Well...I've been back in the United States--CA to be exact--for a few days now. Naturally, I have had more than one opportunity to share about the past two months of my life lived in Papua New Guinea. The first memorable one was on the plane ride from LA to Sacramento. I ended up sitting by a friendly couple who were on their last journeys of a week-long honeymoon to Fiji. I started the conversation by asking them, "Are you from Sacramento?"
husband: Well, outside of Sacramento, in Folsom.
me: I'm in Orangevale! [neighboring towns]
wife: Oh! Where are you coming from?
me: Papua New Guinea.
husband: We're newly-weds coming from our honeymoon in Fiji.
wife: What were you doing in Papua New Guinea?
me: Missions work.
wife: Oh! That's amazing. really rewarding. you know, when I was your age, I did many volunteer trips around the world. It's so nice to be able to live in foreign places and give back to people who aren't as well off as we are. really rewarding. I went to blah blah and blah. really rewarding. I even got to work with Mother Theresa.
husband: Yea, she even keeps a journal record of every day of her life since she was like 12. Someday we're gonna make it big by selling her adventures to a movie producer. Then I won't have to work anymore.
We made some more small talk about how they met (match.com--you should try it) and what they do in Sac, etc. Then he fell asleep, I looked out the window and she read some random book. At the end of our flight they wished me "the best of luck" and I will probably never see them again.
I had a similar conversation with the nurse at the doctor's office this morning.
nurse: What are you here for?
me: I am requesting a throat culture because my throat has been sore for 3 days now and I know that I have been exposed to many people with Strep Throat in the past two months.
nurse: Yea, Strep cases have been unusually high this year, especially for it being the summertime. How do you know you were exposed?
me: Well, I was in Papua New Guinea with a group of people and there were about 6 of them who had Strep by the end of our time together.
nurse: How long were you there for?
me: Two months.
me: Missions work.
nurse: [surprised look] That's nice. That's great! It's so rewarding to be able to help those who are less fortunate than us. Good experience for someone young like you, too. Do you plan on going back?
What strikes me the most is that the trip comes across to most people as me doing something for myself. Most people who do not fully understand the concept of mission trips have the concept in their mind that I/we have something better to offer the "less fortunate." Maybe I should change my response. Because in reality, the only thing I have better to offer anyone is the saving gospel message of Jesus Christ. My way of life is not necessarily better than the national's way of life in PNG. Maybe more comfortable, or more convenient, but definitely more complicated and more options for choosing sin. It's not rewarding to help people live more comfortably. It's not rewarding to ask for support from believers, attempting to convince some that the Lord is leading the way but you need their resources. It's not rewarding to have intestinal problems and be exploding out both ends in a foreign country--far from home and mom. It's not rewarding to have to be wearing a long skirt 24-7. It's not rewarding to risk your life driving on a dirt road that hasn't been scaled in 13 years in the pouring rain at night )and sheer cliffs on either side). It's not rewarding to hear the cries of women as they are being beat in the dark stillness of the night. At least not eternally rewarding.
But what IS eternally rewarding is giving up all that the Lord has chosen to tangibly bless me with--home, comfort, freedom, possessions, safety, and even life itself--to live a life that reflects the testimony of Christ's death on the cross and to prayerfully teach it to those who have never heard the message of salvation through Christ alone. It is rewarding to see a tribe, or even one person, come to know and love our Lord, to know that that one person will not spend an eternity separated from their Creator in an evil, undesirable place. It is rewarding to sit among a congregation of tribal believers and hear them sing--the same, ear-piercing tune--of praises to Jesus for salvation. It is rewarding to walk down that same dirt road for the last time and know that the nationals who live in the nearby villages will see you again in heaven. It is rewarding to know that none of this can be done apart from our own Creator, God.
I did not go to Papua New Guinea for some sort of "self-improvement" plan or to gain a "new perspective" on life. Yes, the Lord did improve my relationship with Himself as I continued to be humbled by Him. And yes, I did gain a new perspective on my own selfish life. But at the end of the day, I went to Papua New Guinea because I knew the Lord was leading me there, and His purposes became evident to me as I lived there and served Him in whatever way He asked. I am not certain if I will ever go back to Papua New Guinea, but I would take the first chance I received. I am not certain that God is asking me to serve Him full-time cross-culturally, but I will go at the first calling of His voice. I am not certain if I will ever see many of the people I met while in Papua New Guinea, but I trust God that He will bring many of them to Himself and we will be worshipping Him in heaven.
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