Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Things I Learned On My Spring Trip

Only one more leg of the Traveling Simeon-and-Wes Road Show remains ... We're stuck in a hotel overnight in Paris (oh, darn!) and will be catching a flight to Douala tomorrow morning. Unfortunately, I'm not out snapping shots of the Eiffel Tower.

Instead, I'm sitting here in my room, reflecting on the past two weeks and what I learned during the Cameroon Consultation, and in our many visits to churches, missions committees, and pastors' offices:

1. Rank-and-file United Methodists (those of you in the pews, you know who you are!) are genuinely interested in what's happening in Cameroon. I could see it in their eyes as they listened to Simeon's stories and drank in his enthusiasm and energy. They genuinely want to help. I feel like we have a kind of fan club now, and that's a good thing.

2. I am going to have to be concrete about how people can "help" the Mission. I tried to do this at the Consultation -- we passed out specific information about how to become a partner church, and even an itemized "wishlist" of needs in the country. But I am going to have to keep these needs in front of people. I don't think I need to "sell" people anymore on the importance and potential of the Mission; they're convinced. But I do need to help our partners and friends to help us in specific ways.

3. The best thing the United Methodist Church has going for it is the "connection," that network of churches, people, pastors and agencies that binds us together and drives us forward into the mission field, however murky and unclear. For two and a half weeks, Simeon and I were handed on like a baton from church to church, each of which welcomed us as friends, fed us like pigs, and treated us like brothers. That's the connection at its best!

4. They're not perfect, but the pastors of the UMC are generally collegial and encouraging servant-leaders. Don't laugh -- I'm serious! My prayer is that the pastors of the Mission in Cameroon will create the same kind of nurturing, compassionate circle of friends that I see in my brothers and sisters of the North Texas, Texas, and Southwest Texas Conferences.

5. I am becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the word "missionary" for two reasons; first, for the undue attention it calls to the nature of mine and Leah's work. What we do is not novel, uncommon, or extraordinarily different from what all pastors do, and even what all Christians are supposed to do. Second, I don't like what the word implies about everyone else. If the church is permitted to call us "missionaries," then the rest of the laity and clergy must not be "missionaries." The work of "missions" must not be surrendered to the work of "trained professionals," or "salaried positions" within a church organization. No, every church is a mission-sending agency, and every Christian is a missionary. Period.

6. Cameroon is home. As our time in the States drew to a close, I began to miss the taste of fried plantain, the smell of our new puppy dog, and the smiles of some beautiful women ...

Oh, and one more very important thing:

7. The Dallas Mavericks may just possibly have what it takes to win the NBA Finals this year ... finally!