Thursday, June 22 - Pittsburgh, PA:

We made it back safely, and life resumed as it had been before our one-week hiatus. I brought back some unintentional "pets" with me; I didn't realize I had scabies until after all the other bug-bites had healed and then realized I still had this itchy rash around my watchband and waist. The effects of giardia were a bit easier to recognize. Both were treated successfully and uneventfully.

Denise and Bonnie Cox hosted our debriefing at their house the Wednesday after we returned.

I had just seen Dave and Lori at the church on (Pentecost) Sunday, but had still been eagerly looking forward all of Monday and Tuesday to seeing everyone again at the meeting. After spending a week with them, I felt strangely isolated, working all day in a dark quiet room (I'm a radiologist in training), and then to coming home to an empty apartment. In the being apart from everyone else, it felt as if a piece of me were somehow missing. "Normal life" doesn't feel normal right now.

At the meeting, Denise talked about "re-entry stress", and that we could expect it to take awhile to re- acclimate. We talked a bit after dinner, swapped some photos, and relieved a few highlights of the trip, then parted at the end of the evening. A number of us showed up again next Wednesday evening for the Ascension Youth Group meeting to talk about the trip, but it was difficult to condense the week into a few sound bites. And pretty much, life continues as it has before.

So what was accomplished from all of this? The Church of the Ascension commissioned nine of its members for a week-long mission to Guatemala in early June, in support of one of its members, Jewel Anita Hendrix, who is serving as a long-term missionary in Guatemala by working with Food for the Hungry. What lasting changes will this effect, and where will they be?

I do not mean to sound flippant, but to a certain extent, that question is really for God to answer. We are commanded to go into the world and make disciples of all nations, to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and comfort the afflicted. The brutal truth is that God is omnipotent, and does not need our works. Yet, the incredible thing is that He allows us to participate in fulfilling His will. While Christ had the power to feed the multitudes (Mark 8), He first waited until the people provided a few fish and loaves of bread, then blessed those offerings and worked the miracle. God commands us to serve, but waits for us to initiate action. He can then use and perhaps magnify our efforts, according to His will.

The experience has effected changes in me (giardia aside), and is still altering some of my perceptions. (After seeing the children rooting though trash for empty soda bottles to carry water in, I can't look at an empty Diet Mt. Dew bottle in quite the same way anymore.) I feel safe to venture that others from the trip share similar thoughts from our trip.

There was incredible beauty in both the landscape and in the faces of the children there, yet just behind that beauty lay disease, parasitic infections, and malnutrition. One had a sense of Eden just after the Fall. Yet God still loves the people, He cares for the poor and afflicted, and blesses efforts to care for them. When working amidst poverty, when there's nothing there but God, mud, and people, it becomes a lot easier to see the hand of God at work in people's lives.

God doesn't need our money, time, or material goods. Yet, we are commanded to give. Here in America, we tend to give out of excess, because we can afford to. There, we saw people in need, who gave of what they needed out of love. That kind of giving effects a change in the giver, the like which is difficult to duplicate here. The giver is blessed as well as the receiver. Maybe the gift of time is a comparable stateside analogy; almost all of us wish for an extra few hours a day. In the giving of that which is precious we are changed, made able to grow, and able to be blessed.

I see more clearly the need for missionaries. They help to connect the family of God to one another, and bring other people to the awareness that God loves them. Having recognized that, I realize what a gift Jewel Anita Hendrix is to our congregation. She gives of her life to share the love of God with people in need, distancing herself from family and friends in order to be closer to those who need to hear the good news of God's saving grace and power. She is far from home, and cannot help but to miss the once familiar hymns of praise, the joy and support of praying with friends, and the convenience of being able to casually hang out with Doug, Jack, Karen, or any of the other clergy after the Sunday service. We as a congregation need to continue to lift her up in prayer, to offer our support, and to keep reminding her she is still precious to us, still a part of us, and that we care.

And in that same token, we need to continue to cultivate our congregation's interest in missions and missionary work, both short and long term. While lasting results require the lasting commitment of long- term missionary work, real benefits are achievable from short-term mission work as well. Perhaps the most obvious benefit of the short-term mission is that it provides support for the long-term mission, but it also provides grounds for raising up the future long-term missionaries. In like manner, long-term missions build bridges between people, which in turn enables effective contact during short-term missions. The two serve complimentary roles in the life of the church.

Much of that week remains fresh in my mind, and I am still integrating what I've seen and learned into my life here. I cannot predict how much will ultimately "stick" with me. I'm still trying to figure out how to serve God through service to my fellow man in my day-to-day life, and seeking out where that line lies between being a cheerful servant vs. allowing myself to be used and manipulated by other people. Mistakes have been made in the past, and doubtless I will continue to make them for as long as I inhabit this mortal coil. I know we can rest assured of God's love, though, and by His grace can continue.

I am privileged to have been able to participate in this trip. Thanks to Denise, Karen, and Suzanne from the South American Missionary Society, and David and Lori from Shadyside Medical Center, for encouraging me to go. Thanks to the UPMC Abdominal Imaging Division for granting me time off in June. Last, but by no means least, thank you to my parents, relatives, and friends who sponsored me both spiritually and monetarily on this trip. I hope that this journal makes more real to you what you have enabled; I appreciate your support.

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