Stuck in the Tree of Security and Comfort
By Marty Norman –
We all like our comforts, our secure home where we live unchallenged, unyielding and unmoved. We love the place where we park ourselves at night, our trees and gardens, the block where we live. We are safe and secure; it is our home. Often it takes nothing short of an earthquake to dislodge us from this covering of safety.
That’s why mission trips are so hard. Talk about getting out of your comfort zone. In a matter of hours one is transported from the safety of home, that cool, green shade of comfort that provides a canopy of safety and love to a different culture that consists of strange foods, habits, eating and sleeping arrangements, customs and languages. In other words, we are moved from our tree of comfort to a new tree from which we launch our day.
Sometimes it’s too much for even the seasoned missioner, not to mention the all-weather traveler, to contemplate
Summer is definitely the time for mission trips. Church groups, non-profits, individuals, youth groups, medical teams, college students, and others are all eager and willing to give of their time and expertise in order to experience the unknown in a far off land.
I, myself, have been on four mission trips. Each one is unique, different, structured specifically by a loving God for a specific purpose and goal. None of my mission trips have even halfway resembled another. From the dark of a Tanzanian Africa, to the green hills of Ireland, from the seashores of Belize, to the river banks of Lake Malawi, I have answered the call when it came in order to do the will of He who calls out his people.
I remember my first mission trip in 1996. With trepidation I flew across the ocean to spend three weeks in Northern Malawi, East Africa. A life changing experience I was transformed by the people of that region known as the warm heart of Africa. A kinder, gentler people cannot be found on earth. It was there I was introduced to the baobab tree a metaphorical symbol of the heart of these people. Thick, strong, large, with a canopy of leaves for comfort and exposed roots for strength it was a metaphor for the people and their tiny country. I knew immediately I was out of my element, transplanted into a place I’d never seen before. No security or comfort there, but somehow it seemed to fit.
In 2007 I went to Belize. I remember watching the view out the window as the plane landed at the small airport in Belize City. Most of the trees were green, but short. But ever so often a tall tree would burst forth from a clump of smaller trees. The Lord spoke to my heart. Look for the tall trees, “ he said. “You will encounter many people here in Belize – people of strong faith. They will stand head and shoulders above the rest.” And indeed I did and they did.
Last summer I traveled to Tanzania, 27 hours, six stops one way, for a week long teaching mission in the heart of Tanzania. The travel alone was a challenge, but being allowed only 15 pounds of luggage almost put me over the top. Somehow I managed without an ounce to spare. Traveling through the haunting landscape that is Tanzania, the green grass blowing in the wind, I marveled at the hundred year old trees standing guard at the entrance to villages. I felt protected. The first day I just walked around the taking photos of the amazing trees. Here a fire tree, there a baobab. Again out of my comfort zone, but comforted by their haunting beauty and the safety they represented. I was reminded that they are not unlike the trees of my own backyard.
Everywhere we went in Tanzania we met missionaries: from Dallas, Texas to Atlanta, Georgia, from the University of New Mexico, to San Francisco, people who left hearth and home to minister to God’s people in need. All of a sudden I was surrounded by a garden of flowers, trees of every hue and color, blooming in an unknown land, spreading their aroma and fragrance of the gospel to all with whom they came in contact.
I remember thinking to myself, ‘How wonderful is that? People taking time out of their busy lives to use their vacation time to give to others. Only in America would you see this so widely practiced. Only in response to the call of God would you meet such dedicated souls.” It just made me proud.
I am not going on a mission trip this year, but my good friend Debbie is.
I have just returned from helping her pack for a three week mission to New Zealand and Australia. Part teaching and part on-site ministry she must prepare for many venues. She has no idea what kind of trees she will encounter.
Her trip is complicated. Last week she fell and broke her wrist. She had to have surgery to put a steel plate in her arm. She is not in a cast but has a sling and a brace. But is she canceling? Not on your life. Security or not, she is going.
I am astounded at her commitment and courage. This mission has been planned for months, so she would not hear of not going. Clearly she has a call. And when one hears a call, how do you say no to the Lord. You don’t. Unless the Lord releases, you go.
So she is going. Limited not in spirit, but only in the use of her left arm she gives thanks that it is not her dominant arm. Sternly instructed to not drive, lift anything heavy or carry anything of any weight, she reasons she is primed for the trip. All of her focus will be on the experience abroad rather than the things left undone at home, for she can’t do them anyway. She claims she will just move with the flow. Pretty ambitious by my way of thinking but she will not be dissuaded; she is determined to go. Who am I to argue with her or with God?
So help her I do. Even I can see that Satan is erecting all sorts of barriers in her way. Clearly trying to discourage her, he continually puts up road blocks along the way to dishearten. The good news: he is not winning.
So that’s where I come in.
My job, pick out, fold and pack her clothes for three weeks. We spent the morning going through her closet, coordinating, eliminating, refining, refreshing, figuring out, weighing, evaluating what would and would not work with a splint and her limitations. After a few hours we had it all worked out. Now all I need to do is go to the grocery store and buy Ziploc bags to keep her clothes divided so she can better find what she needs.
I can’t wait for her to get back to the States to tell me all that the Lord has done. I know that she will describe her experiences in detail, the trees she encounters, the new things she learns. Surely she will have one large tale to tell.
Out of her comfort zone – you bet. But sturdy and strong she stands. Debbie is one of the tall trees of Belize. Her strength and courage stand heads above the rest. The winds may come and the winds may blow, but her roots are deep. Her tree stands tall. And after this month she will have more trees to add to her mission experience. I can’t wait to see the acorns she brings back to plant. But even more, I can’t wait to see the oak trees that grow from her obedience.
How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news! (Romans 10:15 NIV)