Short-term mission a Camino pilgrimage

Written by Steve Colby, Director of Missions for Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship.

I can’t say I was an overwhelming blessing on my first mission trip. In fact, I can say withsteve Colby lost some certainty that I was hopeless in Spanish, susceptible to stomach problems, but completely enamored with Mexico. My habit in communicating was to nod and smile and be affirming, even if I didn’t know what was being said, or being asked. One night I discovered I had unwittingly agreed to speak to the Presbyterian women’s society on the subject of sex! We enthusiastically led children’s programs and vacation Bible schools, but carrying out simple tasks – like laundry – was beyond us. The ladies would watch us lamely try and then insist on washing clothes for us. Coming to serve, we got out served. Royally out served. What is a short term mission really? What if we stripped away our need to get something done, and focused instead on how God is discipling us through the process? What if short-term missions were really pilgrimages, the beginning of a life lived in mission?

Discipleship as a Camino

Thousands of pilgrims each year walk the Camino de Santiago de Compostelle. The walkers say the crucial thing is to pay attention to God and how He is shaping you through the experience. Many take with them a question they are wrestling with or a challenge they are facing in their day to day life. Walking with God, doing His Camino, provides a spaciousness and focus to stay present to God.

Short-term missions have been a Camino for me of my discipleship. I have walked along the Camino in the Yucatan and grown taller – literally – as I found the heavy mud added layer upon layer to the bottom of my shoes. As I’ve walked with friends in unfamiliar places and enjoyed the hospitality of new friends, God has grown my sense of gratitude and perspective to be a global Christian. Through these experiences God has also challenged me. My pride and selfishness emerge in those dissonant moments, and I find, like I do on so many hikes, that I need to repent, make a U-turn, and get on the right path again.

Keep your feet moving

The short-term mission experience should be a journey in our discipleship. If we are going only for what we can do, or what we can add or say, then we are susceptible to believing ourselves too important, too integral, as If God cannot do anything without us. Short-term mission opens our eyes to God’s work in another context: it is not about the four weeks in which we change the world. It is about the four weeks in which God’s work in the world changes us. Getting a taste of God’s global work not only changes us, it makes us long for this food always. Walking along this Camino is the beginning of our life as a mission pilgrim. The aim of the pilgrim is to keep moving towards God’s kingdom, not to put up one’s feet and pack away the memories like old photos.

My Camino in missions has led me back to Mexico many times, as well as to many other places. I became conversant in Spanish and my stomach adjusted to the food quite well, (even now my mouth waters at the thought of my host’s cooking – que sabroso!). And yet, I still find I can’t avoid confusing situations and misunderstandings (although I’m happy to say I have not been invited back to speak on sex). I still find I need to keep learning, growing, and making U-turns to get back on His right path.

(Reposted from Mission Pilgrims blog from 5/23/2015)

Interested in exploring mission opportunities for your life? Join 16,000 other curious pilgrims at Urbana 15. 

 

 

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Surprises along the way to Guatemala

An update from the second Guatemala Global Partnership team, from Montreal and St. John’s:

Carla, Inter-Varsity student, doing art at the Creative Art Ministry site in Guatemala.

Carla, Inter-Varsity student, doing art at the Creative Art Ministry site in Guatemala.

It’s been more than ten days since we arrived in Guatemala. Sixteen of us have been participating at 7 Ministry Sites: Media, Health Care, Agriculture, Appropriate Technology, Sport, Creative Art and Micro Finance. This journey hasn’t come easy; especially for Carla from Vanier College. Here is her beginning of the journey:

“My trip was really an adventure and full of surprises from God. When I arrived on time at the Montreal airport to meet with the group, I was so happy. Everyone was checking in, ready to enter the US custom (our connection flight was at Miami). When it was my turn to check-in, the lady was looking at me with a strange look and told me that I couldn’t go to Miami with the group, because I don’t have an American visa. (Carla carries a Lebanon passport and she has a Guatemala visa) Getting shocked and disappointed by her comment after months of hard work and prayers. But Shu Yin (Inter-Varsity Ministry Director in Quebec), with great faith, told me, ‘Don’t worry, we will find a way!’

The group had to enter US customs and I could only wait outside anxiously. Long story short, Inter-Varsity’s travel agency was able to find me a new flight ticket going to Guatemala without going through US. After 15 hours eventually I arrived safely at Guatemala airport, but no one seemed was there to pick me up. Not knowing how to speak spanish made me feel very nervous; suddenly I remembered an Emergency Card was given to me when I arrived at Montreal airport. I immediately found a phone and called those phone numbers. At first no one was answering until the SI Field Director picked up the phone and told me that he will send his daughter to pick me up. So that was a long day from the Montreal airport at 4 am until at Guatemala 9pm, I was able to join my group again. Praise The Lord.”

Carla (right) with other students from Inter-Varsity in Guatemala

Carla (right) with other students from Inter-Varsity in Guatemala

Please continue to keep us in your prayer. Many of us are struggling to understand the poverty we see here at Guatemalan life.

Update #2 from High School Ministry team in Guatemala

Cómo estás? Things are moving forward here in Magdalena, Guatemala. Our team has officially been in Guatemala for 7 days, 3 of which were orientation in Antigua, and the rest have been in Magdalena where we are serving.

 

Randy WSW-3

If you ever have a chance to talk to a North American who has visited Magdalena I am sure one of the first things that they will mention would be the fact that the town is built on the side of a mountain, or the large amount of stray dogs. They may mention the poverty in Magdalena and the surrounding communities, and how around 4:00pm men and women return from the surrounding mountains with their collection of firewood strapped to their backs.

However, what many people will also mention is that as you walk up and down the street everyone will say ‘Hola’ or ‘Buenos (Dias, Tardes, Noches). They will tell you about the amazing sense of family, the amazing views, and about how delicious the freshly made tortillas are.

Our team is quickly coming to love this town and country.  We are staying with host families with whom we eat breakfast and every other dinner. I am sorry to say that their english is better then our spanish, however the hospitality and love that we are trying to show one another goes beyond any language barrier. We are being blessed by their hospitality and patience.

Learning to wash laundry from the local women.

Learning to wash laundry from the local women.

Three people from our team are serving at a local school here in Magdalena. They are able to communicate not only through laughter, songs, and games but also in the ‘language of Math’. As the grade 1 & 2 Guatemalan students learn how to add and subtract, our team is learning how to count to 20 en español. We are being blessed by the children whom we are here to serve.

Please pray for our team as we are getting comfortable. Pray that we would continue to lean into the hard places. This trip is about serving the people here in Magdalena, but it is also about learning from God. We want to leave with more then just pictures and a few neat souvenirs. We want to leave with the names of people embedded in our memories, and have stories to share about how through our serving we actually learned more about ourselves, each other, the world, and God.

Adiós

Update from the High School Ministry team in Guatemala

GOOOAAAAALLLLLL! Cries of joy and sorrow erupted from the streets of Antigua, Guatemala as our high school team sat chatting on the roof of our hotel’s. There is nothing like being in Central America when the World Cup Final is happening!

There is also something very unique and special about taking high school students to a foreign country. This is Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship second year doing a high school global partnership. Once again, we are partnering with Student International to help serve and work in Magdalena, Guatemala. Before we go to Magdalena and actually begin working and living with the local Guatemalan people there, we have spent 3 days in Antigua learning about what it means to enter into different cultures and how to work in team. Below is one story from our time in Antigua.

Be Open, Watch, and Learn. These were the instructions for our team as we went out in pairs to the central square of Antigua. Surrounded by colonial spanish architecture and different shops students were invited to find a bench and ‘Be Open, Watch, and Learn’. The purpose of this exercise was to help our team begin to see beyond the tourists and shop stands and begin to ‘see’ the Guatemalan people. This exercise was framed with a study of the first half of this article (http://www.relevantmagazine.com/reject-apathy/things-no-one-tells-you-about-going-short-term-mission-trips) ending with studying Mark 9:33-37. With this article and Scripture shaping our experience, students pointed out all that they had seen and learned. They identified the different type of people groups who seemed to be walking around the square.

Students shared all the great things that they observed, and asked questions about the things that didn’t fit in their North American cultural worldview. Already, the team is growing in love and compassion for the people of Guatemala. Desiring to be open to the Guatemalan culture and to learn from it, but also desiring to move forward in reciprocal relationships.

It is Monday, and we are heading to Magdelana this evening to meet our host families and begin serving at our work sites tomorrow. There is a sense of excitement and hope in our team as we prepare to enter into the experience that we came here for. After our study of Ja’irus and the Bleeding Women, we are also aware that Jesus wants to restore us as well as those around us. Please pray for out team as we live, eat, serve, and laugh with the Guatemalan people and each other. Pray that God would soften our hearts for what he is trying to teach us about his heart for not only us but also the world he created. 

Bangladesh Update #5

Bujhi na.

It’s become one of my favourite phrases here in Bangladesh.  I use it everywhere. As I navigate transportation in the city, when I’m hanging out with Bangladeshi students, and every morning at placement.

At any given point you can likely hear someone on our team say it, usually prefaced by “Oh no.”

Bujhi na.  It means “I do not understand.”

It’s because there are still a lot of things that we do not understand here.  Things about culture and gender and issues of justice. Even the massive language gap attests to how very much we do not understand on a daily basis

But in spite of our constant state of “bujhi na,” I’m amazed by the depth of relationships that have been built here in Bangladesh. Surely these are signs of the Kingdom, growing among us as we partner with our Bengali friends.

Today, the team went to placement for the last time.  After a month of building friendships at various locations across the city, it’s a sad and hard day.  But also a beautiful one. Together, we have witnessed the power of love and intentionality, especially when it’s in the name of Jesus. No matter how big the language barrier, there were many tears, a clear sign of the lasting impact these relationships will have in our lives.

As we enter our final five days in Bangladesh, there will be many more experiences like today.  These days will be filled with goodbyes, as we reflect on the ways that God has grown our love for the people of this country.

So It might be true that there is much we still do not understand, but our hearts have been irrevocably changed by this experience.

As we navigate this season of ending, would you please pray with us:

Pray for our placement locations—the students at the Student Friendship Centre and the HEED Arts School and the women and children at the Children Uplift Program and Centre for the Training and Rehabilitation of Destitute Women.

Pray for our team as we grieve and process this time of transition.

Pray for our Acts manuscript camp, as we  head into two full days of scripture study with Bengali students.

Israel Update: A (miraculous?) early morning encounter

One shouldn’t use the word “miraculous” casually. Within the natural order, many strange coincidences occur: the unexpected and the unlikely happen often enough but they still cause wonder. People of faith know that God our Father is the great choreographer in the dance of the universe.  And  we are in Israel, the land of many miracles, including the resurrection of Jesus, who was dead and in the grave and is alive forever more. So I will describe for you what happened and you can tell me what you think.

The student conference was over – it had been intense. As you would expect! Israel is a land of profound ethnic, religious and historic divisions. Students from many shades of belief and unbelief had gathered in the firm conviction that God’s love is for all people. The unity in diversity had been powerful. Now they had scattered back to their universities and families.

We – the thirteen Canadians – were exhausted and happy to have an evening to de-brief and rejoice. Dom announced that she was feeling unwell. Something she ate? Over-tiredness?  A flu bug?  She grew worse and took to her bed. The big danger in such a hot climate is de-hydration and she could not keep anything down.

At 3:30 am Ian decided to take her to the hospital and set off immediately, not sure where to find a hospital in nearby Tel Aviv. The roads were very dark and very deserted. Ian pulled into a gas station, uncertain if anyone would be there. Suddenly, a man appeared – he had been putting air in his tires and Ian asked the way to the hospital. The man replied in English, “I am a doctor. Can I help you?” Really?  A doctor? On an empty country road at 3am? Even, as a final twist of humour and assurance from God, the angel-like doctor was a Canadian from Montreal now living in Israel!

After careful questioning, he recommended that they not go to the hospital. “They have much more urgent cases. Give her lots of water and she should be fine soon.” Back to bed for Dom. Back to much needed sleep for Ian. All around relief.  And great thanksgiving to God. The doctor was right. Three more people had this slight flu and all recovered quickly. We went on our way rejoicing.

Israel Update

From Susan Norman, National Advocate of Graduate Students and Faculty Ministry, May 27th, 2014.

“I am an ex-religious Muslim. I am searching for God but He does not show Himself to me. How can I find Him? –  a Technion student.

“The Koran tells me all I need to know about Jesus. He was a prophet.” – a young Muslim in a Bible study who, despite his opening statement, said he would like to come again.

“I used to be a Christian but I don’t want to follow a lot of rules.” – a medical student

Good questions! Fascinating discussions! I, personally, rarely find such open, serious search for religious truth in Canada. A pastor here told me, “In Israel, everyone believes there is a God. Everything else [what He is like and how we can know Him] is a matter of intense debate and division.” Of course, there are many secular Israelis, but there is a consciousness of Him here, where three major religions co-exist in a somewhat tenuous relationship.

A week ago, after the student conference, we ventured onto seven Israeli campuses in five cities, all feeling a little nervous, more than a little uncertain, but very excited to learn what campus life is like and welcoming the opportunity to go deeper in the friendships we formed at the conference. We stayed with families, in dorms, in student apartments, on the floor of a local Messianic congregation – great ways to mix.

Perhaps the biggest surprise has been our discovery that students here are much the same as friends and classmates back home. They have the same longings: to get a good education and find a place in the adult world, to find purpose and meaning beyond themselves, to enjoy the good things that life offers, to know others and be known by them, to love and be loved. Like Canadian students, they may seek for these things in all the wrong places: in drinking too much and indulging in casual sex, in materialism and academic success, in the idols of fame or instant gratification which cannot deliver on their false promises.

We have had great discussions with students with different shades of religious belief: Arab Israeli Muslims, nominal Arab Israeli Christians, Messianic Believers (the word here for Jews who believe in Jesus), practising Jews who don’t accept Jesus and who are suspicious of Christians, lots of secular Jews – who are atheists and agnostics or dabbling in Eastern mysticism. We have joined them in barbecues, Bible studies, discussion groups, for coffee and dessert. We have had the great privilege of visiting in their homes. One student took his new Canadian friends to his village where about 150 of his relatives live in close proximity. They went from house to house feasting, talking in at least two languages, and getting a taste of Arab hospitality!

Benjamin, David, and Sarah on campus at he Technion University in Haifa.

Benjamin, David, and Sarah on campus at he Technion University in Haifa.

I was about to write “The highlight for me was . . .” but then I realised there were many highlights! One was the regular Christian gathering at the Technion, which is one of the world’s leading universities in advanced technology. They have a small group of seven or eight who attend regularly but their invitation to “come meet our Canadian friends” attracted new people, including several Muslims curious about Christianity. We had to keep expanding our circle of chairs. We shared our stories of coming to faith and talked about the difference in Canada between nominal faith and genuine, life-transforming belief in Jesus. The questions were good; the one-on-one conversations afterwards were even better!

The following night, some of our Technion friends joined with the Christians from the University of Haifa for a delicious barbecue on the beach. We watched the sun set over the Mediterranean, sang songs in Arabic and English, and again talked about life and faith. Another highlight was a trip to Akko at the College of Western Galilee. We went with Rasha, who is the staff worker for all of the Arab students in this region. She had been asked by some of the students from the college to start a Bible study. We sat on the grass on the lovely campus and studied the story of Jesus healing and forgiving the sins of the paralysed man. That miracle happened a short distance from where we were sitting. According to Rasha this was the first ever Bible study on this campus. When the lively discussion ended, everyone said they wanted more. Please pray for Rasha and other staff workers, who move effortlessly from Arabic to Hebrew to English, who reach out with truth and grace to newcomers and inquirers.

 

 

Israel Update

One of our Global Partnership teams is in Israel partnering with students in the local IFES movement. Here are their first few updates.

May 18th, 2014

Into the conference centre’s spacious green grounds came bus loads and cars full of Christian students from all over Israel: Arabic speakers, Messianic Jews, and a sprinkling of international students from Korea, the US, Poland, Rwanda, Italy, and Denmark. They were joined by former students of the FSCI (Fellowship of Christian Students in Israel) now graduated and working in various jobs around the country.

Some people, we learned, came with some apprehension. They were in an unfamiliar situation: a place where love for God and his people is stronger than years of ethnic and religious hatred. One Jewish man said he was concerned, not to say frightened, when he found he had five Arab roommates! The same thing happened in reverse to two of the Arab students!  Others were excited and happy to renew acquaintance from previous conferences. Love triumphed!

Together we sang in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. We talked like old friends. We listened to impassioned biblical teaching, given by Arab, Messianic Jewish and International speakers, attended helpful workshops about reaching out and loving people on our campuses (a few of which resonated very deeply with non-Christian friends of the FCSI students). We ate foods both strange and familiar. A small band of dedicated Canadians made over 300 pancakes for breakfast and carefully distributed the maple syrup we brought with us. Fierce – but friendly – soccer games broke out. Frisbees flew.

What drew us together and gave us unity? A deep sense of God the Father’s love for each of us, faith in Jesus’ redeeming sacrifice, and conviction from the Spirit that we must strive to love one another. Our whole time at the conference was a blessing: a foretaste of heaven when we will praise the Lord together throughout eternity.

The Tower of David in Jerusalem.

The Tower of David in Jerusalem.

May 13th, 2014

Jerusalem the Golden, bathed in glorious sunlight! Madly singing birds. An old stone hostel with tall, narrow arched windows, shutters wide open to let in the cooling breeze, and a fig tree in the courtyard. We are in the land of thousands of years of world-changing history and profound religious experience. Jews, Muslims, and Christians have loved and fought for this land for centuries. Our small pilgrim band – four Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship staff workers and nine students from across Canada – sang praises to God as we drove up to Jerusalem through the breaking dawn. We had landed at Ben Gurion International Airport in the middle of the night, some of us from Vancouver, some from Toronto – a long and exhausting journey by way of Poland. Now we find ourselves actually here. Thanks be to God.

The adventure began even before we got here from Vancouver and Toronto. Our stopover in Poland was brief but full. . .  As preparation for understanding the Holocaust and the founding of the state of modern state of Israel, we visited the Warsaw site of the agonizing of 1944 spring uprising and the horror of the ghetto.  It’s odd, our friend who showed us around (an IVCF student from UBC on exchange in Warsaw for the year), studies psychology in the former headquarters of the SS and his residence is inside the old ghetto walls, right next to the platform where 300,000 Jews were sent to their deaths – the world moves on. Of course, it the most cheerful of subject matters but so important to understand as we relate with the people of this land.

 

Bangladesh Update #4

What does suffering for the gospel look like and how do we receive joy amidst suffering?
How do we appropriately engage and grieve issues related to people at our placements?
How do we hold positions of power and authority given to us as foreigners?

These questions and more are what we as a team are asking.  We’ve just passed the halfway point of this GUP. We’re beginning to feel more settled in Bangladesh,  relationships are deepening, and growth is happening and we are also challenged by the poverty that we see and are wrestling with questions as we encounter differences.

We’ve reunited as a team and welcomed back our Rajshahi conference team. David and the 6 students who went with him had an amazing time spending time with BSFB friends, leading Scripture and praying as 40 people made a first time commitment to follow Jesus!

The next 2 weeks will be busy as we reconnect as a team,  prepare for a manuscript camp we are hosting at Grace House, and continue to invest in relationships at our placements and with BSFB.

A recent trip to the Botanical Gardens with new friends.

A recent trip to the Botanical Gardens with new friends.

Camp Partnership: Rapids, Rain, Rescues… Rejoicing

Reflections about the Alberta Camp Partnership from Fran Purvis, Campus Minister at the University of Regina.

Kyle D., Danielle and Andrew staying cheerful on their canoe trip.

Kyle D., Danielle and Andrew staying cheerful on their canoe trip.

As we embarked on our second day of paddling down the North Saskatchewan River, one of our students prayed “Lord, challenge us beyond what we can handle, so we can learn to trust you with everything.”   Well, the whole day we chuckled at this prayer, as one misadventure after another came our way: cold rain, rapids, a rescue of one of our boats, tire-deep mud, keys locked inside a vehicle, a broken Coleman stove… It was indeed a day of learning to rely on Jesus, not only for practical providence and care, but for good spirits and humour.

As part of our team training time, Kyle McLean (Campus Minister at U of Regina), myself, 2 staff from Alberta and our 8 students from U of Regina made our way down the river last weekend on a three day paddling trip, which was part of a camp-campus partnership we are participating in.

Camp Partnership team stopping for lunch on their canoe trip - Sheryll, Kyle, Danielle, Andrew, Hailey, Sarah, Fran, Andrew, Kelsey and Darian.

Camp Partnership team stopping for lunch on their canoe trip – Sheryll, Kyle, Danielle, Andrew, Hailey, Sarah, Fran, Andrew, Kelsey and Darian.

During our trip down-river, our team experienced the love and laughter of the Holy Spirit despite undesirable (and for over half the team, quite unfamiliar) circumstances. Moments like snuggling 12 people into a 4 person tent to read Narnia and tell stories, helping teammates stay warm, the glimpse of beautiful sun on the water, and just realizing that we have it in our will to choose cheer and belief, instead of misery, were powerful experiences of God’s care.

We are now into our 3rd week of the Camp Partnership at Alberta Pioneer Ranch Camp. Camp is a powerful space in the way that it provides both special and life changing “away” experiences, such as our canoe trip, but also because of the endless ordinary moments where students (and their staff!) encounter Jesus through service and community life.

Camp is hard work: it is a highly scheduled, relational and deeply communal environment. Every day we are requiring, asking for and are experiencing in profound ways the strength and joy of Jesus in the simple things like doing dishes, learning new skills, teaching canoeing or climbing to kids, or spending time with teammates by the water, away from the internal and external noise of our lives. There is something about camp in the way that it pushes you to grow, and lets you know Christ’s strength in your weakness. Camp is also fun! It is a place that grows deep and lasting friendships, and where pure joy is to be had.

I’m reminded often of the scripture from Isaiah 12:2 where the prophet declares that God is, “my strength and my song.” God is providing daily not only the bread we need to get by, but far more: the rich fare of relationships, joy and growth that make life delightful and good! Our days at camp have already been so full of growth and life, we’re excited and expectant for what Jesus has for us as we do life here the next 6 weeks!

Fran (second from left) and her students Sheryll, Kelsey and Hailey sitting around the fire on their canoe trip.

Fran (second from left) and her students Sheryll, Kelsey and Hailey sitting around the fire on their canoe trip.