Dave: At 40 years of age, I finally did it. I went on a mission trip. I say “finally” because I’d learned something about myself 16 years ago, during our honeymoon. I’d discovered that I do not enjoy travelling!
I didn’t enjoy the foreign land, the foreign language, the foreign food, the foreign climate… I didn’t enjoy being a foreigner! But 16 years later, it was time, and my wife Jacinda and I joined the Nicaragua GO trip in March.
My schooling, training, and experience is in theology, apologetics, and evangelism. My wife is the wiser and gentler soul behind all my bluster, but inexperienced with direct one-on-one evangelism. The stage for angst was set. My inhibitions and discomfort about travel were at play along with my wife’s anxiousness and fear around evangelism.
As a part of team building and training, GO Teams participate in daily group devotionals. For my turn to prepare the devotional, I was given the topic of “lament.” I couldn’t believe it. All my theological studies and my reading had not prepared me for this topic. Grumbling under my breath, I got to work in my typical style, digging into academic resources.
My devotional was not very good. Everyone was gracious, and the team did more to educate me on the spiritual depths of Biblical lament than I did them. My studies did yield two important learnings, however:
1) Strictly speaking, lament is not mourning and grief, but a subset. Specifically, it’s the part of mourning and grief when we emotionally explode and demand God to intervene. The more I understood this, the more I felt uncomfortable with it. Who are we to make demands of God? Surely this is an activity unbecoming for a person of faith, isn’t it?
2) Scripture is chock full of prayers of lament… including from the lips of Jesus Himself.
The time for mission was upon us. That evening, we were to visit a hospital for the first time and go room by room. Not for lack of preparation, Jacinda was a bit nervous and I was feeling ineffective from my poor performance in leading morning devotions.
We went through the Esperanza magazine together, page by page, and discussed which psalms might be particularly helpful in our hospital rounds. As we were running out of time, we began to rush through the final pages in the magazine. We gave Psalm 139 very little attention. Besides, we already knew that Psalm really well. Off to the hospital we went.
Jacinda: It just made sense that Dave and I [parents of six] would go to the children's wing. That put me at ease a little, because I know kids are pretty open to whoever wants to give them attention.
Each family we visited was very open to whatever we were there for. We would pray with them, leave them an Esperanza magazine or the kids’ Spark magazine, and they definitely liked that.
Our last patient was a young mom, maybe 16 or 17. Her eyes were darting across the room, and you could tell she was distraught. Her mom was off to the side, holding a newborn baby.
When we asked why she was in the hospital, and if there was something specific we could pray for, she told us her baby had pneumonia. But we could tell there was something more she wanted to say. I was hoping I was doing the right thing by encouraging the conversation.
That’s when she told us there was another twin that she had just lost. And then the lights came on. I could see it in the look on Dave’s face—he knew why we were there.
Dave: She was desperate for the truth. She was desperate for hope. Immediately, the Holy Spirit pressed on my heart to flip to Psalm 139 in the Esperanza magazine and offer her some truth from God’s Word. The child she felt was lost forever, was not lost forever. What an impact that had.
We learned his name: Michael. We demonstrated that God’s love for Michael was identical to His love for David found in that Psalm. Hope was beginning to grow in her heart again, right in front of our eyes. Her mother was passionately and approvingly nodding the whole time.
Then it hit me. Now that God’s Word had established some truth and given her hope, she was ready to take the step before her. Lament. I couldn’t believe it. All my preparation for the lament devotional, all the learning and wisdom from the group that morning, crystallized in that moment.
With confidence, we taught her about lament. We gave her permission to cry out to God, and showed her examples within the Psalms themselves—thanks to the earlier preparation we had done! We prepared her to read the Gospel of John upon our departure and we prayed with her and her mother. Praise God!
After the bus ride back to our hotel, Jacinda and I sat in our room and looked at each other. Then the silence broke. After a deep breath and a growing smile on both of our faces, there was only one reaction left for us. We began to laugh! We are changed now—forever.