It feels like before every mission trip, even though we do it anyway, we as missionaries are told to hold no expectations toward the upcoming trip. Expectations on a mission trip are like jaywalking: we’re not supposed to do it, but do it anyway, rather than wait for God’s light to turn green. Even Fr. Jacob admitted during the trip that while had been coaching us to let go of our expectations, he too was harboring expectations of his own, an example of how we all struggle with this.
I learned that all of us as missionaries, at some point in our experience, make the mistake of “jaywalking.” We rush across the street, just like we may rush our service, and the result is that we limit ourselves, and our opportunity to see God’s grace. Too often, I found myself saying, “okay, there’s nothing left to see, it’s time to go. On to the next street. There is nothing here.”
When I use this analogy, I’m thinking of one particular evening in our trip. This situation is far more vivid in my memory than the others, not for lack of amazing experiences, but because I think it is a great example how our expectations can limit our opportunities to see God.
Toward the end of our trip, we spent a few nights in the heart of Calabar, Nigeria, which we came to learn is an area with a well-established night life. Our priest asked the group if we would be willing to attend a prayer walk for the neighborhood, but if we were not comfortable, that we could choose to stay back and pray for the group. It’s just after 10PM, it’s rainy season, a storm is brewing outside as we speak, and I’m in a 3rd world country where, in my mind, anything can happen. To this day, I don’t know if I was alone in those feelings, because everyone elected to go. We had the option to stay back, but being that no one else chose to stay, I wouldn’t allow myself to either. Still, I didn’t see what good we could possibly do at night, on a weekend, when we would be walking into a sea of drunk people who probably don’t want to hear from a group of missionaries. I thought to myself—God did not equip me for this.
When our group first arrived in Nigeria, it was the beginning of rainy season. As we had experienced it to that point, it had been excruciatingly long droughts of humidity, followed by brief, but ferocious rain storms. To the surprise of no one there, it began pouring the moment we stepped out of the gate of the state house, and already, I was second guessing our mission. As we made our way around the block, the storm persisted. We kept trucking along anyway. After only 10 minutes of walking, we could not have been more than ½ mile from the state house, and we found ourselves in a very dimly lit road with a bar, and a hoard of drunk night-goers.
To my surprise, there were those who were happy to engage us, and out of that crowd emerged a handful of people who chose to come back to the state house with us. As we shared our time in prayer and reflection, we came to know these individuals and the dreams they had set for themselves. There was one individual, for example, who had the dream of opening a small grocery in the local marketplace. We were able to help this individual meet the needs to accomplish that goal, and we were able to help her rekindle her relationship with Christ. I still believe, as strong as her relationship is with God, I believe that the true blessing was that our group was allowed to meet this person, experience her story, and witness God’s work through her resilience.
The application I take from this experience is to never set limits on God’s work, and how I can serve him. I have made it my personal priority to simply open myself up, and ask Him, “how are you willing to let me see you today.”