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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

sabbatical fruit - week 3b - YWAM School of the Bible

I spent May 16-25 in Nicaragua. There were a number of highlights; I'll try to capture some of them briefly without writing a book (which I think I could!).

Teaching at School of the Bible

About a year and a half ago, Jason and Tiffany Hinton visited Good Shepherd to share about their work with YWAM. They invited all those present that night to come visit and I casually mentioned that I was having a sabbatical in 2009 and might consider it. Well, Jason didn't forget and invited me down to teach for a week at the "School of the Bible." This is a year-long residency program taught in numerous YWAM bases around the world. What makes Jason's base unique is that it is the only base that teaches the program in Spanish, so people come from all over for the training (including U.S. students interested in Spanish language missions).

I taught for a week in the School of the Bible. It was 20 hours of class time, which was about 10 hours of teaching since it all had to be translated into Spanish. There were 5 students and 3-4 staff in the class (last year there were 19 students). Three of the students were from the U.S., called to mission work in Central or South America. Two other students were from Nicaragua (though one spoke English well). What that all meant was that I was able to talk with the students directly over lunch and in-between classes (something I didn't expect). I enjoyed getting to know each of them and hear about what God is doing in their lives.

The course I taught was intended to teach some skills for Biblical interpretation, using the topic of worship as a case study. The students really dug in and engaged the material, with the highlight being some really diverse and creative responses to a homework assignment to create a worship service from scratch based on the worship principles we identified from Scripture. Each thought so broadly about worship and went far beyond the service to describe a really exciting vision for life, calling, and service together in Christian community. I think the students' perspective flowed out of their desire to obey the word and out of their rich experience living for a year in close Christian community.

And that leads me to the first of my personal "takeaways" from this experience. I have taught before that worship is more than the Sunday service; rather, it is all of life lived before God. But being a part of this voluntary community and studying and living God's Word with them for a week gave me a new perspective on what this means. Certainly each of the students and staff at the YWAM base had a particular missionary calling to go and serve God away from their home (even the Nicaraguan students and staff experienced this, preparing to go wherever God might send them in Latin America). But what the students and staff had that I believe should be a part of every Christian's life and calling is the perspective that all our life belongs to God.

Worship as a Lifestyle

While I expected the trip to refocus me, it did so very keenly in answer to the question "what matters?" And we don't have to leave home (in missions) to respond to this question. What really matters is not the next American Idol, or whether Jack survived on the season finale to 24. What really matters is not my tennis game or getting the newest golf club. What really matters is not even being successful at my job - whether that means striving to get a raise, get a good review, or beat my competition.

What really matters - and I saw this with such great clarity - is faith, family, and community. What are we doing with all the hours in the day? Is God just a little sideline hobby or the central and dominant reason for all that we say and do? Do we cherish our family and children? Do we become more and more isolated through American "entertainment" and miss all those God has surrounded us with - children, spouses, family, Christian community, and neighbors who need Good News?

One of the greatest treasures of my time in Nicaragua was being reminded in my heart (not just my head) that all I am and all I have belongs to God. I also have a rekindled desire to encourage folks to see the truth of that.

A Minute for Missions - What's Most Helpful?

I had a short, but interesting conversation with Jason at one point in the week. He was writing a letter of introduction to a mission committee at a church that might start supporting them. He had a perfectly fine letter describing YWAM and their particular work in Nicaragua. But I began reflecting that I think that when he and Tiffany (or any missionary) share back home that what would be the most helpful spiritually for the listeners would be for them to talk about WHY they do what they do.

We both acknowledged that there is pressure and expectation to give more of a "business report" since mission committees often are trying to evaluate or compare missions for disbursement of money. But I think what we often miss with that approach is hearing about how God has stirred someone's heart to serve Him so completely. It is really and ultimately a disservice to those in the congregation if all the missionary accomplishes is convincing us to send money to support them. What would be of much great value is to CONVICT us that we should listen to and respond to God with faithfulness in our own context.

I'll leave it up to Jason and Tiffany to share as they will, but I've decided that when missionaries come to speak at Good Shepherd that I will ask them to give us a glimpse into their hearts and pray for God to grab hold of us in a similar way.

Everyone Should Visit a Missionary

That lead me to my final "takeaway" - and it's one that Jason and Tiffany have preached for some time. (Which is to say that they get point #2 above just fine!). When they came to Good Shepherd a year or so ago, they told people that one of the best ways we could support God's work in the world is to come visit them. It was that challenge that led Barbara Thompson (and Jane Chiseck with her) to take up needle and thread and go to the YWAM base in Nicaragua and teach local women how to knit. The fruits of that faithful response were very evident when I was there, some 12 months later!

Likewise, I learned things about what God is doing there AND what God would do through me that I would not have learned without going. I'm not saying we shouldn't send money, because that is very helpful to struggling ministries and missions. But if that's all we do, we miss out on the real opportunity, which is to encounter God at work in the world. It's kind of like only chatting with people on Facebook and never meeting in real life.

All that is to say that I think the short-term mission trips we send our youth on are invaluable... maybe not to those they go serve, but to their larger vision of what it means to serve God with their whole lives. Likewise, I believe it would be invaluable for adults to pack up, take a trip, and take some time out to visit and serve on site with a mission. The lessons learned are many and deep. It gets us out of our routine and what can be a very spiritually dulling setting. Ask Barbara or Jane if they agree. Or some of those (youth or adults) who have gone on Son Servants trips. Really, everyone should visit a missionary!

More to come... just didn't want this to be too encyclopedic. :)

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