You have probably seen the series of commercials featuring “normal people” who find themselves in unusual circumstances, but it’s OK because they stayed in a particular hotel the previous night. Here’s an example:
So here’s what happened today:
I was in the house hanging drywall and Bob came in and said, “Dave, can you come out and be a translator?”
In reflecting on this event later, I don’t know which I think is more incredible: that Bob thought I actually spoke Spanish well enough to fulfill the need, or that I actually put down my tools and went out there “to help”.
Know this, beloved reader: I do not speak Spanish. Not even un poquito. But hey, I’m Dave Carver. I’m Pastor Dave, for crying out loud. You need me to help you order in a Mexican restaurant, and you’re outta luck. Need directions while traveling in Madrid? Don’t ask me. But here, on a mission trip in Texas, dealing with a homeowner who knows no English? I’ll be right there.
Joe said later, “I couldn’t believe he asked you, and then I couldn’t believe you went. So I went out there, not because I thought I could help, but because I was sure something really interesting was about to happen.”
Here’s what happened: Bob asked me the question in English. I turned to her, and with a slight accent and maybe an usted thrown in there, repeated the question, in English, to her. She shook her head like I was a lunatic. I tried again. A little more accent. A little more S-L-O-W-L-Y. Finally, Sean handed me his smart phone and we used the translation app.
I share that story because it illustrates anew for me the ugly side of mission and mission trips. I am not normally an arrogant, overconfident person. But put me in the right spot, and I can be a real jerk. Sometimes, when we arrange trips to serve others in different contexts, the process brings us to the point where we find it easy to indulge in arrogance, escapism, paternalism, rescuing behavior, or any of a number of other unproductive (or even worse) practices that belittle, rather than serve and honor, those with whom we work. Bob Lupton explores this concept admirably in his book, Toxic Charity. We are not going to do much, if anything, on this trip to right the wrongs that have created a society in which it seems acceptable for a young widow to live with seven children in a trailer that most folk reading this story would not allow their dog to sleep in. That is a huge, seismic shift in the globe. It ain’t gonna happen here, and it ain’t gonna happen this week.
Fortunately, we are not here, primarily, to change houses. We are here to do these things:
1. Encourage our partners – to walk alongside First Presbyterian Church of Mission, Solomon’s Porch, and the members of Port Lavaca First United Methodist Church. Sometimes, when someone from outside notices what you are doing, that makes it easier to do it. We are here to notice.
2. Model the body of Christ to a small group of people who can see who and what we are doing. We’re trying to do this with the family in whose home we are guests this week.
3. Most importantly, we are here to change US. To nurture those places in our spirits where we are most likely to be able to follow Jesus faithfully. To guard against those enemies that seek to contort us into prideful and selfish people. To engage in a pattern of reflective and grateful living that allows us to grow into people who are so upset by the ugliness and sin in the world that we are willing to give of our time, our energy, and ourselves significantly over the long haul in order to make a difference somewhere, somehow.
I am a lousy translator. When it comes to hanging drywall, I’m iffy at best. And you don’t really want me messing with the electric. But because of the number of chances I’ve had to be in places like this, I’m a pretty good noticer. And usually, a fair cheerleader. And I’m learning to be a giver and a listener. Because of the places where I’ve found God at work…like a dusty road in the corner of one of the poorest places in the USA where nobody speaks English…and where that’s not the most important thing.
Pray for continued transformation, my friends… in me; in the members of this team; for the members of this family; for our partner churches; and for this world.
And here are a few photos of what we actually did today!