Monday, November 16, 2015
“The spirit of Christ is the spirit of missions. The nearer we get to Him, the more intensely missionary we become.” ― Henry Martyn
My very first mission trip outside the United States did not originate with any church but with an old classmate from college who was now living and working in Curitiba, Brazil. He was a physicist, but we had been good friends in our college days, and he was delighted to discover I had become a United Methodist minister when we found each other again at a homecoming party in Abilene, Texas, where we went to college. He invited my wife (who also attended the same college) and I to come to Curitiba to do about ten days of mission work in a program his church sponsored in the slums of the city. Turns out his church was the largest Methodist Church in Curitiba which is a city of almost two million people. His church had a program working in the slums, so Karen and I raised the money, got permission and blessings from the church I was serving and flew first to Dallas, then to Sao Paolo (a city of 10 million people), and then another hour and a half flight south to Curitiba deep in the southern part of Brazil. On the way to our lodgings with a member of the church, Karen realized that she had forgotten her hair dryer. Our host said, “No problem” and turned into the parking lot of a large Wal-Mart right there in Curitiba. We had a wonderful time working with church members and children (Karen would pull out a guitar and sing with the kids everywhere we went). The last night was a Sunday, and I was preaching at the church with about 1,000 members in attendance. The bishop of that area of Brazil was also present and I used him in a little skit to illustrate my sermon. He was gracious and very kind. At the end of the evening, without consulting Karen, I gave the church all but $5.00 of the money we had left to use in their program for the slums. The next day we said our good-byes and boarded our flight to Sao Paolo. I wasn’t worried about our lack of money because back in those days (mid 1990’s) the airlines fed you and gave you free sodas, and we were flying right back to our hometown where my son, Keith, would pick us up at the airport. There was however, a very big fly in our (actually my) ointment. It seems that Brazil has an exit fee for everyone flying to another country. In order to get out of the airport in Sao Paolo, we had to come up with $50 each to pay our exit fees. I was sick. I had been too generous in giving to the church, and now it looked like we would be in Sao Paolo for quite some time. We had no money for a hotel or food or even a taxi—and we had no place to go and no way (we had no credit cards, debit cards, checkbook—anything that would help) to get the money for the exit fees. I was going crazy, but Karen was unusually calm. She let me be scared and worry for about an hour and then smiled and took off her hat. She took out a little knife (there was no TSA to take them away back then) and slit open the hat band inside of her hat. She produced a $100 bill, handed it to me, and said, “I thought we might need this, knowing you.” I was too relieved to be angry and so happy that we would not miss our plane and would not have to learn to speak Portuguese. The moral: no matter how much the people you are serving on a mission trip need money, be sure to keep enough to get yourself back home. I’m just sayin’.