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What I Learned on Mission in the Philippines



When I decided to go on a mission trip to the Philippines in January of 2014, I envisioned myself preaching to crowds of people, and providing them a word from the Lord, or illuminating for them the divine wisdoms found in the bible’s pages, or perhaps praying for sick people who don’t have the technical and material resources of a place like the United States.  Well, I did those things. Poorly. Weakly. Clumsily.  My feeble attempts at relating to a culture whose language I could not speak, and whose customs I did not know, and whose material problems were sickeningly beyond my wealth or ability to fix, seemed awkward at best, and impotent at worst.  I felt out of place and ineffective. Those terrible, and unpleasant feelings  were accurate on both counts. 


But at some moment after I left the missionary compound, but before my intercontinental flight touched down on American tarmac, I realized something profound. I wasn’t in the Philippines primarily for the purpose of preaching, or illuminating, or praying, or fixing problems. How arrogant of me to think in such a way! An American missionary was already living there doing those things, and doing them far better than I could ever do because he felt called by God to entwine his life with the lives of the Filipino people he was serving. 


While I was there, I prayed with a sick bedridden man in the black shadows of a darkened grass hut as his wife hoped for miracles. But I didn’t know him.  And I prayed by the sea for a seemingly never ending train of people who came one by one seeking healing, or breakthrough, or relief from the stressors of the world. I likely won’t ever see any of them again. I preached to crowds of adults, and crowds of youth. They won’t remember what I said, and most won’t remember my visit at all. Even so, I was only able to do those things because God was using another man to gather those people together, and who would still be there once I left and returned to the comforts of the American way of life. He would remain and pray for them, and teach them, and help fix their problems, and care for them with a portion of his life until the next American group finds the time and the money to visit. What I realized was that the person who benefited most from my visit was the in-country missionary who got to show me first-hand the work that he was doing that never gets experienced by anyone else unless they make the effort to come and help.


As I processed this realization on  my journey home, I understood that what I had really been doing on my trip was encouraging a brother in Christ to continue his work and ministry in a dim world far from his home, fraught with challenges, difficulties, and sometimes very real danger (1 Thessalonians 5:11).  And as I remembered his facial expressions, and the enthusiasm of his greetings upon my arrival, and the sincerity of his request to take back to America the stories of what he was doing, I understood that my simple, sometimes incompetent presence had done more for him than perhaps even the money our church had sent. We had shown that he, and his work, were appreciated.

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