Monday, July 9, 2012

Latvia Update: Sharing and Preparing

Riga, the capital of Latvia
Saying goodbye is hard. The goodbye is what makes these camps so difficult. We have fallen in love with the Latvian students, and now we are unsure if we'll see some of them ever again. On Sunday, both of our teams gathered at the local churches we partnered with--Aizpute and Ventspils--and shared in the church services about our camp experience. These Latvian churches are fairly conservative--both in demeanor and theology--but particularly gracious in their love for their American guests and partners in the Gospel.

In Acts 20, Paul must say goodbye to the Ephesian elders as he departs on his final journey that would eventually end in his imprisonment and execution in Rome. This is what he tells them as he departs:
Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.... Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance  among all those who are sanctified.
He's left it all on the playing field. He's poured out his entire life for these people, making sure that they have clearly experienced the good news of Jesus Christ. We hoped to follow in his example. The goodbyes were tear-filled and bittersweet.

The thing about farewells in the kingdom of God is that we never truly have to say goodbye. There is no "goodbye" in the kingdom. There is only "see you later." Even if we never cross paths again in this life, we'll spend eternity catching up on what Jesus was doing in and through us all those years. I know with certainty that four Latvian students--Ana, Emils, Martins, and Agatha--will greet me in heaven. That's a beautiful hope.

The two teams arrived back in Riga and spent the next evening sharing stories of God's faithfulness and  redemptive work. We prayed, we sang, we laughed, we hugged, we cried, we shared. The verse that keeps coming back to my mind is in Romans 15:5-7:

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
The God who gives us endurance and encouragement is allowing us to share our stories with joy, not with competition or comparison. We rejoice with one another, sharing about Christ's transformative work in each of our lives. Today we spent the day in Riga shopping, eating, and relaxing. Tomorrow we head to the Baltic Sea and continue to process what it means to come home.

That's what these next days are for: sharing and preparing. We share what God has done, and prepare for what God will do in this next season. Pray with us, that we would prepare well. We don't want this to just be a missions trip; we want this to be a catalyst for missional living, seeking the kingdom of God in ordinary moments.

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