About a year ago, I made a commitment to go on a mission trip to Panama.
A few leaders in our church, Saint Andrew By-The-Sea, had asked a missionary we support if we could take a team to help out. In the Methodist church, there is an organization called United Methodist Volunteers in Mission and that is who we would go through to organize our team. UMVIM is a movement of primarily lay people, taking time out from the grind of life, to go out into the world and spread God's love. There is obviously a great need to build ties and relationships across the globe as people get closer and closer in the modern world.
It was last week when we came to the final days before the trip, and I was anxious. My wife was helping me go through the packing list. I had gotten my doctor's approval to travel to the regions of Panama, and it was all about set to go. At that moment I had to come to terms with my own private motivations for going. In the back of my head, I was excited because I would get to see a new place and go out on this adventure. Having just returned from London, travel lust was big on my heart. As a youth minister, I also was surveying if this would be a good trip to bring mature members of our youth group on. Trips like these, based on service and God's call to "go" to the world really grow faith in leaps and bounds. Also, I was energized by the idea of meeting new people and making new contacts. Even though Spanish isn't a language I master in any way, I could probably make it work. So I packed up my things with these motivations and prepared for the trip.
After traveling across the Gulf of Mexico, we met our missionary, Rhett, who organized our work immediately and began hearing about Panama's history. The Canal Zone had generated lots of wealth for Panama as a country, but it was obvious that many still lived in poverty, and the indigenous people deal with issues of justice and rights.
We drove out in the mountainous, lush countryside for six hours to serve on a reservation, where we met waves of children greeting us daily. As we painted buildings, built walls and fixed up window screens, we found that children and adults of the Gnobe Indian tribe would come alongside us, watch and sometimes pick up a paintbrush with us.
Over the course of a week, I played more soccer than I've played in the past five years. I have memorized more smiling faces of people I will be praying for. I worked with a team so centered on the Holy Spirit's work, and working together, that I get the chills thinking of our times of devotion. Though we spoke little Spanish, God's love was translated (in many different ways) to a group I didn't even know existed until we traveled. And my previous motivations melted away. As we ministered, we became the book of "Acts." We became witnesses of God's amazing power -- which is at work in the world -- all around the world.
It is an error to think that God is working only in our immediate sphere. Due to news reports, we tend to see the rest of the world as a dark place. But I've seen God's work in a different universe from my own: Christians helping the needy in their own context with whatever they have, and it has encouraged my faith and given me a new understanding of God's omnipresence.
He is everywhere; he is working on hearts in all places; and I am proud to serve such an awesome God as our God.