Monthly Archives: November 2015

Welcome to the Tribe

Time for a story…

Village

Back in the day (a.k.a. once upon a time) there was a tiny little village in the middle of nowhere that was known for absolutely nothing, had nothing of interest, and wasn’t even on most maps. I’m not even quite sure what the village was called, because no one ever bothered to put up a sign. It was full of common, ordinary people just like you and me.

Champ

However, one year the village’s small high school of eight students in total did something astonishing: their best athlete (out of the eight athletes at his school), Marvin, who was the in the best (and only) athletic program at their school (cross country) had led the team successfully to a victory in the regional cross country championships. Because of this, Marvin was designated to go on the state championship the next week. This little village, that until that day didn’t even really have a name, was suddenly the proud supporter of their fine athlete. And they quickly decided to name the village in honor of Marvin. But then they thought that was weird, so they named it Tiny instead.

Line up

When the day of the big race came, Marvin was anxious, worried, confused, panicky, frightened, nervous, fearful, excited, exhilarated, timid, and hungry—all at the same time. He had never been to a big city before, much less been in a state-level competition. Just next to him was the star cross country runner from the biggest high school in the biggest city in the state. This guy, Dusty, had had to work hard to be the best of thousands of students in his city to be in this competition. Marvin wondered why he himself was even there! His whole village had congratulated and encouraged him before he had left, but now he was on his own. How could he run this race on his own?

Start off

Marvin, Dusty, and the many other high school athletes lined up, preparing for a highly competitive, challenging, risky, life-threatening, perilous, difficult, turbulent, long-distance, quarter-marathon that looped around the city. Although it was possible (though not probable) that all of the athletes would cross the finish line, only one student would be the real winner in this race. The gun was shot, and the athletes took off.

Dust cloud

Marvin soon learned why Dusty’s mom had put his name down as Dusty on his birth certificate—he had quickly left everyone behind in the dust, including Marvin.

all alone As the athletes pummeled down the windy roadway, Marvin noticed how the light from the sun was blocked out from the tall buildings, the noise of the crowd was now far behind him, the smell of the city restaurants engulfed his nostrils, and his feet were already hurting from the hard, city pavement that he was dashing over. Marvin soon found himself dead last—and falling further and further behind. Marvin’s head sank in dejection.

Golf carts

Suddenly, at the sound of someone yelling “Marvin!” he turned his head—and was he surprised! Hanging off of a bunch of golf carts that were driving right next to the race track was everybody from his village! The mayor, his teachers, the two firefighters, the dentist, the garbage truck driver, his next-door neighbor, the local pastor, his best friend’s mom’s orthodontist’s cousin’s fiancé, and everybody else from his village was there, riding in the golf carts, cheering him on.

“You can do it Marvin!”

“We believe in you, Marvin!”

“Don’t give up now, Marvin!”

Marvin stared at them for a moment in shock and joy, then waved at them excitedly, and suddenly he started to speed up. As his village continued to cheer him on and follow him, he focused more on his breathing, strained himself forward, and soon was leaving the golf carts behind. However, they weren’t about to be left behind, and as they stepped on the gas, Marvin continued to speed up and give them a challenge.

Within just a few minutes, Marvin was back with the pack of other runners, and as his village continued to encourage him, he soon was just behind Dusty. Who would win the race????

Hopefully you realize that the obvious story is entirely fictitious (as far as I know). There’s no village named Tiny in the middle of nowhere that has encouraged and sent out their star athlete to a faraway place on a mission to put his village on the map, only for that start athlete to discover that the race is not so easy when he is far away from home and by himself. Or maybe not…

When Jesus headed back to heaven after his death and resurrection, he told his followers to go and make disciples, to be his witnesses, to share his Gospel with the whole world. And although for most of these passages in the Gospels he was speaking directly to a small, hand-picked group of dudes that he had been training for years, really, this mission (to share the Gospel) is the mission of the whole Church, not just a few dudes. Wherever you may be, if you have saving faith in Christ (a.k.a. you’re a Christian) then you have the awesome privilege to be sharing the Gospel right there, where you are at.

At the same time, there are a few of those weird people (myself included) who are sometimes called to go a little bit further out there with the Gospel. But that doesn’t mean that the village has left them behind…hopefully.

Right now I’m in the process of trying to finish up my last couple of weeks of school, say goodbye to all of my friends, and work on support-raising to get ready for moving to Lima, Peru. The difference between support-raising and fund-raising is that support-raising is about more than just getting enough money put together to pay for my two-year internship in Peru. Although support-raising does involve me getting funded, it involves a lot more.

Think of it like Marvin running all by himself, vs. Marvin running with the whole village supporting him. It’s an ongoing, continuous, supportive, reciprocal (two-way) relationship. I (and other overseas missionaries) get encouraged by churches and individuals, but I also encourage them to be active in their own mission field (one of the big reasons for this blog!). They pray for me, and I pray for them. And when it comes to getting funds, the goal is that, as much as possible (though it won’t always happen this way), rather than churches and individuals just one time for all writing a big check in my behalf, ideally they are instead continuing to make recurring gifts to keep me out in the overseas mission field, even if that means that those financial gifts look a lot more like $10 than $1000. That way, the work that I am involved in can continue on for longer than just two years…the work that is really God’s saving work in the world, and is much bigger than you or me (kind of like Marvin going to a really big race).

This difference, between simply getting enough money vs. raising support, is as big as the difference between Marvin running all by himself in a quiet, deserted street vs. Marvin running neck-and-neck with his village coming right alongside him.

SO, I invite you to join the village…or actually, better named, the tribe: The Tribe of Levi. There’s no T-shirt for this tribe, no single gathering place, and no logo. Being part of the Tribe of Levi means that you’re joining me in this race to share the Gospel. Maybe you won’t be alongside me in Peru, but you can still be active in supporting me wherever you are at through your encouragement, prayers, and continual financial support. And at the same time, I’ll be encouraging you as you run your own race to share the Gospel (the amazing news that we not only have forgiveness and redemption because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but we also have the chance to be reconciled with God, have a relationship with him, and be with him one day for forever and ever in the New Creation) wherever you may be.

Welcome to the Tribe of Levi!

 

First Class Service

So there I was, wishing I was up in the air like the people in that^ plane, on my way to my next adventure in the next state, or maybe even a different country. But, instead, I was stuck in a super-crowded airport at a very late hour (9:30pm!), waiting for my connecting flight.

It was Halloween 2015 (or Reformation Day if you’re a nerdy Lutheran), and instead of being at a costume party, I was on my way to Lexington, Kentucky (Go Wildcats!) to do my first support-raising presentation at a church, talking about Peru, me, missionary stuff, and how you too can be a missionary wherever God has called you (yes, you).

I had missed my previous connection (that part of the story is boring, so I won’t bore you with it), so that was unfortunate. It was also unfortunate that my next available connection wouldn’t even leave Atlanta (where I was stuck) until about 10:00pm (once again, a ridiculously late time at night to be doing anything besides being curled up in bed and getting some good sleep time), and I wouldn’t get into Lexington until 11:00pm (once again, a ridiculously late time at night to…I think you get the idea). The one good thing was that I had found a bagel store that served breakfast all day, including bacon + egg sandwiches (bacon + bagels + breakfast in general = win).

FINALLY, my plane started to board, but, looking at my ticket, I realized that I was all the way in the back, in the nose-bleed section of the plane, so it would be a long while before I could get on board. As I was waiting, I suddenly heard the ticket agent on the intercom: “Does anyone here know Spanish? I’m trying to talk to this customer, but I can’t speak Spanish.” My hand instantly shot up as I looked around and realized that I was the ONLY person there who seemed to know Spanish. So the ticket agent waved me over, and I walked over to see how I could help her.

A Hispanic lady (who spoke only Spanish) was trying to ask the ticket agent a question (but she only knew English). “¿Qué es tu problema?” I asked the Hispanic lady. After having to slow her down (she was talking really fast, and I’m not that good at Spanish. Yet.) I realized that she just wanted to know when our flight would get into Lexington. “A las once” (eleven) I reassured her, and then started walking back to where I had been before as she said “Gracias” and I said “De nada.”

“Hang on, sir!” I heard the ticket agent calling me back to me in a demanding voice.

“Uh oh…” I thought in my head. “Now what did I do?” My sleep-deprived brain tried (rather unsuccessfully) to think of all the possible scenarios of how I had maybe accidentally did some nefarious or illegal act and was about to be arrested by a police squad (the ticket agent’s voice was quite demanding, and I needed sleep!).

“Did you fix her problem?” asked the ticket agent.

“Yes,” I said. (Duh!)

“Give me your ticket,” demanded the ticket agent.

(“Am I getting kicked off the plane?” I wondered)

The ticket agent looked at where I was sitting (the nose-bleed section), frowned, and then stared right at me.

“First class or a row by yourself?” she asked me.

“Huh?”

“You just saved me a lot of trouble because you know Spanish. Do you want a first class seat or a row by yourself?” she replied

“I just want to get on the plane!”

But the ticket agent wouldn’t go with that. She quickly printed me out a new ticket, giving me a row by myself. Then she thought for about 5 seconds, said, “Wait, they won’t treat you right if I put you back there,” and then printed me out a first class ticket instead.

First Class Ticket
Yes, I still have the ticket.

I stared in shock at the new ticket that she had handed me, trying to figure out what had just happened. “First class is boarding now! Get on!” she told me. And so on I went, not quite knowing if I was dreaming or not.

Walking onto the plane, I did what I have always done when I walk on a plane by right away making a right turn…and right away (by looking at the seat numbers) I realized that I had gone too far. First class had actually been to the left and was now behind me.

I plopped down in a seat probably twice as big as any that I had ever sat on in an airplane, brushing past an older gentleman in a very nice suit coat. So there I was, dressed in my normal camp counselor garb (hat, green bandanna, hiking backpack, t-shirt) feeling very much out of place among all of the rich people and professionals. And then the flight attendants came. This was the craziest part. Before the rest of the passengers even got on the plane, first class passengers were already being served complimentary alcoholic beverages. The flight attendants came up to each passenger, treated them like royalty, and asked what they would like (alcohol, a coke, food, etc.). As for me, I was so tired by that point that I just grabbed my complimentary pillow and the complimentary blanket and curled up in the humongous seat to take a nap.

Now, you might be thinking: “Well, that was a nice story, Levi. Show how cool you are, getting a first class seat simply because you can speak Spanish.” But I was thinking: “1. Duh, everyone (EVERYONE) should learn a second language if they can. But, 2. what if we treated everyone around us (i.e. our “neighbors, if you get the biblical reference) like they were the first class passengers, and we were the flight attendants?

A wise pastor that I know often uses the metaphor that God the Father is our pilot (cause we sure aren’t capable of guiding our own lives), Jesus is the co-pilot, and the Holy Spirit is the navigator. So where are we?! We’re the flight attendants–serving the people. We’re not here to run our own lives (after all, our life is Christ). Rather, we’re here to serve. Like it says in Philippians 2:3-4, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” We are looking out for the interests of others. It’s like they are the first class passengers.

But hold that thought. Philippians 2:5-11 goes on to say:Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

So it’s not just something good thing we do so that God looks down at us, smiles, gives us a thumbs-up, etc. We serve and look to help other people because Jesus already did that for us on the cross, and in doing so, he opened the way so that everyone who believes in him could have eternal life with him. So when it comes to interacting with my neighbors (cause who knows if your neighbor knows Jesus–and since YOU are just as much a missionary as I am, you have the privilege to share the good news with them), I want to serve them in the best way possible…not in a creepy way, but simply looking out for their best interests.