Travel with me back in time. Don’t worry, we’re not going far…maybe two years. We can go anywhere you like, as long as we can have a short conversation. Just for fun, let’s make it a baseball game. A Cardinals game. Did I mention that I have lived almost my entire life in St. Louis, Missouri – the Gateway to the West, home of the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals? Aside from a year in California when I was very young, and a bunch of shorter trips, this is home. The place I always come back to. The Comfort Zone.
Now, as we wait for Albert Pujols to walk to the plate and crank out yet another home run, you casually ask me, like you would ask me to pass the salt, or maybe about what I did last weekend – you ask me “What would you think of going on a mission trip to Bulgaria?”
Stop. Freeze frame. Notice the “Are you serious?” look on my face. Bulgaria? My mind begins to sift through endless piles of useless trivia to come up with something – anything – on Bulgaria. The only thing that is even a remote possibility is some ancient memory of large, bearded, weight-lifting women at the Olympics. Bulgaria? I think that’s in Eastern Europe, but to be honest, I don’t know. What do I think of going on a mission trip to Bulgaria?
I have no problem with the mission trip part of the question. I’ve been on trips all over the United States. I mean, it’s practically my job. I’ve spent the past six years working almost exclusively with churches and non-profit organizations, helping them to more effectively and creatively communicate their message to their community. I’m a missionary to people all over the midwest. I’m no stranger to the idea of foreign missions, either. My parents have been all over the world – Africa, Haiti, Columbia, Indonesia, a bunch of other places I can’t even remember. I have friends who have served as missionaries all over the world, too. But me? I’ve only been out of the US once, and that was only to Mexico, which doesn’t even really count – it’s connected! I didn’t even need a passport. Which is good, because I don’t have a passport.
Mission trip to Bulgaria? No, thanks. Not me.
Now fast forward about a year and a half. Picture me, foot in mouth, staring out the window of an Italian airplane at far below early-morning lights in what I think is France. Aah, France. I took a total of five years of French class, between high school and college. Unfortunately, the only thing that I am positive I know how to say correctly is “I am a big duck.” I wonder if any French people are waking up, far below, from a bizarre dream about an American who kept claiming to be a duck.
Clearly I am tired. It’s already been a long trip. An hour’s drive to meet up with the others from the group who live near St. Louis. We stay up all night, in theory to help us sleep on the plane. Six hours to Chicago, with stops on the way to pick up the rest of the team, sixteen of us total. Then a three hour wait at the airport (where I develop an unusual interest in the moving walkways…)until we are finally on our way.
I have no idea how long I’ve been on the plane now, because time has either gone fast-forward or backwards and we’ve sped through about eleventeen time zones. The guy three rows ahead of me has been snoring the entire time, and most of my friends have been asleep for at least a little while, but not me.
Questions fill my head. What am I doing here? How did a guy who has never before felt the call to serve overseas end up on this plane? What am I in for? Do I really belong here? Is it some sort of sick airline joke that I’m being served fish at 6 AM? How many random pieces of trash and/or food can I slip into Zaxxson’s pocket while he sleeps?
As I watch the sky turn from black to about a million different shades of pink, red, purple and yellow over what I am confident is at least some part of Europe, I realize that I am sure that I am where I am supposed to be. I have no idea what lies ahead, or how I can help anyone with anything, but I know that God has led me here, and have learned that God is smarter than me when it comes to knowing these things. Of course it doesn’t hurt that the beautiful woman who will soon be my wife is going to be waiting for me to get off of the plane. She knows what she’s been called to do. This is her fifth trip to Bulgaria, and she’s been there for two weeks already. I can’t wait to see her, and I pray that I will be as excited about this obscure corner of the world as she is.
Little do I realize that my world, which has already taken some crazy twists and turns of late, is about to be shaken up and turned completely upside down…