By the Rev. Dennis Paschke
Tacoma churches endure heat, exhaustion, and emotional strain during mission…but discover purpose and holiness in serving those with greater needs.
Last July, about a dozen of us from Sumner and Orting Methodist Churches went on a mission trip together. The purpose was to share the love of Christ and find God in the midst of our service. The mission site was in a remote and isolated part of the Okanogan backwoods near Omak, Washington.
“Bleak” was the word that FIRST came to my mind as we arrived at our mission site. The landscape seemed harsh and desolate, deserted. All the eye could see was mile after mile of scorched, dry, browned countryside with an odd patch of new growth. The recent forest fires of the last few years had only added devastation to the sense of desolation.
The temperature was very hot – well into the upper 90 degrees. The heat caused us to stop work early on several occasions to avoid exhaustion. By the mid-morning, the sun would be baking down on the house making it too hot to work. So we would break after lunch to rest and come back again the next day. The heat wore on us, and made the work — work.
Our team included Sumner and Orting United Methodist Churches as well as a few folks from the Orting community. Some folks knew some of the others; most of us were newly-acquainted. Some were detail-oriented; some had construction experience; some had little or none. Some had more patience; some were followers some were born to be bosses.
In the midst of this hot, dusty, hard work our focus in the midst of all of this was finding God. Here is what I was reminded of: the learnings were immeasurable – greater than the tough conditions we faced.
First, the Bible is about both God’s Presence and God’s Absence. The history of God’s people is about this truth. In life there will be lots of times when we can’t see God. This is what many of the stories in the Bible are about: how the people of God while wandering in life, face big challenges and how they may or may not have felt God’s presence. It’s OK to live with that, it’s normal then and it is now. Truth: in times of challenge the only way God won’t be found is if you give up seeking!
The human condition emerges in challenging circumstances. When we forgot that the work we are doing was to reflect whom God is, competitiveness set within the group. When this happens we seek to try to take the outcome into our own hands, instead of letting God guide us. This squelched the sacred in our midst at times. This trip was an important reminder that when we lose focus on serving God by serving others, we missed out!
Drawing back to God always draws us back to one another!
When life gets challenging, draw back to God and you will draw back to one another. In the end, we gathered to reflect on the day of work. We recognized the ways we were blessed and this brought us back together. Above all the dust, heat, hard work, emotions, and mistakes we all were a part of, there was something special in reminding ourselves of why we were there. When we did, our outlooks began to change and we were close to one another.
The early mornings to get ahead of the heat became a blessing to me. Eager to see God in the midst of the day meant we saw the countryside in a whole new way. It was a beautiful place of color and gently rolling hills with hope filled new life sprouting up. When you start to look, truly look to find God in circumstances – you begin to see! Slow down there is holiness in every moment!
Serving others makes you feel more blessed than those you serve.
The circumstances of the person we were helping were not unlike many in that area. He lived in a remote area, off the grid. His current home rebuild was the third having lost two previously to fire. This new home would be a tremendous blessing for him and we were able to be a blessing to him in what we did. We felt blessed to be able to do this dusty, dirty, hot, bleak work!
Going on a mission trip was a tremendous blessing. It was an important reminder that this life is a beautiful gift but it’s not about you! Our most fulfilling moments of life and our greatest purpose is found in God. I hope you will consider being a part of our next mission trip! It can be life changing – place where you find God again.
Special thanks to Sumner UMC, the Rev. Pam Osborne, Tom Osborne, Steve and Lorri Stoyles, John Downs, Barbara Ford, Sandi Van Kirk, Emma Van Kirk, Dawn Paschke, John Teter. Also, special thanks to Rosalee Mohney.
The Rev. Dennis Paschke serves as pastor of Orting Methodist Church.