Until now, regular readers of peace for the journey have known me as Elaine’s husband and her number one fan. Now for the first time I am a guest contributor to her blog, which coincides with another important first in my life—my first mission trip outside the USA.
A team of 16 young adults and chaperones left our church on July 16, 2008, for the South American nation of Bolivia and a new orphanage established by the Methodist Church of Bolivia. The Andes Mountain range is second only to the Himalayas as the highest in the world and is home to the Aymaran Indians, the native people of Bolivia. For ten days we called this harsh, desperately poor but splendid place our home.
Tacachia rests at the end of a forty mile stretch of winding mountain road. My sense of “belonging” in that little village was challenged from the very beginning. As one of Tacachia’s newest residents my name was a problem: “Billy.”
Billy is the name that I have answered to for almost forty-one years of living, but to a rural population that spoke only Spanish and Aymaran, none of them had ever met a “Billy” and had great difficulty pronouncing my name. I had a choice to make: to insist that everyone in my new home struggle with a name that defied their tongues’ best efforts, or I could change my name. The choice was easy. My high school Spanish teacher had us use the Spanish equivalent of our English names in class. Thanks to those lessons from long ago I quickly exchanged “Billy” for “Guillermo,” which is Spanish for “William.”
Instead of loosing any precious sense of my identity, compromising my standards, or watering down the Gospel message, the Lord led me to a deeper understanding of what it means to “deny myself.” When Jesus said to His disciples, in Matthew 16:24 “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me,” Jesus meant that we have to be willing to replace our standards with His standards. As long as we stay close to the place we call home and the local church we call our own, self denial may not seem like a big deal. But what does the Lord require of His people when He leads us among strangers?
I believe that Acts 1:4-8 is concrete proof that Jesus does not use a “sliding scale” in measuring mission work. The idea of local missions, verses overseas missions, and one being better than another is an invention of man and not of God. Wherever you are, if you are a baptized believer in Jesus Christ, you are in the mission field. As missionaries, there is an ever present temptation to value our station in life, our title, our accomplishments, our circumstances, to the point that the world around us feels like they have no hope of relating to us.
To the people of Tacachia, “Pastor Billy” was a name their tongues could not grasp. They could not greet me. They could not introduce me to their neighbors. They could not hope to have any kind of intimate relationship with me, because “Pastor Billy” was the name of a stranger who wanted to remain a stranger. But “Pastor Guillermo” was a welcome guest who wanted to know them and wanted to be known by them.
What about my other names? I am a United Methodist pastor. I am an Elder in the Church. I have an undergraduate degree from Pfeiffer College and a Masters of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary. I am proud of all these names—up to the point that these parts of my “identity” might become an obstacle in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Ten days with Pastor Guillermo taught me that my own selfishness has been the biggest obstacle in keeping me from sharing the love of Jesus.
Ten days with Pastor Guillermo taught me that Christians have to be willing to deny the things we often prize the most, for the sake of the least and the lost.
Ten days with Pastor Guillermo taught me that Christians have to love Jesus more than we love denomination, or education, or anything else that might build a wall between us and those He sends us too.
Ten days with Pastor Guillermo taught me that the most important thing I have to offer the Lord on the mission field is my obedience.
As it was with Pastor Guillermo, so I want it to be with Pastor Billy. I want to love others more than myself and to prize relationships over ego…Christ above self.
The lesson of my mission field has not been an identity crisis, but rather has been the fertile soil to finding my true identity in Christ. Not everyone will need a trip to South America to learn how to part with their selfishness, but as Elaine will attest, I’ve never been very good at doing things the easy way. God used Pastor Guillermo to humble Pastor Billy.
I’m so glad for the occasion to have met him in the little village of Tacachia.
peace for the journey~
If you want to learn more about the medical mission society that helped us organize our trip to Bolivia, please click on this link to Curamericas. Details about the Kory Wawanaca Children’s Home of Tacachia, Bolivia can be viewed at their website.