A Parent’s Perspective: Exposing My Spiritual Poverty

Submitted by Blake Brooks, Guest Writer

In the fall of 2009, I agreed to go on a mission trip to Harmons, Jamaica that would take place in June, 2010. This seemed like a great way to spend time with my 16-year-old son, whose Sundays at church are dwindling quickly. In addition, a sense of self-worth and arrogance made me feel as if the Jamaicans needed me. It turns out I really needed them.

I came to Christ as a sophomore in high school, but for the last 20 years have lived a very lukewarm Christian life. There have been attempts at presenting a facade of fulfillment, but inside my heart had become rather cold. I married my high school sweetheart and we have been together for nearly 30 years. We have four children, and they are my greatest joy. At the age of 30, I entered medical school, and nine years later entered medical practice as a nephrologist. This would appear, on the outside, as a rather idyllic life, but the facade of success and stability has been hiding the pain and anger and jealousy that have built up over time. I had lost passion for God and for my family.

In our preparations for Jamaica, our group talked about the poverty we would encounter. There is 80% unemployment in the area we were going to serve, and the average income is $2,000 per year. We talked about preparing our hearts for what God would show us in Jamaica. We talked about living in cramped conditions and having very little privacy, and being hot all the time. Justin Garrett, one of the Crossing ministry leaders organizing the trip, suggested we go with the attitude that the trip was “not about me.” However, nothing could prepare us for what we would face once in Jamaica, both physically and spiritually.

At our first group meeting in Jamaica, Loyd Jackson, the Director of Won by One, told us we were the answer to someone’s prayers. This only bolstered my sense of self-worth and pride. The following morning, we had another group meeting and discussed the conversion of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10:

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’ “
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

On initial review, this passage seemed to indicate to me that our time in Jamaica could be spent “passing through,” and not investing time in the lives of those God placed in our paths. It would have been quite easy to have performed the physical task of building houses and not investing time building relationships with these Jamaicans. Relationships are about time and intent.

Over the first day or two, I was able to see through the physical poverty of the area and began to see the hearts of the Jamaicans – many with a great sense of peace and joy, qualities I found lacking in my own life. As we spent more time each day reviewing the story of Zacchaeus, I began to think about my own life. Was I “passing through?” Was I being intentional in my relationship with my God? My family? My patients? By mid-week, I came to realize that the physical poverty of Harmons was exposing my own spiritual poverty.

Ultimately, I came to appreciate that God had called me to Jamaica so I could climb the tree and see Him with more clarity. I had to get away from the “crowd” (my home and routine) to get a clearer view of who He is and what I had become. Like Zacchaeus, when we are called by Jesus, we are left with a choice of how to respond. Do we stay in the tree, or come down and join Him?

On the last night in Harmons, we were given time to reflect on our week; the staff of Won By One had created several places of meditation around the meeting room where they posted photos and verses, as well as questions to prompt our memory of our experiences through the week. As I spent time at each of these stations reflecting on the various themes, I came to a photo posted of our group the evening of our arrival. As I studied the picture through tears, I couldn’t help but think how our group of 47 people had changed during our five days in the mountains of Jamaica. I truly believe those in the group would never be the same or see God the same. I know I won’t.

It seems we all need a Harmons to get us above the crowd and give us a clearer view of Christ. I had my heart broken in Jamaica so I could find passion again for my God, my wife, my family. I originally thought we went to Jamaica to serve those in need, but it turns out my needs were pretty great, too. A trip that wasn’t “about me” turned out to be just that.

Jude 24-25
To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy – to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

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