Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Travel Preparation

One of the most useful resources for me in preparing for the trip was Michael+ Kinman’s blog, Things of Infinite Importance. Start with his 28 March 2005 entry in the March 2005 archive, then read thru the entries in the April 2005 and May 2005 archive) to read about his team’s journey to Lui.

Even reading Michael’s blog from the comfort of my nice middle-class home before the trip, this entry struck me profoundly. He describes the travails of making the 30-plus hour trip from Missouri to Lui, the physical difficulties (jet-lag, weariness, etc.) and the emotional challenges, then the difficulties of going to bed that first night in Lui and facing sleeplessness and anxiety. He reflects on that experience:
Looking back, it was actually a good experience. One of the most valuable
experiences for me spiritually about traveling in the developing world is that
it makes me realize how few times in my life I truly put my life in God's hands.
Here in America, it is so easy for me to rest in my own self-sufficiency and the
many, many safety nets which come from having enough money in this culture.
Lying there in what felt like the middle of absolute nowhere, I knew that if I
was going to make it through what was really a very short visit ... not even to
mention the first night ... it would be by God's providence.
I pasted that comment into the front of my journal so that I would have it with me throughout the trip – as solace and challenge. If felt important to realize – even before embarking on the trip – that I might find my usual modes of being and coping would be insufficient in this experience.

Why did it strike me so deeply? Partly because everyone I talked to who had made this trip warned me, “This will change your life.” And – from my somewhat distant perspective – Michael’s story was a case in point. I knew him only casually and certainly was not privy to his personal deliberations, but as an outsider I observed that this man went from being a priest in what looked like a very stable, secure position in our diocese (as priest to the Washington University campus ministry) to resigning that position to become Executive Director -- the only paid staff position – of Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation. If a trip like this one could “disrupt” my life that dramatically, I went in very, very cautious.

The other chord Michael’s reflection struck for me: As Christians in America, we seem to breathe-in and ingest a theology of self-sufficiency. Oh, sure, I would have disavowed that. I knew all the Bible verses about relying on God for our strength and courage. But, like it or not, we are heirs of the Puritan philosophy often encapsulated as “the good Lord helps those who help themselves.” In my conversations with previous missioners, I got the clear idea that this trip might strip me to the bone. Michael’s lines – “I knew that if I was going to make it... it would be by God's providence” – stunned me with the warning that I might indeed find that all my own resources would not be sufficient for this mission. I might discover a helplessness that I (and, surely, most Americans) had spent a lifetime denying and barricading against.

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