I’ve been getting a lot of questions about our church’s recently cancelled Ecuador mission trip, so I figured I’d try to blog about it once instead of having to tell the story multiple times. My goal here is twofold: (a) To briefly tell our mission team’s tale without throwing stones at bad actors while giving credit where credit is due; and (b) To attempt to give a Biblical response as to how you – particularly my church – should respond.
Last year, our local church (NorthWoods Church in Evansville, Indiana) developed a strategic partnership with a local church in El Tambo (a neighborhood of Palileo), Ecuador. Our church’s goal is to send up to four mission teams per year to strengthen this local church by providing training in evangelism, discipleship and basic spiritual formation. To date, we’ve sent two teams out in March and June, and our July mission team would have been the third team we’ve sent out this year.
Our team of 13 people left our church parking lot on the afternoon of Thursday, July 12, 2018 to drive up to Indianapolis to catch an early morning flight on Friday, July 13, 2018. We had booked hotel rooms for our team at a LaQuinta near the Indianapolis airport, where the plan was to get half of a good night’s sleep then wake up way before sunrise to catch the hotel’s airport shuttle to the airport. We had tickets booked through a travel agency (that I will not name) and two different airlines (Delta and another airline that I will not name).
My hotel room of men woke up around 4AM and headed down to the lobby to scavenge for a stray waffle or muffin prior to departure. The front desk employee informed we that the hotel staff had decided to book three cabs for our team instead of the shuttle. Seemed like no big deal at the time. Our 1st hotel room of ladies arrived down in the lobby and we rushed them into the 1st cab waiting to depart. Our 2nd hotel room of ladies (including my wife and daughter) arrived and then rushed into the 2nd cab. And then the remainder of the team waited for the 3rd cab. And waited. And waited. And waited. To her credit, the front desk employee kept calling the cab driver, who assured us he was on the way: “I’m on I-465 … I’m just around the corner … I’m almost there.”
Well … the 3rd cab never showed. Like, at all.
After over a half an hour of waiting, the hotel’s shuttle driver arrived back at the hotel from her last run. Instead of waiting for the next scheduled shuttle time, she thankfully offered to drive our stranded portion of the team to the airport. As we pulled away from the hotel for our 11 minute drive to the airport, we wife texted: “Where are you? The airport line is already huge.” My heart sank. I already knew our team might be in trouble. And I had my wife and daughter’s passports, so they could not go ahead and check in. In addition, most of our adult leaders were on the shuttle with me.
When we finally arrived, the scene at the Delta counter was chaotic and the lines were distressingly long. Thankfully, four of the team members on the 1st two cabs were totally checked in (including luggage dropped off). Unfortunately, that was our last stroke of providence … Our trip then suffered a death of a thousand paper cuts. Many of our team had never flown before, and needed lots of assistance with check-in into the flight. Two of our team members had extremely minor name misspellings on their tickets preventing them from checking into the flight. Since we were wearing matching church team t-shirts, some of our team got pulled out the line by Delta staff and were directed to a group ticketing line (where it turns out we didn’t need to be). Then we got stuck behind an irate family with a language barrier attempting to argue with Delta staff … For at least another 30 minutes. The hostile family refused step aside from the counter after numerous requests of staff and managers. Things got heated and ugly. After some firm but polite resolve of Delta staff with this family, we finally got up to the front of the line. I managed to check in another team member (including luggage). Then, a manager started a long discussion with our check-in desk staff member about the previous family who was still causing troubles to the staff. My stomach dropped and I turned to my team and said: “We are not going to make this flight.” To add insult to injury, we then learned that a schedule change had been made to our flight, and it was leaving 15 minutes earlier than our original schedules showed … And we received no notice of the schedule change.
The Delta staff were extremely compassionate about our situation. The Delta manager offered to waive change fees and get us on a flight for the next day to Ecuador. A note was put into the Delta system showing the Delta manager’s flexibility. A Delta check-in desk person started to work on rescheduling our flight for the next day … Until everything abruptly ground to a halt. It turns out the tickets were actually owned by another airline. We were advised to call the other airline about our situation. So we huddled back at LaQuinta and started to make some calls. And the other airline was not compassionate whatsoever. And our travel agent had no pull with the airline. So we were labelled “no shows” for not boarding our scheduled flights, and were given one impossible option to proceed. So we bailed on the trip and journeyed back home.
Let me give two important shout outs. Delta Airlines was awesome to us. They were perfectly willing to bend over backward to get us to our proposed destination. They also rush shipped our checked luggage back to Evansville at no additional cost. The word of the day for Delta was “compassion.” In addition, LaQuinta Hotel was absolutely fantastic. They offered our teams free rooms for another day if necessary, and let us hang out (and sleep) for a long time in their breakfast nook. They let us check back into rooms of which we previously checked out so our kids could sleep. They also waived some of their parking fees. These two organizations were blessings to us, so kudos to them.
So what should you do as a response to my mission trip nightmare?
Go. Tell others about Jesus.
Yes. You read that correctly.
Go. Tell others about Jesus.
And – most importantly – RISK.
Following Christ is going to have risks – including every mission opportunity. During our church’s March mission trip to Ecuador, one church member had a last-minute medical procedure and was unable to participate. During our church’s June mission trip, our entire team missed a connection by a matter of minutes, and was stranded in Atlanta for 2 days minus luggage. And our entire July team missed a flight altogether.
In the grand scheme of life, these are all minor risks and inconveniences. No one’s life was placed in danger. No one faced actual persecution for their faith. Everyone eventually got their luggage back. Some people wore their underwear longer than usual and probably needed to reapply their deodorant. Someone probably needed to buy a toothbrush. Some people slept on couches and some slept on uncomfortable airport chairs. People got tired and grumpy. Everyone had to rush down a few meals, but no one went hungry. No one was ripped from the arms of their family. Everyone came home. Minor. Stuff. So. What.
In Matthew 13:45-46, Jesus tells a brief parable comparing the kingdom of heaven to a really expensive pearl. When a merchant happens upon this pearl, he sells everything that he has to acquire the pearl as his own. There is no equivocation or questioning of the merchant … The beauty of the pearl compels him to sell all. The message of this parable is remarkably simple: Christ is more valuable than anything else we can ever stumble upon. Offering the remission of sins and power over the grave, the hope of the cross is immeasurably valuable. And if we hold fast to anything as more valuable than Christ, we are fools worthy of shame. Don’t equivocate or question … Do whatever it takes for the sake of Christ.
Unfortunately, we do tend to hold our own comfort and convenience as more valuable than Christ. I’ve heard so many excuses about why they can’t go serve on mission. People who are afraid of starting conversations with others. People who are afraid of weird toilets. People who won’t push the boundaries of their diets. People who can’t detach from their smart phones. People who falsely prioritize sports, music and extracurricular activities. As C.S. Lewis prophesied, we truly have become a people who’d rather play in mud muddies instead of taking a all expense paid cruise. We’d rather we surrounded by iPhones, Netflix and Oreos instead of sacrificing a week of vacation to share Christ. Boo hiss.
So here’s why I’m really writing this blog today: I don’t want anyone to hear our group’s travel horror story and think that Jesus is not worth it.
He is worth it.
He’s worth every nuisance and inconvenience. He’s worth losing sleep. He’s worth smelling bad. He’s worth skipping a meal or so. He’s worth losing your toothbrush. He’s worth a divorce with your smart phone and Netflix AND Hulu. He’s worth using a toilet without a seat. He’s worth microbes and stomach worms. He’s worth separation from your family. He’s worth people reviling you for the sake of His name. And he’s worth sacrificing your very life for the sake of the kingdom of God.
So believers, pour out your life. Don’t hold anything back. Give up your puny little gods of convenience and comfort. Go. Risk it all – even if it costs your reputation, your security and even your very life. Don’t stop going of the sake of the kingdom.
I know that I won’t stop. And neither should you. I’ll travel for His sake again. I’ll gladly and joyfully go again. He is so worth it. He is worth pouring out every drop of my life. I’d do it again and again. Oh, my Jesus is my treasure. And I love Him so.
So my question to you is this: Is Jesus really worth it?