“When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh. Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live.” (Ezekiel 47:7-9)
I believe that God speaks to everyone. On mission trips, He seems to speak louder…
My last mission trip to the jungle interiors happened so long ago, when I was still a student studying in university. Nevertheless, I still remember very clearly the many, many things that happened during that trip. And not only do I remember all those wonderful memories, I know and treasure them dearly for the lessons God thought me through that mission trip changed my life and played a big part in shaping me to who I am today.
Last weekend, I had the opportunity to take part in a similar mission trip some jungle interiors again. Only this time, my role was more like a ‘guardian’ to the many youths from our church who had eagerly signed up for this mission exposure trip. That didn’t mean that I would not be learning anything from this trip! Trust me, I sure did.
It is always exciting to see how God amazes and teaches us things everyday in ways that we would never have thought possible. One key highlight of this mission trip was the magnificent river that runs by the side of the village. This river was literally the source of life to the villagers. It provided ‘free’ running water for their everyday needs – cooking, washing, drinking, bathing; and us city folk were just simply taken aback by its cool, refreshing and rejuvenating properties when its strong rushing current strokes past our weary bodies when we went in to bathe and chill.
It has been about a week since we came back from the trip but I’d bet the majority of us still do miss the river dearly. I certainly do. So, as I look back over the moments spent in the mission trip, I am once again humbled that God has spoken very clearly to me about the many things I need to learn from these reflections from the river…
1. Jehovah Jireh (The Lord will provide)
Before the trip took place, the team needed to sort out quite a number of logistical headaches such as securing sufficient number of 4WDs or pick-ups that were able to venture through the rangy dirt track road to the village. Over the course of the final few weeks (or days even!), God continued to provide more and more people who offered their ‘big wheels’ to the mission team. There was even a relative of one of our church youth who stayed in the very town we were going to. He also just happened to have a pick-up truck and helped to buy and transport some of the essentials like canisters of cooking gas and chicken into the village.
When I looked at the list of wheels that was supposed to go into the village, I seriously thought we had more than enough wheels. Again, God showed me that whenever He provides, He does it so that it is always sufficient. On the morning when we started packing the stuff we needed to carry into the village, I was shocked to see the amount of stuff we were bringing in there. However, we managed to pack in all the stuff, needing every last inch of all the vehicles. Amazing. Indeed God reminded me that He is the Lord that provides.
2. God is in Control
Personally, it was a terrible month to be taking leave from work because I had a couple of critical events that I was managing throughout June. So, when we were driving into the interiors last Friday, I was frequently bugged by some phone calls and SMSes from my office. Suddenly, we entered the area where there was no mobile reception whatsoever. None. Not even a blip. We had been completely cut off from the outside world. No emails. No Facebook. No Twitter. No news.
It was as simple as that. God reminded me that He is in control of things. I learnt to trust Him to handle whatever that was happening in my office and focussed instead on the work He has brought me on this mission trip to do.
3. Never Too Busy
One of the days, I was talking to one of the ibus of the village and was kaypo-ing about how the villagers cook those wild boars that they sometimes catch. She told me that it was the men who hunted the wild boars who would then cook them too. The boars would not be cooked in the kitchen like other ‘normal’ dishes, but it would be cooked near the houses of the village leaders. Apparently they have some cooking or grilling apparatus there. She seemed excited to show this culinary experience to me so she promised to take me to the men when they were cooking it.
Some 2-3 hours later, when I was leading some small children inside a tent, this ibu went around and finally found me and beckoned me to follow her to see the grilling of the wild boar now! I was deeply touched that she remembered her promise, put in the effort to look for me, and showed genuine interest in sharing a village experience I would remember for life.
There were others like her as well, these ibus of the village who would spend most of their time cooking, and yet always kept a watchful eye on the kids, and also had this uncanny ability to tell which kid is from which village, and also if there were any new visitors to the village. Definitely many things I could learn from them with regard to sheparding and developing a heart that is never too busy to care for my flock.
4. Poverty is Relative
Some of the youths were sharing that most times, we the city folk tend to go on mission trips with expectations of being able to give and help the poor. When we arrive, we realise that we are the ones who may be poorer than the villagers. Much as we gave a lot during our trip, I am sure we also received, perhaps even more than we gave.
They may not have a lot of material possessions, but they do live a very simple and contented life. They have so much land to play with, refreshing water in abundance, and a warm-loving community, etc. When William asked them about their Goliaths or challenges, none of them raised their hand. I am now begining to believe that they may not have any worries at all!
Many of us who have so many possessions, and yet it is never enough. Sure makes me reflect more about living an abundant and contented life God has blessed me with.
5. Sharing is Loving
Wild boar is luxury food to the villagers. Although they do hunt these animals with the help of their hunting dogs, it is not everyday that they get to eat wild boar. So, apparently when they heard that most of us have not eaten this delicacy before, they purposely went out hunting the next day and caught a wild boar – specially for us city folk.
Half of the wild boar was cooked in three different manners – grilled, curry and stewed with herbs; and it was more than enough to feed all of us for lunch AND dinner! When we were about to leave on the final day, the villagers graciously gave us more of the wild boar to take home! Looking at the size of plastic bagfuls of wild boar we took back, I would have guessed they actually gave all of the other half to us!
Learning how to share from the villagers is truly an understatement. It is already very clear that they do not have many things, but the manner in which they choose to unselfishly give what they have is truly a remarkable lesson for all.
6. Building Meaningful Fellowships and New Friendships
It is always a joy when you go out with a group of friends to a restaurant where the food served is liked by everyone; or when you go out to watch a movie with a buddies with a similar taste of the movie genre. Likewise, mission trips like this one is always a good foundation to develop meaningful fellowships and discover new friendships with the group I am travelling with and also with the group we are travelling to.
When everyone in the mission team is going in with one overall purpose to share God’s love and bring smiles to their faces, stronger friendships are forged by unforgettable memories from the trip.
7. Of Simple Faith and Good Parenting
As a father of two young children, I was really amazed at the behaviour and attitude of the children in the village.
Let’s see: The children were very obedient to their parents; they never shouted back at the parents; they washed their own dishes without being told; they followed in our prayers with child-like sincerity; they were very attentive and participative during our lessons; they almost never whine; they had excellent table manners; they queued up for the food; the older ones would help to feed the younger ones…even if they were from different villages; and on and on..
Certainly gives me encouragement to bring up my children in a similar manner – with simple faith and obedience to God and parents.
8. The Maturing Youths
Every other day, and especially on Sundays when I would most likely see them, our church youths are just ordinary youths. During this trip, they have stepped out and demonstrated leadership qualities. Mission trips does have this extraordinary effect somehow.
It was pleasing to see how all the youths who participated had to literally break themselves out of their own comfort zones and forced themselves onto the next level of ministry – leading the kids in sessions, reaching out to them, playing with them, engaging them, and most importantly, showing and sharing God’s love with them.
I was very encouraged and amazed at how God was grooming the talents of these youths to be future leaders and also active in ministry.
9. Connecting with the God of Creation
In this city, we seldom get the opportunity to pause life and admire God’s handiwork every now and then. When we were on this trip, we were all delightfully greeted to so many wonders of His creation that speaks to everyone of us differently.
For example, every morning we would be woken up by the chilly, misty surroundings, treated to the fresh morning dew formed on the leaves and flowers, stand in awe of the sight of the majestic mountains, etc.
At night, we would be able to see the myriad of stars seemingly decorating the night sky, lighting it up so brightly that at times they seemed to be within reach of our feeble fingers. Most of us admitted such sights are rarely found in the city, so I am pretty sure it is something we would certainly remember forever.
God’s creation speaks volumes of His power, love and sovereignty. It reminds me who is in charge of the stars, of nature, of all creation – including me.
10. God Heals and Restores
There was an evening when we spent some time playing football with the village men and boy, did we receive a footballing clinic that day. We played two brief games and although we ‘only’ lost 0-3 and 0-2, they really made us run everywhere with their superb passing and control of the game. Their goalkeeper could have literally gone home for a cup of coffee before returning because we almost posed no threat at all! Seriously!
At the end of the session, all of us were so extremely tired and beat. Fortunately, we all had this wonderful river to jump into and rejuvenate ourselves again! What a great illustration of how God continues to heal us in times of need.
Similarly, we often find ourselves so caught up with the rat race and other busi-ness that seems to be a regular feature in our lives. Most days, we would return home extremely tired and beat too. Whilst we all do not have a river to jump into back home, this experience during this trip reminds us all that amidst our busi-ness, we should not lose focus of resting our weary selves in the Lord every now and then.
God has spoken. Now I need to be obedient and follow the lessons He has shown me through these reflections from the river…
The river of God sets our feet a-dancing
The river of God fills our hearts with cheer
The river of God fills our mouths with laughter
And we rejoice for the river is here