I feel my face flush hot as I struggle not to answer with anger. This person just doesn't know. How can I expect them to understand when they have never seen the tribe? I think. But then it makes me wonder, even if they saw the tribe, would they understand?
We have this skewed perspective on missions that puts everything in numbers and amounts and measures success by how many people "gave their heart to Jesus." I applaud the salvation stories, and I'm excited for that. But it can be difficult to answer when people ask me about it. Honestly, I spent an entire summer there, and I never prayed for salvation with anyone, nor did I try. Most of the people I came in contact with were either already Christian or else vehemently opposed to it.
People get this disappointed look as if there was no "fruit" to my trip. Maybe it was not the kind that can easily be measured, but there were things that happened. 1. I know a lot more of the language and can use that when I return. 2. I built relationships and trust with the people. 3. I learned from the people how to live in the mountains. 4. One tribe had their first Christian meeting. 5. One literacy project was launched for fifteen children.
But there were so many other things. Rene got to fall asleep in loving arms. The teachers of the small school were encouraged. Everyone seemed to find a new joy in their language as they experienced teaching it to me. I was there to be a friend to the women who needed a listening ear. I was there to assist, learn, and most of all, love.
Sometimes I look back on my summer and realize that it was in all honesty one of the hardest things I've ever done. I was tired and sore a lot of times. My brain was fried from trying to understand a new language. I gave up privacy and decision-making rights. I got laughed at and teased about my lack of speaking skill. But I can honestly say that it was ok. It didn't really seem hard.
Yes, there were days when I wanted to escape from my constant following of little children, when I sang songs in English to myself just to hear the familiar sounds of my own language for a moment. There were days when thought that I would scream if I saw another spider in my room. There were days when I dreamed of eating just one slice of bread. But did I want to go home? No. I was exactly where God wanted me to be, and I knew that. I found out that it really is true that in the presence of God, even the greatest trial becomes a joy. I could honestly laugh at the strange predicaments and new experiences, because I knew that God had put me there for a reason, and the reason was the people I was with.
I think back on the people I met and the children I taught and I wish so bad that I could hike up that trail right now and see them all again. I remember watching some children play soccer, barefoot in the dirt outside the church, their black hair flying in the wind that their white tunics stained and ragged. I watched them and thought, "God, I don't have a whole ton to offer. Just my life. But if you are asking me to give it here, in these mountains, to these people. Give me love for them, even deeper than what I have now." And he did. They became my small, brown family. I love them dearly and long to be with them again.
Then my friends here in America ask me if I couldn't find somewhere more worthwhile than there, with the people God gave me...
People always talk about reaching out to the "least of these" with loving them right where they are. It's true, but there is something that needs to happen first. Each one of us has to realize that we are the least of these. People ask me how I could stand to have the kids climbing all over me, knowing that their hair was full of lice. But is my hair really more important than showing love to a little child? No. Are my hands so important that I can't wash my clothes out on the rocks of the stream bed? Is my comfort so important that I can't give it up for the people of a tiny tribe in the mountains who need to know my Father's love?
No, I am the least of these. And in being the least, I can find joy in being filled with the presence of the Greatest and seeing His face in each face around me.