Recently, I was blessed with the opportunity to travel to West Africa on a mission trip through my school to reach out to a community and share the love and joy of God with the people there. Specifically, we traveled out to Ghana into the village of Joma outside the capital city of Accra. On this trip, we experienced many situations in the school, church, orphanage, and city that I will never forget. All of theses experiences and memories made me realize that my trip to Africa (specifically Ghana) was a teacher of several life lessons...
1) "Poor" is a poor choice of words
I've traveled to the Houston ghetto, Jamaican slums, and now Ghana's undeveloped village of Joma, and one thing has stood out to me from all three: the people that live there are some of the richest people I know. Mentally, you may be stumbling a bit wondering where I'm taking this, but I honestly believe that today's world, especially America, has changed the definitions of "rich" and "poor". To be "rich" in today's world means to have lots of money, possessions, stocks, or other financial resources. Another way to state this definition of "rich" is to say that it means to have an excess of temporary things. Is money important? Absolutely. Is money more important than your wife, family, or relationship with God and others? Absolutely not. Of course, the choice is yours, but money, land, and things don't last. Being able to order a 12 ounce steak at every steakhouse in your city doesn't make you rich. Money and possessions are blessings from God, which means that they can be given at any time, but they can also be taken away at any time. 1 Samuel 2:7-8 assures us this, "The LORD sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor. "For the foundations of the earth are the LORD's; upon them he has set the world." We entered this world with what God gave us, we have traveled our paths in life with what God has placed on them, and we will die with what God has planned for us to die with. But at the end of the day, what really matters? Is money our main source of eternal happiness? Does a two-story house, countless nights of savory dinners, and other expensive things amount to a life worth living? It is said multiple times in the Bible that we entered the world with nothing, and we take nothing from this world. 1 Timothy 6:7 states, "For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it." Our wallets, expensive dinners, countless presents, jewelry, clothes, TV's, iPhones, iPads, iPods, Macbooks, and more will all be left behind. So what really matters? As cliche as this may sound, God is what matters. I know this sounds like a "Christian-Sunday-School answer", but really! Who holds the key to eternal life? God DOESs! Who is on the throne of judgement? God is! So why would you live life on this earth without God, and expect to walk with Him in a different world? I'm not saying to ban money from your life; in fact, Jesus talked more about money than any other topic in the Bible! However, I am saying that many times we get caught up in the American lifestyle of "what's next", or better yet known as, "want". I want that new iPhone, that person's approval, that new t-shirt, that new pair of shoes, that job opening, and more. Is it wrong to have these things? Absolutely not. But how many people now-a-days truly want a loving relationship with God and others? How many people want to have the love and joy that God shares with His children so that they can share it with others? I don't know many Americans that I've met that have this burning zeal in them, but the Houstonians in the ghetto, the Jamaicans in the slum, and the "underprivileged" Africans in the village all shared this. They were bouncing up and down with smiles on their faces just to see, better yet talk to, some other Christians. Isn't this what life is really about? Sharing the love and joy that Jesus Christ extended out to us as an offering through his sacrifice on the cross. The next time you say that someone is poor, or not rich, I dare you to ask yourself whether this person has temporary treasures or eternal treasures in store for them. The people in Ghana that I conversed with and witnessed to shared the real definition of "rich". They were rich in spirit, filled with everlasting joy, peace, and love from God. What a blessing it is to experience the true riches that God has in store for us. Matthew 6:20, "Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal." Temporary things will be stolen, rusted, lost, and destroyed...place your treasure in God's favor. Put your stock in Him; He will always come out on top. He will always provide and have a provision for your life.
2) Servanthood serves you well
I've spent over 300 hours in my high school career in Houston, Jamaica, Alaska, and Africa (also, I'm planning to serve in Nicaragua next summer), serving other people in numerous ways. One thing I've noticed is that there is always an opportunity to serve people no matter where you are. In your country, in your state, in your city, in your school, in your office, in your home, and in your personal life. You can always be doing something that benefits other people, but it isn't a simple decision to make. We tend to think of ourselves first in today's world, causing us to serve ourselves before we serve others (or better yet, avoiding serving others completely). If you haven't heard, Chick-Fil-A recently made a comment about traditional marriage versus gay marriage when asked by a reporter and verified that they support traditional marriage. While I won't go into the mess that was created by these comments, I will discuss something that I noticed through these arguments that occurs in all debates. We immediately tend to assume that our opinion is right, better yet, that our opinion has meaning (usually more meaning than other opinions). If I believe McDonald's has a better fast-food burger than Burger King does, then that must be the right answer because it's my opinion. The flaw with this is that we are saying that my opinion is greater than your opinion. Another way to say this is to take the word "opinion" out and say that I am greater than you. As Christians, saying that we are better than someone undermines Christianity and our witness to other people. We are saying that we need to serve ourselves or let others serve us before we serve other people. Jesus told us quite the opposite through the way He lived His life... Mark 10:44-45 states, "Whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Matthew 20:28 shares the same message. We as "Christians", Christ-followers, are to have a heart of servanthood. We are to put others before us no matter what the circumstances. Was Jesus perfect? Yes. Were the people he served perfect? No. Did he still serve, love, and share joy and kindness with them? Absolutely. Why? Because His love is a special love. It is known as "agape" love, meaning "unconditional love". There are no and's, but's, or if's in his language of love...It's all about willingness and action. He calls us to love and serve others with an attitude and heart like Isaiah did in Isaiah 6:8, "Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I. Send me!" We are called to servanthood by The Great Commission (Matt. 28:16-20). Servanthood is good for us, as it was good for Jesus during His time on earth. It may not be easy all the time, or entertaining, but it is the call that He longs for us to be willing to answer with an open heart and mind. Serving the people in Africa was dangerous, hard-work, and exhausting, but it was worthwhile and one of the greatest memories of my life. The joy on the faces of the kids and teachers in the school put joy in my heart, giving me the energy to run another time around the school with 6-7 kids on my arms and back. God doesn't call the equipped, rather He equips those who answer His call. I saw the opportunity to go to Ghana and to serve other people, and I jumped on it after prayer and worship (and a talk with my family of course). Like 19 other people, God opened up the door to a 3rd-world country in need of love, joy, and support, and God provided a way for us to travel there and share His love, and to return safely. While this trip was a major instance of servanthood in my life, I've realized that we fail to serve others in our homes, schools, offices, cities, and countries. Look for chances to do something for someone else: whether it's to share an encouraging word, clean up the house a bit, take over someone's duties for a night, or be a listening ear for a struggling friend... these are all ways to serve people. There are countless ways to observe servanthood in your life, how will you serve others each day? Start with today!
3) There is still work to be done
It's easy today to get focused on ourselves and getting our work done, but God's work is still left unfinished. According to the Joshua Project, "true believers" make up just 10% of our world, while another 60% are on the fence of Christianity. This leaves 30% of the world that has had little to no exposure to the Gospel. Many of this 30% don't even know what a Bible is. I'd imagine that many of the 90% don't listen to, or haven't heard a worship song before. I noticed in Ghana that church was not taken lately. One lady in the front row mentioned that she was sick to the point of being bed-ridden on Saturday, and she prayed that God would heal her by Sunday so that she could walk to and from church, and He did. Many Americans today would skip church if they were tired or "just not feeling up to going." Then there's still that 30% who still don't even know what church is...in Ghana and Jamaica similarly, I came across people who knew of Christianity but felt it "wasn't for them", and then I came across people who had no clue of what a Bible was, or had no access to one. I'll never forget giving away my Bible to a man in his 20's-30's at an infirmary in Jamaica because he told me that He wanted to read the Bible and worship God, but He didn't have access to one or the money to buy one. On the bus to the airport leaving that infirmary, I thought about how many Americans stockpile different Bibles for their looks, textures, and text-size, and let them get dusty because they they are hardly opened. There are so many people in America that need help, but there are so many people in third-world nations like Ghana that truly need the resources for their problems. There were people there who didn't know the basics of Christianity, and there were some who didn't have the access to the resources for it. It broke my heart to see that God was missing from some people in a foreign country because they didn't have the money or store to simply buy a Bible. Jesus' final commands to His people was the Great Commission...telling us to go out among the nations and to spread the Gospel, the love of God, and the heart of worship that exists in Him. There are billions of people that are unreached today, thus, there is still work to be done. Back to servanthood, God is looking for those who are willing to be used as a planter or harvester to reach the unreached. He has the power to save and to change lives, and the process of doing His work is as simple as making yourself available to Him. I once heard it best said, that we are shaped for serving God. Discipleship, fellowship, servanthood...all shaped for getting with other people and making a name for the Lord. Psalm 113:2 says, "Let the name of the LORD be praised, both now and forevermore." One trip to Africa didn't change the world, but I pray that it made a difference in at least one life. Every life counts in the kingdom of God!
While I could go on all night writing about lessons that I've learned from Africa, I'd like to give you those three lessons to chew on a bit. I don't want to choke you or shove all this down your throat, but I'd like to at least share three things that God taught me in Africa:
1) "Poor" is a poor choice of words
2) Servanthood serves you well
3) There is still work to be done
I pray that my experiences in Africa will be lessons for you to learn, and that even though you did not travel on this trip and may not travel outside of your own state to serve in your lifetime, you will still recognize that God uses all who are willing right where they are at. Whether you're a garbageman or a CEO, a widow or a husband entering his 50th anniversary, an athlete, or an academic, God will use you if you make yourself available. Servant leadership will go a long way...God will equip you with the armor that you need to withstand any opposition or weakness.
Philippians 2:1-4, "Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others."