Reflection: Crossing the Deep Blue
In advance of our upcoming Wheels for Kenya Mission Trip, Lee Anne LaPlue reflects on the importance and wonder of international missions. Lee Anne has been involved in international missions for many years, and currently coordinates our Jesus Kids program.
Growing up as a participant in my church’s Girls in Action club, learning about great missionaries like Gladys Aylward, Hudson Taylor, and Jim Elliot who sacrificed everything to bring the good news of Jesus to foreign nations incited within me a belief that the highest calling of a follower of Jesus was to leave one’s county of origin to “be a missionary.” I have since become somewhat disillusioned with this idea—finding that much harm can be done in the name of foreign missions, from the creation of material dependence to the propagation of ethnocentricity to the misuse of assumed spiritual authority. Another aspect of my disillusionment has come with the recognition that local ministry, serving Jesus in our own “Jerusalem,” is just as high of a calling as foreign missions. But now you’re wondering, why, in light of my disillusionment, do I continue to be involved with international disability ministry, planning trips to Africa, especially when there is so much good work to be done at home? It’s a fair question – a good question. What value is there in crossing the deep blue to go on mission trip?
In one of the initial meetings my team of ten had while preparing to go to Nigeria last winter, we began to answer this question together by looking at the story of Peter found in Matthew 14.
The story goes like this:
22 …Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
29 “Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Peter, who is perhaps one of the most relatable characters in the Bible, is a passionate and somewhat impulsive follower of Jesus. But I wonder, what made him leave not only the stability of land, but the ostensible safety of his boat to step out onto the unknown deep blue? Why not stay with his cohort and depend upon his verified boating skills, him being a fisherman and all?
In what seems to be a moment of wild impulse much like his initial introduction to Jesus, Peter steps out of the comfort of his boat and onto the waves simply because he saw Jesus and heard him say, “Come.” And there on those rocky waters, in the matter of minutes, Peter experiences expedited growth in faith as his eyes wander, his mind doubts, his heart fears, and Jesus saves. The result of Peter’s impulse to follow Jesus across the water is that he and his friends realize anew their own weakness and dependence on Jesus, who truly is “the Son of God.” :: and this is eternal life, that they might know You.::
So what is the value of leaving the comfort and safety of home in pursuit of Jesus? Perhaps as we do so, He will also grant us expedited faith-growth, that we might step into the eternal life that He offers us. But there is a caveat: if Jesus is not the one beckoning us to come, it would be beyond foolish to take a step like Peter’s. If He has not specifically called me to the other side, and shown himself to be part of the journey, such a step is not advisable, no matter how adventurous, fun, or heroic the act may seem.
When it comes to the question of whether to go over the seas on a mission trip, I can answer for no one else whether they ought or ought not proceed. But this is my prayer: whenever we hear Jesus beckoning us to “Come,” whether that is to the slums of Nairobi, Kenya or to the unknown terrain of our not-so-normal-neighbor’s-house, may we have the courage and zeal to jump at the opportunity to join Jesus out on the waves.