There have been times in my life when I’ve realized that something needed to change. It’s easy to go through the motions, but living in communion with the Lord leaves little room for doing things halfway.
In early high school, I started asking God for a more genuine, life-changing relationship with him. He answered that prayer, I stand sure of that today, but the transformation process was anything but comfortable. I can remember the winter of eleventh grade as I tried to make sense of my life in light of my first trip to Zambia. Again, God carried me through it, but those were some of the hardest, most confusing days I’ve seen thus far.
When I think back on the twelve Americans who joined us for our last week in Livingstone, I envision a group of friends dedicated to seeing growth in their own lives, no matter the cost. These guys covered the spectrum of backgrounds you might find on a trip like this, from a few who are still trying out the church thing, to pastors who have spent thirty years in ministry, and just about everything in between. What brought them together, though, was a desire to see the Lord do a new work in their lives. And while total transformation is a process that happens over the course of years, it was clear that many on that team in particular were set on a trajectory to grow in ways they never could have anticipated.
If my endurance and your attention span could handle it, I would happily pour thousands of words into this post to tell you all about how each of these people grew and impacted my life during their short stay with us. Instead, I’ll just touch on a few of them.
My spiritual brother, who I’ve mentioned twice before during this project, has been to Zambia a few summers in a row. In preparation for this trip, he and his wife, Amanda, were honored by being asked to come alongside our outreach pastor as team leaders. Sadly for all of us, Amanda had to pull out just days before the trip due to medical restrictions. But I was so impressed with and encouraged by Matt all throughout the week. He realized that both Jesus and Amanda wanted him to pour everything he had into the week, and that’s just what he did. When Matt wasn’t leading worship or remembering literally everyone’s names, we had many chances to sit and talk like we hadn’t in a long time, sharing our hearts in ways I’ve learned are both valuable and necessary.
Growing up in our church’s youth group, I was surrounded by legendary role models, one of whom was Pastor John, who’s currently the family pastor at Hamburg. At the time, John’s sermons didn’t make much difference in my life, but I found that once I got serious about walking with Jesus, I had an enormous amount of wisdom already passed down from him. Pastor John hadn’t been to Zambia before, but the summer he seized the opportunity to join his son for a final adventure before college. We weren’t always in close proximity, but I was near enough to see the Lord working in his life, even after decades of ministry. Between speaking to crowds of students at camp and going on home visits that made the world’s poverty a little more real, it seemed to me that John was rejuvenated by his stay and ready to face whatever season may come next.
This is one of my favorites. It’s a story with a gripping chapter that’s just beginning to be written, but it excites me too much to leave it out. For most of her life, Sarah has been running hard after success in the form of perfect grades and a Division I golf scholarship. On this eve of her senior year of high school, I got to watch God step into her life and go to work at redefining her aspirations. Hearing her speak about her frustrations with elite culture and the hope she sees in the prospect of a life with God fills my heart more than anything. Her time in country looked a lot like mine the first time I went, and what God’s doing in her heart is impeccably similar to my experience. Of course, this is just the beginning, and we may need to come back three years from now and tell a more complete version of what he’s done, but seeing another on a similar course to mine is one of the most encouraging things I’ve come across recently.
There’s a lot of uncertainty and controversy surrounding short-term missions, and the summer has enabled me to see how influential a brief stay in a different context can be. Equally important, though, is the need for regular follow-up and discipleship after the team returns home. These kids and adults have encountered the Lord in powerful ways, and it’s up to the Church to fan that spark into a flame that will last longer than a high. If you have a relationship with someone on this team, or anyone else who’s gone short-term this summer, then make an effort to sit down and (really) listen to them as they tell how God worked in and through their hearts. I think you’ll find that it builds you up while giving your friend a chance to share and process a significant life event.
Here’s a personal update. You only have to read it if you want to.
I arrived safely home just over a week ago, and have since been moving into an off-campus house in Wheaton. Most is well around here, and it’s been a joy reuniting with the friends I left behind. Thankfully, I haven’t experienced much jet lag or culture shock – I was well prepared for both. Classes start Wednesday, and while I would like more time to rest, I’m filled with an overwhelming sense of peace that I’ve made the most of my summer, and that good things are ahead. Speaking of, I’ll be doing my best to keep up with this page. It’s been a blast putting it together! The jury’s still out on what that will look like, but I’ll keep you posted.
|ABOUT THE AUTHOR
William McCauley • 2015 International Immersion Intern