Aaron Esparza ventured to the Philippines this summer and found that your average and cliche mission story isn’t so average at all.
I’m tired of hearing about mission trips. The stories of how God moved and touched the lives of many seemed all cliché for me here at Multnomah University. At least, that’s how it was before I went to the Philippines this last summer for two months. It was my first time overseas. And I was also alone.
This wasn’t my first “mission trip.” Previously I’ve been to Nicaragua for a short 10-day venture. Yes, I wrote the letters of support, got all these people hyped up for it, and when I arrived, I had the image of a big “S” on my chest. I thought, “I’m going to save this country for Jesus!” How American of me.
What happened in those ten days was a picture of me blundering around the dusty streets and hot sun looking like a tourist as my translator friend guided me around the village and city. I wasn’t with a team. I didn’t help build anything. The people there were very capable in doing it themselves. So I gave people money and played music. They seemed to really like that, though this made me feel more like a sidekick rather than superhero.
As I came back to the US from that trip feeling so small and out of touch, I questioned, “how much of a bubble was I really living in? Was it worth all these people’s money for me to go? Why didn’t I see great revivals or demonic exorcisms or healings happen?” Though really, I wasn’t expecting those things to happen. I just thought it’d be cool to see it.
Skip ahead two years. Opportunity grew for me to go to Philippines for the summer of 2011. This time, I didn’t want to write letters of support. I didn’t want to publicly announce anything. Doing so would leave me with a greasy car-salesmen type of feeling.
So I prayed, “Okay God, if you want me to go, you’ll provide the $1400 plane ticket. Now show me a sign”. That day, someone gave me a $300 check and another a $100 check. The next day, I picked up an envelope of money for $341.88 of cash and coins.
At this point, there really wasn’t any backing down because the money donation in the envelope was anonymous. All it said on it was “From Jesus” with a lot of x’s and o’s. Odd. But they always say God has a sense of humor – even when he uses other people.
Skip ahead two months. As I jumped off the airplane in Davao City, Philippines, I contemplated my purpose on that 36-hour day journey of 6,580 miles. I met a Jewish-born pagan on the airplane who lived among the native tribes in the mountains and was very disgruntled with Christians trying to convert them from their rituals – like cutting off people’s heads and putting them on pikes to warn off enemies. I also met an American on another connecting flight who had six different girlfriends in six different parts of the Philippines. Of course, the girlfriends didn’t know about each other. That would just create too much drama.
Despite the reasons for the old Jew or the American had for coming to that country, I knew my mission was somewhat different. I had ambiguous purpose. Just enough planned for two church conferences, retreats, and doing ministry practically everyday.
In it all, I was told to expect the miracles, revival, demonic exorcisms, and healings this time. And amidst all (what I called) bad hermeneutics and improper exegesis according to Multnomah’s standards, my expectations were met and surpassed of the supernatural.
During the first week, the biggest flood the city has ever seen came suddenly in the night by rainfall. With hurricanes you have warnings, with flash floods, you do not. Thousands of homes and businesses ruined with over twenty-five deaths of mainly children and elderly. What did I learn from this as I helped with giving out rice and scraping muddy filth out of living rooms for hours with buckets and pieces of wood? Dependency and persistence.
As long as nobody died (for each family), they were still able to continue smiling and be happy. Many lost everything, but they lived in community and found ways to survive. I wondered how Americans would have responded if they lost everything. Perhaps ask for a handout from the government instead of their neighbors? We usually like that; It’s much more impersonal that way.
Skip ahead another two months. I am back in America. Of course, I had culture shock when I returned and observed and watched my society. My first thought was, “Americans are so rude and inconsiderate!” Then I stopped and realized, “Wow, I’m rude and inconsiderate!”
To think, it took me a culture of very loyal, loving people to show me how cold and independent I really was in comparison to other societies. This is definitely something not learned cognitively in a textbook.
It takes someone with a heart full of love to minister to a heart that is cold, and mine was ministered to. How much more could your heart be touched by those whom we allow? It took me a detachment from my cold society to learn this.
I think back to various memories of my trip: I remember watching a child take a cold bath from a spicket using just a plastic cup.
I remember being asked for sexual favors while I was walking home one night by a random man (which I refused politely as I told him about the love of Christ).
I remember going days without food and sometimes water as I fasted with the congregation.
I remember the generosity of the church family there who payed for my meals and treated me like I was their own.
I remember the beaches.
I remember the hot, smoggy, weather as pollution stuck inside the pores of my body every time I became frustrated with the public transportation and decided to walk.
I remember praying for a woman with the church in the Intensive Care Unit at the hospital and hear the next day that she was cured and checked out of the hospital.
And I remember being in a room with 148 men and seeing
the realities of a mass exorcism involving spasms, screams, throwing up, as the leaders conducted a means of deliverance. This wasn’t a joke. This was a battlefield.
In that culture, they don’t doubt the realities of the spiritual. Here we do. Why?
Perhaps reason prevails because of our very own reasoning and trust in our own cognitive understandings and the physical. If we feed ourselves physical, we gain physical. It will take a taste of the spiritual to see the spiritual.
Yet, what is that balance between correct doctrine and doing ministry? The balance of mending and sending? Why is it that Americans, especially my peers on campus, can be so “busy,” yet are still searching for a ministry ever-so-casually in order to fulfill a requirement…because, that’s all they view ministry as now: a requirement.
I’m tired of just hearing about missions trips. Turn the hearing into action and let us become mission-minded! Our neighbors, anyone who draw neigh, need love. So let us learn the love from the One who is Love and go.
It took me going across the ocean in order to realize that I had the capacity to go across the street – to go to those close to me. And most importantly, to go to family. Because family is our first ministry. What are we waiting for? We (especially men) are very good at excuses – we will never stop being “busy” until the day we die if we wanted to. So, we must be intentional.
Be intentional with love. Let His kingdom come and not our virtual and pseudo kingdoms. Make time. Stop the games. Stop the excuses. Now, fall in love with the Savior.