Rain Makes the World Smell Better
Tuesday, July 8
As chocolate is to chocolate chip cookies, so flexibility is to the success of an international mission trip.
Without flexibility, a project can quickly drown in a whirlpool of negativity and complaining, yanking the focus away from bringing God's love to those in need.
Cultural time tables are different (often much slower than in the United States), transportation is harder, weather is unexpected and illness is always unplanned.
Last Saturday, all of the above challenges were hurled at our project. A long, cold, wet day could have produced a chorus of complaints from teenagers (not to mention adults).
I look back on that day and marvel at my calculation of the grumble-count: Zero -- at least from the students. I myself am guilty of one that I can remember, but none from them.
A day like this produces greater unity, strengthens our margin for patience and tilts the balance of attitudes towards love, faith and encouragement.
I invite you to read Josh Mackin's description of this day -- a foundational building block for the success of MK2MK: Mexico City 2008.
30 Minutes Before 7:00
It's 6:30 pm on a Saturday, and our small party of 9 -- 5 high-school students, 2 college interns, and 2 team leaders, all of us MKs -- has just been sent out by a local church to pass out flyers in the surrounding community, inviting people to a special showing of the JESUS film at 7 pm (just half an hour later).
The neighborhood is poor, we are told, and mostly unchurched -- practically no one goes even to the Catholic cathedral -- and drug addiction ravages the youth, men in particular.
"La gente está perdido," pastor José Luis tells us. "The people are lost."
Of course the weather isn't cooperating. And our team has arrived 2 hours later than expected. Along with the weather, it seems the metro (subway) and microbuses, too, have colluded against us.
"There is a free movie at 7:00," we struggle out in what we hope is endearingly-broken Spanish, "We hope to see you there."
Armed with the hope that we WILL see them in heaven, because heaven isn't heaven unless it's a full house and we really do hope to see people there -- armed with this hope, we go out again into the elements.
The perennial destroyer of strongholds: faith the size of a mustard seed.
What Did Not Happen at 7:00 That Night
No one shows up.
We expected as much, what with the rain, and the lateness of the hour, but even with how cold it is inside the church, disappointment still burns.
A few church members shuffle around in the back row; the pastor is eager to have us feel comfortable even as he unthreads the mammoth projector; and our Mexican student volunteer and translator, Daniela, periodically spit-fires Spanish into a cell phone as she tries to figure out what's next.
What Did Happen at 7:00
It's still relatively early, and with the cancelled film showing, our group of Chinese-, Croatian-, Hungarian-, Polish-, Russian-, Czech-, Slovakian-, but not Spanish-speaking students struggles to make the best of the circumstances and connect with the few warm-blooded Mexican bodies in the room.
As a pseudo-Spanish-speaker myself, I flit around trying to build relational bridges as best I can, but quickly realize I'm not needed.
Because here's the thing: somehow it works.
Despite a complete linguistic brick wall between them, our students are able to engage. Entire conversations, built on nothing more than a few hand motions and facial cues, erupt into sudden, star-bright laughter.
Smiles beget smiles; broken Spanish begets broken English; and unlooked-for-breakthroughs emerge like shook foil through the haze of cross-cultural communication.
A Part of the Body of Christ
It's nothing earth-shaking, nothing extravagant, but for those students who choose to make the effort, the rain-mangled evening rewards them with a renewed sense of being part of the body of Christ.
For those who don't try, it's a lost opportunity, and perhaps one day will be nothing more than the cold memory of being uncomfortable and wet in an unfamiliar place. With sadness, some things cannot be forced.
We end the night, as we began it, with communal prayer. Our students lay hands, pray:
- for the church, that God would direct and take care of it and bless its ministry and provide property.
- for the community, that Jesus' name would be lifted up there and the Word spoken with boldness in its midst.
- for pastor José Luis and his wife, that the Holy Spirit would inspire them and give them wisdom as they oversee the flock.
- for the woman with a sickness in her arm, and the baby inside her who they are afraid will be stillborn.
- for Gabi, the youth director, that she would find a partner in ministry.
"It is better to give than to receive," the pastor tells me, in Spanish, over a sandwich. I wonder: what more beautiful thing can we give each other than our prayers?
Later that evening, riding the metro: rain makes the world smell better.