Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Life Outside The Bus

(Picture is from the website http://www.ohenryscoffees.com/)
Eight days from this moment, I am on a very big plane somewhere between Chicago and Hong Kong on the second leg of my trip to Vietnam. After Hong Kong, a flight to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City and then a four hour bus ride to my destination of Can Tho. It will be trip number nineteen for me and the fifth to Vietnam. I'm working through my to-do list with a family reunion in Arkansas this weekend sprinkled in. But before Vietnam, there were two memorable missions to China and before that, a wonderful week in Port-Au-Prince with Hope for Haiti's Children. The majority of my out of the US missions, though, have been to Honduras, eleven to be exact. I started with the wonderful TORCH MISSIONS which centered in Tegucigalpa which for us morphed into SHINE MISSIONS, focusing on the Choluteca area of Honduras. It was such a learning experience for me. Although there were plenty of mission examples in my own family, I had never stepped out in faith. Truthfully, I let coaching high school basketball get in the way of going into all the world. On these Honduras trips, I now see I was being prepared for the time when I would be able to travel on my own to Asia. Our leaders in those years were Steve Davidson and Chad Hedgepath, men of faith who taught me so much about serving others. Some folks start something and walk away- these two, with their beautiful wives Lisa and Shelly, have maintained their focus over several decades.

Honestly, after so many trips, the memories start to blend together and it's hard to separate them mentally. My acquiring a digital camera before my first China excursion has allowed me to sort the recent trips somewhat but not perfectly. My first memory of Honduras came in mid-July of 1998 as we rode in from the airport in Tegucigalpa to the Baxter Institute, our home for several weeks. I was appalled by the abject poverty I witnessed for the first time but as the missions mounted up, my capacity for being appalled sadly diminished. One thing I loved about these missions, especially the early years, was that we would have a devotional at the end of each usually exhausting day. Since our groups were predominately teenagers back then, they were alternately joyful and thoughtful with a little bit of boisterous thrown in. I still bite my lip when we sing We Shall Assemble and Light The Fire in worship, two songs of praise I first heard in a storage room in Honduras. Funny what touches you even years later. When Chad was leader of our Shine groups, he initiated what would be a tradition at the end of each devotional every night. He would ask the mission team, "Where did you see Jesus today?" What I'm going to tell you is to me the most moving moment of all those trips and there have been a ton of moments.

It was about ten years ago and one day, our mission team went out to a Honduran village in the hills. We split into two groups, with one staying at the bottom of the hill to have Bible studies with children and the rest going up into the elevated areas to do some work, as I recall, on a house or the church building- we always worked with local congregations. All of a sudden, it rained and I mean torrentially. I've seen monsoons in Vietnam but this one still impresses me. That night, Chris Norwood, a youth minister and teacher, told us about Sarah. She looked, to me at least, like a surfer girl, and she was from Chattanooga. Her father had been a basketball star at Vanderbilt and had played in the NBA but it wasn't something she brought up. And that night, Chris related how he had seen Jesus in Sarah that afternoon. Chris was with the group interacting with the kids down below. He said when it started to rain, all the Americans got back on the yellow school bus that carried us everywhere we went on those trips. Everybody, that is, except Sarah. She had come over a thousand miles to serve as the hands of Jesus, and she had arms full of clothes she had brought for the little ones. I will never forget what Chris said next about Sarah:
"She had a look of desperation on her face."

As soon as I found my journal, I wrote his words down. They have made their way into a dozen devotionals since then.

Look, I know why everyone else got back on the bus. I undoubtedly would have done the same if not a half mile away in the elevation huddling in some nice lady's hut. The bus was dry and safe and protected and comfortable. What was outside was not. Sarah took the difficult path that day. Sometimes, I fear we have made our practice of Christianity one of comfort and nonchalance instead of the urgency which drove Sarah in the rain. When I tell our students in chapel about Sarah, I stress that we can either live our lives on or off the bus. I remind them that many people come to athletic events and observe from the stands and bleachers but they are merely spectators. The contests are played out on the fields and the courts and the diamonds, on the tracks and in the pool. That's where the heartaches and disappointments come but that's the arena where the rewards are earned and joy is achieved. When I was a high school basketball coach, often our admissions department would tell me we had a new student who was interested in playing on the team. I was excited about the new student part, but truthfully, you cannot win with kids who are merely interested- you have to have at least a few with a sense of desperation, just like Sarah. Jesus told us to Go; he didn't tell us to Hang around. The world outside the bus is where the spiritual battle is being waged and it needs soldiers on the side of righteousness. I have never seen Sarah since that July trip years ago but I know this; she fought the good fight that day. She's still making a difference.

Applicable quote of the day:
"Desperation is sometimes as powerful an inspirer as genius."
Benjamin Disraeli

God bless,
Luke 18:1
E-mail me at steve@hawleybooks.com

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