What I've learned

August 25, 2017 at 6:00 AM

A nurse in Olancho, Honduras, cares for a patient while he receives a brain scan at Clinica El Buen Pastor.  (Photo by Dan Breen)

(Editor’s note: Dr. Bob LaFleur is a retired emergency room doctor from Grand Rapids, Mich. He is a member of a Partnership Ministry Team to Olancho, Honduras.)

What I've learned

By Bob LaFleur

I suspect many of you who have gone on short-term mission projects or who have served as PMT members have had the same experience that I have had.

As you planned for your trips or imagined the ways you would interact with the people you would meet in that foreign country, your focus was on the various ways you would be able to assist them and use your resources and expertise to improve the lives of those you were going to serve.

Few of us really considered the fact that, as we engaged in these experiences, we would be the recipients as much as we were the givers.  But that certainly is true, and I would like you to consider with me a number life lessons that I have been taught by working with my non-US brothers and sisters (in my case, mainly ones in Honduras) over the years.

Those lessons include:

1. What it means to be patient.  People wait in long lines at the clinics, wait in traffic, wait for things to change, and for the most part, do it without becoming anxious or upset.  It’s not quite the way we live in our fast-food, got-to-have-it-now culture.

2. How to improvise to make things work or to get them fixed. Sometimes when there is no expert around and no parts to be found, you just have to figure out what it takes to get the job done.  My Honduran counterparts have always amazed me with their ingenuity.

3. How to be content in less-than-ideal circumstances. Many there live in cramped quarters, have no or only intermittent electricity, do not have consistent employment, and have to walk or take a bus to get where they want to go, yet usually they find reasons to laugh and to smile.

4. What it means to trust God rather than my own abilities and resources.  When the technology isn’t there, and there is no specialist to consult, and we feel overwhelmed by our own inadequacies, we are able to better understand what Scripture means when it says, “When I am weak, then I am strong!”

5.   How much of my time at home I spend working at — even agonizing over — things that don’t really matter much in the long run. Is my house immaculate? Is my yard manicured? Do my clothes really match? When I see the things that many Third World residents have to deal with on a daily basis, it makes many of my concerns seem like pretty small potatoes.

6. How materially well off even the poorest among us are when compared with those who live in many other countries.  I still have a lot to learn in that regard as far as what it means to be thankful and not to complain when my abundance doesn’t seem like enough.

7. How blessed we are, even in our turbulent culture, to have the measure of public order, stability, and safety that we enjoy.  Enough said.

8. How different people are!  Different languages, different clothes, different sizes, different customs, different foods, different beliefs and prejudices.  The world’s peoples certainly make up a vast and diversified mosaic!

9. Despite what I said in No. 8, how very much people everywhere are alike.  We all love our children, long for meaningful relationships, want our lives to matter, share many of the same fears and afflictions, and suffer the same effects of sin. 

10. And that — thankfully — as we used to sing at Luke Society conventions — the Spirit is moving all over the world.  When we focus on our own little worlds, we see so little of what God is actually doing in the big picture.  Even in those times when His kingdom may seem to be in retreat at home, we know it is advancing in other places, countries, and cultures. And His followers who live in those other settings have much to teach us about prayer, and praise, and commitment.

As we participate in mission trips, and brigades, and ministry partnerships, may we do so from a desire to love, to share, and to serve.  But as we do so, may our eyes, and ears, and hearts be open to the many things we can and need to learn from those whose lives may be very different from ours.

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Breached barriers