Uncovering “Christian Pride” at Home and Abroad

As you read this particular post to ESI, I am in Jamaica with three of our teenage girls. I arrived Sunday afternoon (June 20th) and for the past five days have been completely unplugged from my daily routine, living out a very different kind of reality. No phone, no e-mail…no contact at all with my husband or sons.

If you read Justin Garrett’s blog this past Saturday, you already know that this isn’t a long-awaited vacation getaway with my husband. In fact, he’s the one publishing this week’s post; with me 1,658 miles away, he’s been playing Mr. Mom all week for our three-year-old son. So I guess both of us are living out very different realities than what we are accustomed to.

No, this trip really is not what anyone might reasonably mistake for a vacation cruise; I arrived last Sunday after two plane rides, the first of which began in St. Louis at 6:40 a.m., (what I imagine will be) an interesting trip through immigration and customs, followed by a three-hour bus trip into the mountains of Jamaica. I flew here with 49 other people from The Crossing; our goal was not to improve our tans, but to show the love of Christ in a country that sorely needs it…and lacks many other things we Americans might consider “everyday entitlements.” You may already know this much, but the group going this year – sponsored by The Crossing – includes not only high school students but also their parents. For the first time, we adults were given an opportunity to participate alongside our kids in living out the love of Christ in the lives of others in a new way, a way we don’t normally get a chance to do in mid-Missouri!

As I’m writing this before we ever left, I can’t tell you much about what we’ve been doing or what we’ve experienced, though I undoubtedly will do so in a few weeks. What I can tell you is what we’ve been told we’ll be doing. We’ll be building houses for Jamaicans in desperate need of a roof over their heads. And when I say “house,” I really mean a covered room, maybe 12×12 feet square, made roughly of walls of chicken wire strengthened with a crude concrete mixture. We’ll visit the infirmary, a nursing-home-like place that cares for the elderly, the disabled, and those with no one else to care for them.

We’re not a unique bunch of people that are going. The organization that coordinated the trip for us, Won by One to Jamaica, has been coordinating groups for one-week mission trips for over twenty years. Week after week a group of well-intentioned Americans, primarily high school and college students, stream into the country, throw themselves into building a house, and then leave again, heading home to electricity and air conditioning. In that sense, we’re just one more group in a list of groups building houses in Harmons over the summer of 2010.

But this trip is certainly unique for me, and I suspect for most of the people in my group, in that I’ve never once been on a mission trip before. Of course, I serve my family all the time – what mother doesn’t? – and I’ve served in various other ministries where you show up for a scheduled appointment, give some predetermined slice of your time and effort, then go back home. But I’ve never once left my entire life behind, with all of its creature comforts (like a shower that lasts more than two minutes!) and thrown myself into a project like this.

I haven’t even left yet, and I already have a regret: I wish I’d asked more people to pray for this trip.

A few weeks ago, one of the group leaders – the previously-mentioned Justin Garrett – talked to the mission group about how our own pride can get in the way of actually serving the Jamaicans. How we can go down there thinking we’re the ones coming to make a real difference in their lives, thinking “Gosh, we’re pretty good people!” to be so selflessly giving in this way. Undetected pride, however, can very quickly boomerang and create a condescending attitude so subtle-yet-obvious that we don’t help…but instead end up hurting the cause of Christ.

I’ve written before in ESI how I really struggle with pride; I see it snaking its way into my life in so many ways. As soon as I identify one area of my life where pride is driving my responses and seek to change that behavior, two more areas crop up. One of my favorite words to describe the sin that resides in our hearts is “relentless.” In my experience, it never stops trying to creep in over the edges.

So I wish I’d asked more people to pray against pride rearing up in my heart and in the hearts of the rest of the group. To pray that we would be looking for what God is doing in our hearts even as we see what our hands are doing in the lives of others. To pray that we would be authentic, the hands and feet of Christ, serving in true humility and not building up ourselves on the inside as we build extremely modest chicken-wire-and-concrete houses on the Jamaican hillside.

A few years ago, my husband and I traveled to Oklahoma to attend a weekend Voice of the Martyrs conference which featured an address by Gracia Burnham, the author of In the Presence of My Enemies. If you don’t already know Gracia’s story of losing her husband to terrorists while on a mission trip to the Philippines, I can highly recommend it. Neither of us will ever forget her opening remarks that day in Bartlesville, when she told the audience how she found so many things to hate and curse while being held captive in the jungle, but for her the very worst thing about that experience turned out to be what she found within herself. My husband and I exchanged glances without saying a word; at that point, neither of us had ever been on a mission trip, but we both knew exactly what she meant.

Mark 10:42-45 (ESV)
And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

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