Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of the world look strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace.
You may recall the melody of this old and shopworn praise song. I do. While I cannot easily sing it anymore without a slight cringe, if you divorce it from the tune for a moment, the words are right on: In the light of Jesus, the one who gives meaning to everything of the world, the things of the world do look dim by comparison, and yet by His light we better see what is true, good, and beautiful.
If your family is like mine, you are used to a significant measure of peace and prosperity as compared to the rest of the world. For many months, my wife and I have felt that we needed to be awakened --- not only for our sake but for the sake of our children. We assume much, take for granted much. I think and write often about the built environment and marvel at how cities work --- clean water flows via underground pipes and sewage is carried away, electricity is dependable and relatively inexpensive, streets paved an almost entirely without potholes, the grocery store has every food item I could possibly need and more, 95% of us are employed, even the worst schools give the basics and most do much better, and so on. And yet, even marveling at all this, I cannot hold it in my mind for more than a few minutes. Life goes on and I assume much. I'm not confronted everyday with poverty or public infrastructure that is non-existent or substandard.
Late last year we heard of an opportunity to join other students, parents and teachers from Trinity Academy of Raleigh, our children's school, and a local organization called Embrace Uganda, on a two-week missions trip to the village of Kaihura, Uganda. Kaihura is about three hours drive over rough road from Kampala and Entebbe Airport, a small village in the mountains with little electricity, no running water, and no healthcare. Our entire family committed to going. We decided we wanted to share the same experience. We'll be helping with some additional construction at a vocational school there, working with the orphanage, doing soccer and other games, and carrying books to start the village's first library. You can find out more about it here.
As I prayed about going on this trip, I was confronted by a number of issues:
- Fear. What if I or a member of my family had a major health concern while there? I confess this was the largest obstacle for me. We did the prudent thing, making sure we have medical evacuation insurance, but we are a long way from a quality hospital. The "what ifs" are haunting. And yet the bottom line, the thing I return to, is that we are all in good health, have a doctor along on the trip, and have this opportunity to trust God. "[F]or God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control" (2 Ti 1:7). And I know better than to make decisions based on fear (even though I feel it at times). Will I trust God?
- Calling. As we considered whether to go, we all prayed for guidance. And yet what are we looking for? God has rarely hit me over a head with something, and I still cannot say I have a passion for going, but I do have a passion to be changed, to be molded by God into a shape more resembling who He made me to be. I think that's where we all come down, putting ourselves in an uncomfortable place so God can use us. But shouldn't I feel more passion for this mission?
- Selfishness. Every Summer our family takes a long two-week vacation. I love these times. I love being together, even if the biggest arguments I have had with my children come on vacation. We have years of shared memories from these trips. This Summer we will not do that, or, at least we will not do it alone. I have to share my kids with many other people. I'll miss this. I also miss home, familiar places and things, my books, my music, my church, my friends, and good restaurants. And yet it's only two weeks, right? All of this tells me how self-centered I have become, how used to having things my way.
You know, I don't want to leave home. I don't want to do without a shower and toilet using a latrine, carrying water from a well and bathing from a bucket, interacting daily with tons of people, a stranger in a strange land. I'm just being honest. But I do want to change. I'm praying that song --- that as I look to Jesus the things I love too much in this world will grow dimmer, that I'll see through them to what matters. Pray for our preparation. Pray for our safety. But most of all, pray that God would transform us and conform us to the image of His Son.