My memory isn’t what it used to be.
Most days, I can barely remember things that happened last week.
But there are memories from my childhood that burn brighter than a movie on the silver screen.
One of those memories is a mission celebration held at the church where I grew up. There were speakers from far off places like Tanzania and Zimbabwe. There were beautiful and interesting instruments, and exotic foods. Their clothing and textiles were incredible.
And as those speakers shared their photos of ailing children and potential clinic sites, I felt a stirring within me. I stood up in the front of the church and pledged my life to missions.
I was 17 years old.
Mission work was my life for years. My college years were fraught with local mission work…soup kitchens, battered women’s shelters, building projects. But I longed for something more…something bigger.
Then I got the opportunity to go to the mountains of Monterrey, Mexico to help build a church.
Now we’re talking!
That was one of the most enriching trips of my life…and when my romance with all things cultural began.
We stayed at a rustic retreat center right outside of Monterrey. We were surrounded by mountains. The road we travelled to take us there was made of dirt.
Jorgé was the pastor of the group. He was fairly tall, bearded, probably in his early 40’s. He was the only bilingual person in the whole group, so he was constantly amused by us. He had the most wonderful laugh. It was contagious. There were many times when we would all start laughing just because he was laughing.
Our hosts were poor, yet filled with joy. There were children everywhere. Little girls would flock around me and braid my hair and try to get me to chase them. And when I did they would squeal at the top of their lungs and run until they fell, rolling down the hills and giggling until they could barely breathe.
That trip set the tone for my need to wander.
I spent the next 6 years singing in coffeehouses, working with youth, and doing small mission trips here and there.
It was never enough for me.
I needed something big. One grand gesture of mission work.
Like the peace corps. Or something like it.
Then it happened.
I got the opportunity to spend the summer of 2000 in India.
I came home all fired up, ready to go back, and ready to change the world.
I spoke at churches, at colleges, really anywhere that would have me.
But I was met with apathy.
No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get others fired up about what I had seen.
And it made me sad. Really sad. And eventually angry.
I felt like I was screaming but no one could hear me.
It is what ultimately caused me to leave the church.
But after months and months of soul searching, what I realized is that sometimes we experience things for a much different reason than what we originally imagined.
I wasn’t starring in a movie.
This didn’t have to play out in some big, theatrical way.
I wasn’t given those opportunities with the expectation of some big, dramatic outcome.
Mexico didn’t need to be changed.
India didn’t need to be changed.
Angie needed to be changed.
And I was.
And what’s funny to me now as I sit here and reminisce, is that though I never went back to India, the mission project that has changed me even more is my son.
I was prepared by that mission work 15 years ago, and rightly so… because it broke me to the point that I was able to realize that even small projects matter. And that sometimes your mission field is right in your own home.
So whether I’m in India battling hunger and disease, or in my own living room battling the autism in my own son, my mission is still clear.
The entire ocean doesn’t have to be saved.
Just that one starfish you throw back makes a difference… to that one starfish.