Eternal God, heavenly Father,
you have graciously accepted us as living members
of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ,
and you have fed us with spiritual food
in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood.
Send us now into the world in peace,
and grant us strength and courage
to love and serve you
with gladness and singleness of heart;
through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Last night, I spoke with former YASC member, Becky Gleason, who was also placed in Tela two years ago. Becky and I talked on the phone for two hours about her time in Tela-- both the good experiences and the bad. She was kind enough to fill me in on the challenges of transitioning to life in the third world, where very few people speak your language, the water and electricity are shut off once a week, and every month feels like summer time. After our conversation, reality began to sink in. My mind flooded with fearful thoughts as I contemplated, "what have I gotten myself into?"
I began to calm down as I thought about how often she said "You're going to love it there!" or "I'm so excited for you!" I reflected on stories about the friends she made, how much she loved her students, all of the cool places she traveled to, and of course, all of the wonderful food she ate. "Okay," I told myself, "This isn't going to be so bad."
Taking a year off to travel to a foreign country and serve in an underserved community often appears to be some glamorous adventure. Adventurous? Maybe. Glamorous? Probably not. In fact, chances are that the situation will be far from glamorous, and it will probably be a bit (or more than a bit) scary. But a mission trip is not supposed to be about the glamor-- it's supposed to be about serving God and one's neighbor, and I think before I leave, it's important that I ask myself, "how can I fulfill God's purpose in this new place?"
Sometimes fulfilling God's purpose seems easy-- love your neighbor as yourself right? I think I'm a generally nice person, that's easy enough. Things I've done with the church over the years-- being a camp counselor, working with the mentally and physically disabled, helping out with events for my college ministry-- I love those things, those things are easy, and if I could, I would do them everyday. On the other hand, my conversation with Becky really made me reconsider what it truly means to be God's humble servant.
Becky did more than just her assigned job when she got to Tela-- in addition to teaching several sections high school English, she also volunteered with kids at a church in the surrounding community, helped prepare students who wanted to go to college in the United States, led chapel services, and offered language lessons to teachers in the school who struggled with their English. She made sure that her main purpose in being there was to improve the community in as many ways as she was able. Her stories reminded me that as much as I love what I do with the church, and even if those are good things, doing God's will is not always easy. In fact, if it is easy, that probably means that I am not searching for new ways to challenge myself and my commitment to bettering my community.
Her dedication reminded me of the prayer mentioned at the beginning of this post. It is one of my favorite prayers, and as an Episcopalian, I have the chance to say it after Eucharist every Sunday. This part in particular always stands out to me: "Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart."
Sometimes, truly committing yourself to the service of others is not as easy as it seems, and oftentimes, it takes courage, humility, and intentionality to truly impact a community. This year is going to be a hard one, but it will help to remind myself that the purpose of serving others is to serve God and his mission "with gladness and singleness of heart."