I didn’t want to go. I mean, really didn’t want to go. Don’t get me wrong – I love short-term mission/learning experiences. I can’t wait to be back in a local church and lead or participate with teams that go to new places to learn and to love, to transform and be transformed by those trips.
But this trip to Mexico was not that. It was 9 more days away from family in a fall season that already had more days away than the same time last year. It was right in the middle of Charge Conference season (which, along with appointment and one-on-ones are the three seasons in a DS’s church year). It required use of continuing ed and personal funds that would have been directed elsewhere. Though many folks I love have poured themselves into this mission over the years, this was someone else’s passion. And the scorpions.
My attitude vacillated over the last year between irritation, resignation and determination. Irritation at “having” to go, resignation to “suck it up, buttercup,” and determination to try and not make everyone else miserable because I was there. There were even occasional glimpses of enthusiasm – because I knew I already loved the people with whom I would be travelling, I do love opportunities to connect with international missions, and I’d never been to Mexico.
Then, I went to start packing on Thursday night and realized my passport had expired. In addition to feeling stupid for not checking it sooner (though Marian had reminded us several times to do so), I felt sure what folks would think – mainly because I would have thought the same thing: “Sure, it was an accident, Larry. You never wanted to go on this trip anyway.” Maybe, I thought, I did unconsciously sabotage my own trip – my mind has done crazier things than that before! But determination kicked in, and after a few frantic calls, a 9 pm trip to my local CVS to get my mug shot taken, and an unplanned trip to the Liberty Bell and the US Customs House to get a new passport with same-day service, I was ready to go.
Then, Mount Popo erupted. I mean, seriously, you can’t make this stuff up. A volcano spews some ash in the area, and the airport in Puebla is closed. So, we’re suddenly those stranded travelers with bad breath and messed up hair that get interviewed by the low reporters on the local station’s newsroom totem pole. But wait, there’s more. There is a flight into a different airport, which will connect us to a 2-3 hour bus trip, getting us to our original hotel at 3 a.m. the next morning – if we can transfer all ten tickets, describe our suitcases well enough to get them off of one plane and onto another, and make the new flight which takes off in less than an hour. Shoot. Me. Now.
And yet, somewhere in the midst of those 48 frantic hours, I believe God’s voice broke through my hard heart and even harder head with a word from Scripture. Please forgive the arrogance and foolishness of thinking that this compares at all, but here goes.
In John 21, after a post-resurrection breakfast, Jesus speaks to Peter – him of the hard head and hard heart and big mouth (my spirit animal if there ever was one). Jesus asks Peter to confess his love as many times as he had denied it a few days earlier, each time telling Peter to feed, tend and care for his sheep. Then Jesus says this (John 21:18) to the disciple whose confession laid the foundation for the whole of the Church to come, “Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”
Now, I know – because John tells us – that Jesus was referring to the kind of death Peter would eventually suffer. Tradition tells us that Peter was crucified, but not thinking himself worthy of the same method of death as Jesus, asked it to be done upside down. But I also believe that, in Jesus’ simple words that came next to Peter, “Follow me,” came my own conviction to follow Jesus to places that I don’t want to go either. While I am under no delusion that taking a trip I didn’t want to take required sacrifice anything close to the cost Peter and so many others have paid in being faithful, I believe that I heard loud and clear a command from my Savior to stop whining (yes, I believe Jesus says that to us sometimes), and get on with following Him.
There are times when we get so caught up in the fact that we are someplace we don’t want to be, that we forget that:
- Jesus is there with us.
- If following Jesus never takes us places we don’t want to be, we may want to make sure we’re actually following Jesus.
- Even if it’s not what we, or even God intended, we are not excused from the following because of it.
If you find yourself in one of those places, start looking for Jesus. Keep doing what Jesus has already told you to do. Trust that Jesus will work in you, maybe even through you, and most often in spite of you.