Around 6am this Saturday, Vern, Eleke, Michele, Erica, Alicia and I (the Honduras 6) will board an airplane bound for Honduras.
This Wednesday, after many of us gathered at the church for dinner and prayer, I found myself reflecting on the upcoming trip – how it has come together and how, in many ways, it seems to have brought us all a little (or a lot) closer together.
I began thinking about the apostle Paul. About his epistles. And, in particular, about the personal greetings or remarks often contained therein.
These are passages of Scripture I think we often skim/skip when we read our Bibles. Maybe it’s just me. But, honestly, I don’t think we are all that sure what we are supposed to do with verses that essentially read, “Mark says hi. You know him. He is Barnabas’ cousin” (Col. 4:10), which is exactly the kind of thing Paul writes in the parts of Scripture which I’m talking about.
At the beginning of his letter to the Philippians Paul writes:
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.
“Your partnership in the gospel.”
Put another way, your gospel partnership.
Leslie Newbigin, 20th century author and missionary, said something in some lectures he gave on the nature of the church which I absolutely love. He said:
The Church is the pilgrim people of God. It is on the move – hastening to the ends of the earth to beseech all men to be reconciled to God, and hastening to the end of time to meet its Lord who will gather all into one.
(I have a feeling it is not the last time you will hear this from me. I love it too much to only say it once.)
The Church, said Newbigin, is a community in via; that is, it is a community on its way. Both to the ends of the earth and the end of time.
Beautiful. Profound. Relevant. But I digress.
A cursory review of Paul’s greetings, reports and “personal remarks” within his epistles is enough to make clear that something very real happens as the church goes its way. First, the church is employed. By God. Second, as God employs the church, some pretty serious bonds are formed. Between God and people, as well as people and people. Relationships develop. Partnerships take root. One experiences a deep-seated closeness.
“I pray with joy,” Paul wrote to Philippi, “because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” This is really the crux of what I want to talk about here. Great portions of the New Testament, and perhaps, in particular, Paul’s epistles, bear witness to an ardent partnership between Paul and the various communities to which he wrote.
An ardent partnership; precisely because a gospel partnership. Much, in fact, like the one between Heritage and the Honduras 6.
There are many things that can serve to bind individuals or groups together, but absolutely nothing binds us to God and to one another quite like the gospel. Like hearing it, receiving it and being employed in it’s service. God has been teaching me – indeed, showing me! – this through the present trip to Honduras, and all our preparation for it.
You see, we truly are in this together, as were Paul and the people of Corinth, Philippi, Rome and others. We too are gospel partners. You and I. We and them. Us. Though only six of us will board the plane bound for Tegucigalpa early Saturday morning, the work and particular service to God performed once we get there is something that truly belongs to us all. Again, we have partnership with one another in the gospel.
The worshiping communities in such places as Corinth, Philippi and others clearly felt responsibility for Paul. These communities would send people on journeys to visit him, wherever he may be; the people sent to Paul were charged with the responsibility of checking on Paul, both his ministry and well-being. They were to make sure he was okay, help him in anyway possible, and, of course, encourage him. Philippi sent Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25). And Corinth sent Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus, who, according to Paul, supplied him with what was lacking and refreshed his spirit. (1 Cor. 16:17-18)
The Heritage community has done the same for the Honduras 6. In truth, I’m not sure I’ve ever been a part of anything quite like this before. As an entire community we have taken ownership of and responsibility for this trip – all of us, together. And the result is that this trip to Honduras has a different feel to it than any other I’ve ever been a part of. Is it just me?
You have not just supported this endeavor. You have made it your own. And there is a difference. Just as there is a difference between permitting and supporting, there is a difference between supporting and owning.
It is not uncommon for a group like the Honduras 6 to develop a sense of unity or closeness amongst themselves… it is a closeness that only teammates, i.e., partners, can know. What I believe to be far less common is for a community as a whole, both those physically engaged in an endeavor and those not so engaged, to develop this same unity and closeness as a result of a particular purpose or goal. But that is exactly what seems to me has happened, and continues to happen, among us.
Do you sense it? Do you see it? Have you entered into it?
Heritage, not the Honduras 6, have championed this trip. Can the difference that this minor distinction makes be overstated?
The Honduras 6 set a goal of raising something like $4.8k or $4.9k, and then anticipated paying the remaining trip costs ourselves. Through the car wash, independent donations, silent auction, and, of course, many revenue sharing events with local restaurants, total donations now exceed $10.5k; this covers the full cost of the trip for all travellers.
Again, on Tuesday night some 35+ of you hosted the Honduras 6 for dinner and prayer at the church. You gathered around us, laid hands on us, and prayed over us. More than 35 of you! That’s roughly half our Sunday worship attendance.
Something like ten people signed up to be a part of the Honduras prayer team. Each of the Honduras 6 has their own prayer partner, and one or two of us received two. These prayer partners have been praying for the group every day for the last month and will continue to do so over the next week and a half. The prayer team provided each member of the Honduras 6 with one note of encouragement to read each day of the trip; they also provided each of us with a journal and daily devotionals, which were put together specifically for this trip. On Tuesday night, when the Honduras 6 arrived for dinner, we found a table set for us. At each of the six table settings was a Nalgene bottle filled with treats, a yellow bandana, and an assortment of travel goodies (snacks, etc.) based on our own personal favorites. (The Honduras 6 were interviewed ahead of time by the prayer team and asked what is your favorite drink other than water?, what is your favorite sweet snack?, what is your favorite salty snack?. So we literally got our favorite things.)
Not every group of six missionaries experience what we have prior to departure!
Truly, you are our gospel partners.
In truth, I’m not sure I’ve ever been a part of anything quite like this before. The entire community as one has taken ownership of and responsibility for this trip. Is it just me? This is special.
I think it important to recognize this, celebrate it, and say thank you. So, thank you!
You will note that in the case of Paul and the various Christian communities which were his partners, their partnership was not a one-way street. Paul not only received from, he also gave to, the community. Likewise, the community not only gave to, but also received from, Paul. But what exactly did Paul give and these communities receive? And what might we, the Honduras 6, strive to give you?
When Paul sent a letter to Corinth, Philippi, or others, he often sent them both a message and a messenger, so to speak. For example, at the end of four extant epistles – Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Timothy & Titus – Paul references one particular messenger, Tychicus.
Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you. (Eph. 6:21-22)
Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. He is coming with Onesimus. They will tell you everything that is happening here. (Col. 4:7-9)
Paul’s gospel partners – i.e., the gospel communities at Ephesus, Colosse, and no doubt others – received Tychicus in addition to the letter which Tychicus carried. In receiving Tychicus, these communities received one charged by Paul with not only delivering his letter, but also reporting to them “everything that is happening”. With Paul, that its. How he was. Where he was. What he was doing. And all of this in order to, in Paul’s words, encourage them.
I believe it is my responsibility, and the responsibility of the Honduras 6 as a whole, to offer to you the same.
As our gospel partners – those who work with us to fulfill a common calling – I promise that we, the group physically going to Honduras, will report back to you just as Paul did.
In middle school and high school I had the opportunity to go on a mission trip each summer with my church youth group. Like the present trip to Honduras, our trips would typically be international and they would last about a week. I remember that each time I returned home from such a trip my mother was always extremely eager to hear all about it. She wanted to know every little detail. This drove me nuts. And the older I got, the more it bothered me. Looking back, I have no explanation for this. I can’t tell you why it drove me nuts. It just did.
Puberty. That’s really the only explanation I got.
Because she was such a good and neat and loving person, my mom wanted to share in my experiences. Because I was such a hormonal teenager – that is, such a basically good person most of the time, but one also prone to frequent fits of complete idiocy, unbridled self-absorption and quite genuine awfulness – I wanted to keep my experience entirely to myself. So I gave her nothing.
It will not, it must not, be like this between us. I mean, for one, you are not my mom and I have now put puberty behind me. At least I hope I have. But whats more, we are gospel partners. This trip to Honduras, and the work of the gospel which by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ we will do there, is ours. How it goes for us and with us 6 who will physically be there is not something we have the right to keep to ourselves. We are partners. This endeavor is ours. All of ours. You not only have a right to know everything, as my mom so desired, you must know everything. And you must let it encourage you. For this is something we must share from start to finish. Each in our own way.
And so, I promise the Honduras 6 will be with you the very thing I was not with my mother. I promise we will share everything with you. After all, it belongs as much to you as it does to us. (At this point, mom, if you are reading this, you should recognize that my not telling you everything was a good thing, and you should be thankful. I think at this point you know this.) Not sharing with you in this way would be the same as keeping that which is yours for ourselves. In no uncertain terms, theft. I promise we will not rob you in this way.
I promise to write to you each day I am gone. I doubt we will have internet in Choluteca. If we do, then at the end of each day, I will post here what I have written. Otherwise, I will post my daily reports and/or messages when we get back. I will also be taking my video camera and I promise upon our return to share the trip with you also in this way.
I do this with great joy, one gospel partner to another.
Now, co-opting the words of Paul to the Philippians already included above, I’d like to simply say:
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel with me. Truly, it is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart, and whether I am in Honduras, Illinois, or Antarctica bearing witness to Christ and the love of God revealed in Him, the truth is this: we share in God’s grace together – I with you, and, you with me.
Much love and I’ll see you on the other side. Peace in Him.