I remember my first mission trip, November 1998, like it was yesterday. We spent five days in Ensenada, Mexico working with a church in Colonia 89. It was not just my first mission trip but my first time out of the country. While I watched the news and new the world was bigger than my country, I had never come face to face with a world that was not my own.
I can remember sitting by myself on a rock on the second to last day of the trip with a slew of questions floating in my mind. One series of questions went like this: “Is this pastor sincere? Authentic? He seems full of faith but he is so poor, how can that be? Doesn’t God bless the righteous? Is he really not that righteous? Or do I have something wrong?” This began a time in my life when I, as I call it, had my personal theology turned upside down.
Somehow I don’t think I am alone in this experience. Your dilemma might not have been the exact same issue, but I bet you have struggled with difficult questions at some point. I even have friends who have walked away from God after a short-term mission trip because the questions are so difficult. Why is that? Why such deep despair?
These dilemmas creep up when our experiences don’t match our beliefs. In my case, growing up in America, I had the belief that faithfulness leads to material blessings. This, of course, is not always true but it is not hard to understand how I came up with this belief. The tricky thing, though, is that I didn’t even know I held this belief until I faced an experience that defied it! When our experiences don’t match our beliefs, we can go into a funk. A common dilemma is how can a world created and governed by a good, loving, and all-powerful God be so…for lack of a better word…wrong. What is your dilemma?
When our experiences and beliefs conflict, we often feel the need to choose one as true and the other as false. What does this look like? Choosing our experience to be ultimate truth usually results in us walking away from God. Choosing our belief to be true (especially when it is not) usually leads to us dismissing our experience and never changing for the positive. I don’t know about you, but neither of those seem like good options, but what should we do?
I tell people all the time, this is an opportunity for integration. Don’t throw out your experience for there is truth in it. Don’t throw out your core belief in God for it is true. Instead integrate your experience with the Bible and come out with a new belief that is true! Here’s a simple (but not easy) four step process:
- Identify what is troubling you and why. That is to say, identify the specific belief that is in conflict with your experience.
- Share your struggle with an expert. Don’t struggle alone—you need someone around you. But, you wouldn’t go to a doctor for advice on how to fix your car or to a mechanic for medical advice. Don’t talk to just anybody, talk with someone you respect. Someone with knowledge of the Bible, understands the world, and is spiritually mature.
- Read God’s Word! Go right to the source. Learn all you can from Jesus’ life and teachings. See what God has to say about the world and His values. Ask God for answers.
- Redefine your belief. Don’t pick the experience or belief as ultimately true. Work out a new belief that is biblical and true.
In my case, I didn’t just accept the experience or the belief. I went back to the Scriptures and considered how God views money, who was wealthy in the Bible, who wasn’t, and so on. I sought counsel from people who were wiser than me. Eventually I recognized my belief was flawed and needed to be redefined. I didn’t reject God or my experience, instead I used the situation as a catalyst to understand God better and bring me closer to Him.
So, how about it? Are you struggling with any mission trip dilemmas? Have you in the past? Did you find reconciliation? Or maybe you are ignoring your experience and pretending like it never happened. No matter what the situation, share it here. Post a comment on your dilemma and how you resolved it (if it has been resolved). Allow all of us to benefit from your journey!
Questions for the author? You can contact Tory at 520-404-0841 or firstname.lastname@example.org.