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Our trip to Birmingham

Central United, Sarnia, is hosting a trip to Birmingham, Alabama to participate in the Joe Rush program of Urban Ministries. There are 12 of us going, 9 from Central and 3 from other congregations. We’ll leave after worship on February 14th and return on February 20th. We’ll be leading worship at Central on February 21st, sharing reflections with the congregation about the trip.

Interestingly, the lectionary gospel reading for that Sunday is Luke’s story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert. It talks about bread and power and religion. I expect we’ll have lots to reflect about in those categories as we travel and work.

In last Sunday’s sermon, I explained why I lead these kinds of trips. Here’s an excerpt:

“A few months ago, when I was planning this year’s mission trip to Alabama, I sent out an invitation to the churches and members of Lambton Presbytery, invited people to participate with us in the trip. I received an email from the Presbytery’s ‘minister to the ministers’ asking me , ‘I was just wondering why you are planning a trip all the way to Alabama when there are mission ministries in Ontario and Canada that would be more contextually relevant to the United Church mission and outreach? Is it a theological preference, or does your church have some sort of partnership with this organization? Just curious as to the rationale behind this trip…’

I have found that an important part of learning to follow Jesus is getting out of the settings that are familiar to us. We need to go someplace different enough from what we’re used to that our assumptions and pre-conceived notions get questioned. We become more open — open to being met by Jesus in a new way. The west end of Birmingham, Alabama is a start.

It has been my experience that people like us go on these mission trips thinking we’re going to help people who have not been as fortunate as we are. We are aware that we lead enormously privileged lives. We have been blessed with a prosperity that is beyond the imagining of most of the people in the world. We think we go on mission trips in order to give a little back, to share ourselves and our gifts. Always, we discover that we are the ones who are helped. We live and work among people who do not have anywhere near the material goods that we have; yet, we discover a depth of faith that is humbling. We experience a level of joy that surprises us. We are met by Jesus in the midst of people we thought we were going to help.

Even more than that happens: God breaks down barriers that we had put up between us and those who are different from us. We realize that God is far bigger, more expansive, than we had known before. We come back changed.