether?”
“If He thinks I’m going to give Him five out of five on the evaluation form for ‘debrief and post-trip support’ He’s got another think coming,” Thomas replied.
But actually, stretching time was about to begin once more, and the reality of what it means to walk constantly and obediently with Jesus was to hit them hard again that night. Exhausted as they were, they worked long and hard again all evening, and watched in bewilderment as it slowly became clear that five loaves and a couple of fish would prove too much food for the crowd of five thousand to eat.
Late that evening, with the crowd replete and eventually settled down, and the crickets doing what crickets do loudly in that part of the world at night, Peter threw another log on the camp fire and, with his friends, he reflected upon another miraculous, stretching, grieving, roller-coaster day. And they realised that they couldn’t just turn responsibility on for the duration of an occasional highly-charged, public, short-term mission trip, but that the Master had called them to a 24/7 lifestyle of servanthood, be they at home or away. Of taking up their cross day by day by day, be they in the mood or not, and following Him.
...has trained and led dozens of Short Term Mission Teams to more than thirty countries around the world, and always urges them to invest into understanding, valuing and engaging with the host culture.