Each bead is a treasure, a moment, a memory, of pure joy.
Every now and then I stop to count them, and as the faces flash before my eyes and my body warms all over at the thrill of a remembered embrace, I feel like my heart will burst for longing.
Many, many of those golden beads were forged on the "mission field," by the aquamarine waters of San Rafael beach, worshipping God under a canopy of palms and stars, weaving through a Batey to find one special child, bumping in a bus and singing so loud it hurts.
There are those who would question the validity of short-term mission work.
Maybe it is true that I am not as committed as those who go and live immersed in the mission field.
Maybe it is true that my knowledge of culture would fill a teacup.
Maybe it is true that I am wasting funds that could go to people more equipped than I.
I just can't convince my heart that the work that is being done is useless.
You see, I really don't feel like I'm doing anything. I don't feel like I am a missionary. As a matter of fact, I feel like my heart is the mission field. When I am with the poor, the hungry, the helpless, they speak over my heart a truth that cuts through the hideous web of lies that keeps me from seeing myself as I truly am and God as He truly is. The poor are ministering to me. The gifts I take are earthly, temporal...good for a short time. But the gifts they have given me will last forever. Could the purpose of my week-long visits be for me to receive with grace the gifts the poor have to offer? Is it for me to remind them that they play a valuable role in this world? For me to let them know that I need them desperately and that my life has been forever impacted by their love?
They give me pure joy.
They show me pure, undefiled faith.
They show me unfailing generosity...truly cheerful giving not bound by a "tenth."
And oh, they show me love.
Honestly, it would cost me nothing to sell everything I have, pack up our family, and plant myself in San Pedro de Macoris or Mathare Valley or Cochobamba or Butare. I want it. I ache for it. I dream about the poor, think about the poor, all the time. I know hardship and hurt and want and suffering would follow such a decision. I'm not saying it is an easy choice.
For me, the harder thing is staying put. It is learning to bloom where I am planted. It is being thousands of miles away from a boy that is as surely my son as if he had been born to me. It is missing the smiles and hugs of friends and the satisfaction of meeting a true need.
It is harder to me to be here, feeding those who are full and teaching those who already know, being rejected over and over as I speak up for the suffering. Is it perhaps my mission field to be right where I am, reminding those who have of what they lack? To, through my own struggles, share the gifts of the poor with the rich? To be sometimes that "voice of one crying in the wilderness"?
I may not be a missionary, although I've heard it cliched that everyone is a missionary and everywhere is a mission field. But do you know what I am?
I am a disciple. A disciple is called to follow Jesus and to ultimately feel the heart of Christ beating in His chest, the mind of Christ within fueling his energies, and the life of Christ making him more new day by day. A disciple is called to spend His life pursuing heavenly treasure, and the only thing I know that lasts forever on this earth is people. So I am building relationships. I am pouring my life and love into vessels that are bound for heaven. Those vessels are scattered over the far reaches of this planet, from a Nairobi slum to an Ecuadorian jungle, to a Dominican beach paradise. I am emptying myself out in front of a group of American teenagers at school and congregartions of middle class Baptists like me. All these relationships are dear and important and valuable. And no matter how much I long for it, all the people I love will never all be together on this planet. But one day we will be sitting around a big table together where none of us will be encumbered with riches or fettered by poverty. We will laugh and dance and sing for joy together, me and all my golden beads. We will know that throughout our lives we were strung together by the love of Jesus Christ.
My necklace and yours will be different. He who is crafting each of ours is a master artisan. Who are we to question how He chooses to work? But I do know that I will be very sad for you if there are only a few beads on your necklace, if you don't know and love each bead, if you don't hold it between your fingers sometimes and wonder how on earth you would have lived without such a person or such a memory in your life.