It’s been a day since I returned from mission, and I already miss it! But as Chewy said, it’s a good thing that not every day of the year is Maitland Alive. Just as church on a Sunday is a little taste of the new creation – of how life is really meant to be – mission week is a reminder of the new creation for the entire year. Can you imagine the feeling after a long, intensive work out? Your body aches in exhaustion, but you know that you are being made stronger. And though it was painful, there is a joy in the experience. Mission week has felt like an intensive spiritual workout. I feel like I’ve been pushed hard spiritually this past week, and I’ve grown and learnt a lot. I honestly did not expect to grow so much, and so I’m so, so thankful for how God has worked through this week.
To start off on a down-to-earth, tangible note, mission was interesting because I had never worked with kids before. I don’t think I’ve had a serious conversation with a primary school kid since I was… a primary school kid. And so, before mission began, I had no idea how to relate to these kids. As the days rolled on, I gradually got more and more used to it, and discovered that you needed to approach kids with high levels of energy and a healthy dose of silliness. Many things on mission were scary, purely because I had not done it before. Things like playing with kids. Taking kids to the bathroom. Disciplining kids when they were acting up, and comforting them when they weren’t feeling well. Even trying to teach kids the gospel in a way they could understand. From experience, I’m very comfortable having intellectual conversations with quiet Asian-Australian youth, but not with rowdy, white primary-school aged kids. Being forced to “step up” in many ways, by the sheer fact it was uncomfortable doing something for the first time, really challenged me to be courageous and take initiative as a man of God.
One thing I really, really loved was singing kids songs! Again, it’s been a long while since I’ve sung a kids’ song – complete with actions and all. But really, if these truths are good enough to teach children, then they are good enough for us old people. And the songs, in all their simplicity, really get to the heart of the message. As an adult (and especially as a uni student), I love to think about theology and philosophy and how the big ideas of the Bible all coalesce and shape our lives. But… the very, very basic truths which we should functionally live by? They are very easy to gloss over. And so, the kids’ songs get to the truths that we should trust and hold to heart. Oftentimes, I found myself singing the songs to myself as a reminder of the truth during the stressful and tiring day, and they really did refresh me! Some of my favourite lines:
“And He’s known me and He’s loved me since before the world began. How wonderful to be a part of God’s amazing plan!” (Our God is a Great Big God!)
“Well it’s been slow going, but there’s a knowing – that someday, perfect I will be!” (Little by Little)
Mission was an undeniably high-intensity and draining week and half. From the early wakeups, to the high-energy program, visitations, spending large amounts of time with people, section meetings, late nights to bed – it was unbelievably tiring. And the team knew this. Inevitably, there would be times when we would be tired, and weak, and upset, and unappreciated, and peopled-out. Yet, because of this fact, everyone in the team was all the more intentional in loving one another, taking care of each other, and being an encouragement. And Christ shone so, so brightly. I feel that back in our normal lives, there is no explicit “need” to be so intentional. But on mission, we are forced to take an active role and stance in loving one another. It’s all good to be teaching the gospel to kids… but we also needed to live it out in our lives. And I could really see this happening during the week. One of the mission ‘values’ was that we were to be people-centred and not program-centred. These few words made a world of difference in the way I approached things during this week. Stressed? Tired? Lots of things to organise and do? The most important thing is to love one another. Getting the perfect program can wait. Living the gospel in the way we treated one another was much more important.
I remember there were moments on mission when I was extremely discouraged. In these times, I was especially tired – the long days and heavy interactions with people were draining. The hot weather didn’t help either. There were also times when there was some friction within our section – understandably, as most people were tired and stressed. In these times, Satan was whispering in my ear “Disunity! Disunity! Disunity!”. These moments honestly did feel like poop. But I know they weren’t poop. God used them to teach and sanctify. I’m so thankful that during these times, I could receive the grace of rest – to catch up on sleep back in the room, to have a warm shower, and to be refreshed and reminded of the truth and goodness of God in edifying conversation. Yes, we were tired and discouraged at times, but God’s grace was enough.
Whilst we spent a fair few hours each day with the kids – the program went for about three hours – we spent a lot more time together as a team. Twenty-four hours each day together. And this really, really was the thing that stuck out. If we think about our personal growth in terms of the head, the heart and the hands – reflecting what we know, feel and do – there are some places where you really grow in terms of the head and heart, such as AnCon where there are heaps of amazing bible teaching and talks. What about the hands though? I felt that mission was a place where I really grew in terms of the hands – in actually, physically, living out as the body of Christ. The gospel was in action. And I could see this through the team – everyone was so servant-hearted, so humble and gentle, so real and genuine, so eager to seek the good of others. And everyone acted with such joy – there was very little grumbling or complaining. Even in the most menial and mundane of tasks – washing up the dishes, cleaning the toilet, cutting up bits of paper for craft – everyone was so ready to serve and love one another through their actions. And no glory to themselves, but all glory be to God. It really is refreshing living with Christians that you don’t usually hang around with, and seeing them live, and being built up by their words and actions.
However, one thing I became increasingly aware of over mission was my own sinfulness and brokenness. Especially in moments of tiredness, being drained after a long day’s program, I really saw how much darkness there was in my heart – moments where I’d taste the pride, or the self-centredness, or the bitterness and hurtfulness that came so naturally. I guess this was the result of being vigilant and constantly checking myself in this high intensity environment. But one thing that I had really come to appreciate on mission was hearing the word preached (especially at team time in the morning), and being wrecked by it. The talks always felt so real – there was always an immediate need to apply it in the intense environment of mission. And often, the talks would be very painful to listen to in the rebuke it brought. It’s difficult coming to terms with your sinfulness, yet it’s so liberating to be able to face it and repent. Nick said something which really stuck – “You hear it, and it’s so painful, but it’s so good.” Having the word of God slice into you and incisively cut away the sin in your life – it really does hurt, but it’s a good pain, because you know you are growing.
Man… there’s a lot to say, and a lot that I can’t put in words. It was an edifying experience. Whilst mission is over, life goes on. And whilst it was quite sad to see mission come to an end, it really is a beginning rather than an end. My prayer is that I’ll take what I’ve learnt and experienced and grown over the past one and a half weeks, and that it would charge me up for the year ahead. I pray that I might continue to walk faithfully, and encourage and love those around me. Because mission continues wherever we are, and wherever the Lord places us.
“With man things are impossible, but not with God. All things are possible with God.” Mark 10:27 (Oh yeah!)