Back from Colombia

SAM_0142I’ve just returned from a missions trip to Colombia, South America. That’s me wearing the Colombian national football team’s red jersey.

I was there with a team of 14 from my church. Most of our team concentrated on evangelism and training in youth soccer camps. Two of us were there to lead a pastor’s conference on men’s ministry.

The lessons I learned on this trip echo lessons I seem to learn on every cross-cultural trip. So I thought I’d share them here.

1) My goal is to minister, but I’m ministered to more. God rarely uses an instrument without changing it in the process. I learn, I grow, I’m stretched, I’m convicted every time.

2) People with less than me are more generous than I am. North Americans may give much money to charity, but we have an embarrassingly large amount left over to spend on ourselves. They don’t. They cheerfully sacrifice for us, and model hospitality. We should take notes.

3) First world problems are not problems. We live in the land flowing with milk and honey, and we lead the world in depression medication. We imagine more problems than we actually experience. We can’t spell contentment. Shame on us.

4) Small church pastors around the world are my heroes. And in most of the world, they are deeply respected and underpaid. In the U.S., this is reversed.

5) Sin is a human disease we’ve all contracted. And in shockingly similar ways. The struggles we face in the U.S. are very similar to the struggles in South America. We may sin creatively, but our sins can still be classified into the same categories regardless the culture we come from. We’re not that different from one another.

6) God is faithful. My friend and fellow-pastor Dave (pictured above on the left) taught on discontentment during our trip. He reminded us that God tends to get our attention in one of two ways. Either He will prevent us from getting all that we pursue, and use defeat to bring us to Himself (95% of the time). Or He will grant us everything we pursue, and use our lingering discontentment to bring us to Himself (5% of the time).

Either way, God remains faithful.


3 responses to “Back from Colombia

  • afalston

    Thank you for sharing about your experience in Colombia! I was hoping we would get to hear about it!

    I do want to make a brief comment about your third point:

    “3) First world problems are not problems. We live in the land flowing with milk and honey, and we lead the world in depression medication. We imagine more problems than we actually experience. We can’t spell contentment. Shame on us.”

    Yes, I agree many people face far worse circumstances than I’ll ever know. I know that what we call “first world problems” don’t really compare. But at the same time, I do want to make sure that we don’t minimize the legitimate problems that people in the “first world” have. Pain is pain, no matter how much money you make. Money doesn’t heal abuse. Money doesn’t fix dysfunction. Just because we make more money and have more stuff doesn’t mean we don’t hurt. If it did, than God wouldn’t be our God–money would be.

    I am very privileged to walk alongside some amazingly strong women in a Bible study that I attend weekly. They have faced terrible life situations that they did not ask for and did not deserve. They have been victimized, but they are overcomers and God’s beautiful daughters. No matter where they live, their pain is real and their tears are precious to God–He saves each one (Psalm 56:8). And just because any one of them chooses to take antidepressants, that doesn’t make them second-class Christians.

    I know that your intention was to point out that we should focus more on the positive aspects of life than on our discontentment. In trying to motivate a more positive outlook though, I hope that we will continue to have compassion for others more close to home.

    Thank you for reading this response. And thank your for your service to our church and for your blogs!

    And I am so very glad that God is faithful!

  • Jeffrey E. Miller

    Thanks for this, Ashley. I did not at all mean that people who live in the first world have no serious problems. I’ve lived here long enough, and known enough people, to see the pain of real hurt. The phrase “first world problems” usually refers to non-problems that we complain about–like having to park far away from the mall entrance or having too much junk in our garage to get both cars in. Experiences that seem to ruin our day, and earn the eye-roll from the rest of the world. Sin is a human disease that we cannot escape in the first world, so no doubt we’re going to have legitimate problems, too.

    • afalston

      Thanks for clarifying. I think it was the link between “first world problems” and depression medication that threw me. I don’t think anyone is on depression meds because they have to walk further than they want to the mall entrance. And then the statements afterward, including “Shame on us” in the same paragraph, to me made it seem like you were trying to say that people with petty problems go on antidepressants for frivolous reasons and that they deserve shame. I don’t think those things are true. And apparently you don’t either, but the way this was all grouped together was confusing to me. Again, thanks for explaining that this was not your intended message. -Ashley

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