I had a long trip this last weekend – coming home from Denver and connecting through Dallas, of course. No such thing as a direct flight on American anymore. As the flight attendant reminded me… “It doesn’t matter if you’re going to Heaven or Hell… you’re gonna go through Dallas first”. I for one, am headed to Heaven… but at least it’s nice to know I can stop at Auntie Anne’s for a final lightly salted pretzel with sweet mustard dipping sauce on my way there.
Anyway, when traveling, I’m usually well-stocked with reading material… the latest photography or cooking magazine… or whatever book I’m currently reading. But I was a little unprepared this trip, because I finally got my new (and long coveted) computer roller bag (yes, it’s bright orange and I love it!)… but I hadn’t fully transferred everything over from my previous bag, so I found myself with a lack of entertainment. Plus, no in-flight movie, no iPod (also still in my previous bag), and darn it! someone already did the crossword puzzle in the American Way magazine (I have a slight addiction to these).
So, what’s a girl to do all alone with her thoughts? Well, let’s see… um, ponder life? Yes, I got to spend some quality time in reflection. Long overdue, I might add.
So, I found myself thinking about my job. Touring every weekend to a new city; dealing with the constant travel drama; working long hard hours that leave me both physically and emotionally drained; attempting to convince thousands of women that they should care about what’s happening to children in Africa; often missing out on what’s happening in my church, community or with my friends… and when I’m not touring with Women of Faith – I’m sleeping on a bumpy bus in a coffin-sized bed, trapped for days in a metal mobile bullet with a bunch of smelly boys (ok, I actually don’t mind that part) only to wake up in the pitch black catacomb of bunks, stumble from the bus, blinded by piercing daylight and then have to search for the one working shower buried somewhere in the bowels of an arena in PoDunk, USA. Glamorous life, eh?
So, why do I do what I do? It’s certainly not for money, power or prestige. And because the answer is not always obvious… it needs to be a question I ask myself frequently. Because when I’m tired and spent and my frustration level is maxed-out… I need to remember “why”. So, here are a couple of my “whys”…
Currently: I have the privilege of being part of something amazing that God’s doing through World Vision in the lives of literally, tens of thousands of children and their families. This is the 3rd year I’ve done the Women of Faith tour… and by November… we will have sponsored almost 50,000 children during my 3 years with them. Not to get caught up in numbers… but it does help me realize the impact of my work, since I don’t get to see the fruit of my labor first hand. And for everyone one child sponsored, a minimum of 5 people are affected. That’s nearly 250,000 lives that are being radically changed in the name of Jesus. Physical needs have been met, spiritual thirsts have been quenched. It’s really quite amazing when you think about it. God is truly good… and He lets me see that up close.
But Initially: I remember a defining moment, my “This is what I want to dedicate my life to” epiphany. It was roughly 11 years ago. I had just moved to Nashville from Los Angeles. I’d moved here to work full time with World Vision. It was 1997. Three days after arriving in Nashville, I climbed on a tour bus with a band called Big Tent Revival. We had 3 shows to do in 4 days. One of them being a 10:00am show for a Junior High Lock-In somewhere outside St. Paul, Minnesota. And it was February. Ugh. Picture 500 junior highers, amped-up on candy, soda (or “pop” since it was Minnesota) and sheer 12 year old spastic energy. And all before 10am. As an irrepressible outlet – the kids started a “mosh pit” to the song “Two Sets of Joneses“. It wasn’t pretty.
I thought to my skeptical self… we aren’t going to get one single sponsorship at this event. Now, don’t get me wrong. I adore junior highers. I really do. Much of my early career in youth work was with junior high schoolers which included countless camps, mission trips, and yes, even Lock In’s (I am a Lazer Tag Natzi!). And though I was enjoying their energy and verve, I knew producing any results for my “job” was sketchy, at best.
Shortly after the Mosh Pit episode (where Steve Wiggins stopped mid-song and laughed saying, “What ARE you guys doing?!”), I returned to my World Vision table set up… filled with a few dozen picture folders of kids’ faces and stories. Already at my table, was a young “lock-in” victim… apparently not interested in the festivities happening in the other room. Darla (she’d told me when I asked her name) had a wildly-matted mane of thick copper hair, shiny silver braces, chubby freckled cheeks with dense, coke-bottle glasses that wedged a permanent red crease into the crest of each plump apple. She was shy, quiet, awkward. But she stayed at the table… picking up each folder… reading each child’s story… studying each of them closely.
I simply chalked it up to her boredom. Or needing something to do? Possibly she was friendless? Or simply uninterested in the activities? But suddenly, she picked up one of the folders she’d studied earlier and with great determination… handed it to me. “Here”, Darla said. “This is the one I want”.
“Ummm”, I said intelligently. “You know that to sponsor a child takes $30.00 a month.”
“Yes”, she said matter-of-factly. “Here, I have $30 right here”. And she handed my several sticky, wadded up bills.
“But you know, it takes $30 every month to sponsor this child. Are you prepared to do that?” I asked somewhat condescendingly.
“Yes”, Darla repeated patiently… as her chubby finger pushed her smudged, thick glasses back up her nose, only to magnify and bulge her pretty green eyes. “You see, I have $352.48 at home. I’ve been saving for a long time. But I guess my Contact Lenses will have to wait another year. I wanna help her instead [pointing to picture]. I think God would like that.”
I was speechless. Tears flooded my eyes and my bottom lip started dong that quiver thing. I immediately felt shame for my quick judgment and assumptions. But as Darla proceeded to fill out the sponsorship paper work… a light went on inside me. A light that filled my soul to the very brim. This shy awkward girl had every reason to spend her hard-earned savings on herself… to boost her self-esteem… to bring about a more confident Darla. But she understood something I apparently was still figuring out. It’s not about her. It’s not about me. It’s about our Great Father, and what He wants to do in us and through us and around us. And when we deny ourselves or sacrifice for the sake of others, and we do it in the name of Jesus… we experience the very living Christ Himself. (see Matt 25:40)
When I joined the BTR guys on the bus later that day… I told them the story. And five grown rockstars wept… and then took $400 out of their weekend’s earnings… and sent Darla a gift certificate to LensCrafters.
I learned a valuable lesson that day. But it was also the launch of a deep, deep passion. Not just for getting kids in Africa (or anywhere) sponsored… but a passion to discover Christ in unexpected and unlikely places. In the face and story of a small child in Uganda. In the chubby-cheeked smile of Darla as she happily sacrificed for another. In the tears of a rock band moved to compassion and generosity.
There have been many more moments like those since then. But that was just the beginning of my “why” I do what I do. And it’s continually being confirmed, weekend after weekend after weekend. I’ve worked with World Vision for 12 years now… and by God’s grace… I am even more passionate about this work now, than the day I started. Because I am experiencing Christ. I am finding Jesus out on the road… from the dusty plains of Africa to the smelly halls of Po-Dunk, USA. And I pray I will be saying that for a very long time.