There’s this thing on the ship that people talk about all the time. Or maybe they don’t talk about it enough. It’s a nasty little gut check, a surprise I got this week as posts from DFW, Heathrow and Tenerife filled my newsfeed.
Every day, Mercy Shippers make you fall in love with them and then they leave.
They leave Texas for the ship. They leave the ship to go home, or they leave the ship forever to write the next chapter in their lives. After returning from field service in Haiti, and saying goodbye (or not) to a group of 30 (not 31) people who forced me to come up higher, listen harder, pray deeper and trust God more than I ever have, my heart broke in new and unusual ways.
My gosh, I’ve only known them for eight weeks. Please. But I’ve been skulking around their lives the whole time, asking questions I can’t even believe I ask. Questions that maybe we should ask more often in church, but don’t because we’re too busy, polite or afraid.
“Tell me about your Dad.”
“What’s the Lord saying about that?”
“What’s happening on the boyfriend front?”
I don’t know who gave me permission, maybe I just gave it to myself, but when you ask hard questions, people bristle, they fight, they cry or they breathe a sigh of relief and say, “My God, do you see me in here?”
Jesus sees you in there. It’s his light we’re shining. His is the only one I’ve found that reliably chases out the darkness. There are people sitting next to you right now, whose story would break you in half, if you knew it, but we avoid it because people are messy and loving them is costly.
Especially when they leave.
I’ve decided this is the Lord’s way of teaching me empathy for the crew of the Africa Mercy – people who live, work, eat, cry, pray and laugh together until the day they walk down the gangway in tears or stand atop it in tears, waving. Painful goodbyes are such a regular event on the ship, people say they’re not sure leasing real estate in their hearts is worth it. They know exactly how bereft that land will be when their sweet little squatters are gone.
That’s plainer to me now after a year of Gateways, and in particular this field service in Haiti, where I camped on a bunch of new real estate and let people camp on mine.
One day, when I nearly hurled a garden hoe across a huge weedy field and later sat on a 100-degree rooftop and cried, two different somebodies showed up to remind me that God is working in me too, and if all I can muster is to walk humbly as I grope my way through, well then, they’d happily stand by, praying.
I’d love to say I have a salve for the painful goodbye, but I don’t and frankly I doubt I’m meant to. Maybe a little longing, a little pain is part of the fullness Jesus had in mind when he explained what he was doing here. Remember Jesus didn’t promise us happy, he promised us full, and there is a difference. So if full means missing these faces until I climb the gangway again, I’ll take it.
Ship videographer Josh Callow put it like this in a blog post he called The Pieces of My Scattered Heart, which I beg you to read because it’s his heart laid bare on this topic, in a fearless and magnificent display.
The thing that is so great about Mercy Ships is the ferocity with which we love. These people that travel across the world to work for no pay to serve the poorest of the poor are some of the most selfless folks you’ll ever meet. They dive in head first and love at full speed…
So June 2014 On Boarding – Go dive in and love at full speed. Then pair up in threes as soon as you can.