She Was Scared of Mexico. So She Went to Mexico.
Updated: Jul 20, 2020
I have a friend who left their church because their preacher complained about them in a blog.
I don’t blame them.
But, as a preacher, I get it.
All preachers complain. And some of them do it via WordPress and Twitter.
It’s not healthy. It accomplishes nothing.
But it probably feels good.
Today I want to do the opposite. I want to brag about one of my church family members.
One of the most hectic times in a preacher’s life is after a worship gathering (the phrase I use to replace church service). Sometimes people come up to compliment you. Other times they come to criticize you. And on occasions they do a little of both.
In 2015 I organized an all-church mission trip. Big international service trips are usually planned for the teenagers, and only the teenagers. I wanted to break this idea. So our trip to Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico, was one for everyone.
We had young children going. And we also had grandparents signed up. And I think that our oldest church members were more excited than anyone else.
One of the oldest people that signed up for our trip, I’ll call her Amy (as in Amazing Amy) approached me after service last week to 1. make my day, and 2. inspire this blog post. I don’t think she knew that her actions would prompt either of these reactions, though. She just wanted to write me a check.
After putting her check in my pocket, I told Amy that I was really excited for her to come with her two grandchildren. The trip’s success, I said, was going to be measured by its ability to grow and foster multi-generational relationships. I told her the trip was designed for people like her. And by locking down her spot, Amy showed me that we were headed in the right direction.
Then she tossed a slow, twelve-to-six curve.
She told me she was scared.
That a big part of her was not wanting to go.
That the idea of Mexico wasn’t sitting right with her.
I nodded, silently. I wondered where she was going. I made sure I still had her payment in my pocket.
But she continued, ‘and that’s the biggest reason why I need to go,’ she said.
What makes Amy’s response so great was that she gets it. Everything that I’ve preached from the pulpit, everything I’ve said in the hallways, Amy has it.
“THAT’S THE BIGGEST REASON WHY I NEED TO GO”
Last month I taught a lesson to Amy’s grandchildren at a youth gathering. I talked about a story that I learned from Rodney Stark’s The Rise of Christianity.
In one of the first chapters, Stark (a former professor at the U of Dub) writes that Christianity experienced one of its biggest seasons of growth during the Antonine Plague—two epidemics that nearly destroyed the Roman Empire in the second Century.
Believed now to have been smallpox, many historians believe that half of the population of the empire was killed. That it was the most deadly epidemic in history when it occurred. Five million Romans died.
And what happened to Christianity?
Stark tells the story of Galen, one of the most famous doctors in history (and also an alter-ego of Jean-Luc Picard). Galen was one of the first doctors to study the insides of bodies and had theories that were trusted for over 1,300 years. He was a father of psychotherapy in a time in which doctors still believed that your health could be affected by the amount of ‘bad blood’ inside of you.
Galen was the most important doctor in the Roman Empire. He lived in Rome and took copious amounts of notes from his studies. The notes are still studied today.
But when the epidemics hit, Galen bailed.
He fled to the countryside.
Galen’s most unproductive time (proven from his lack of notes and writings) was during the two periods in which smallpox struck Rome. Not only did he not want to treat the sick, he didn’t want to be anywhere around the disease.
The greatest doctor in the world ran away from the greatest threat in the world.
And what did the Christians do?
They ran towards it.
Stark notes that many Christians did not leave the cities, the places hardest hit with disease. And instead of shutting themselves inside (or abandoning their families), they cared for their neighbors. They opened their doors when most others were shutting theirs.
And they nursed the sick.
Then something amazing happened. People survived.
The single most effective treatment for the diseases, Stark writes, was simple nursing—providing water, cleaning sheets and changing cloths. Sanitary care boosted survival rates by fifty-percent!
And you can guess what happened when people survived—their family is gone, the doctors have fled, but the Christians are still there. They have a new family. And a heavenly Doctor.
The Christians weren’t trained like Galen. And they weren’t as educated. But they didn’t run away when things got scary.
‘Christianity grew because followers of Jesus ran towards danger, not from it,’ I told my students.
“SHE KNOWS WHAT GOD IS ASKING HER TO DO, AND SHE’S DOING IT. EVEN IF OTHER PEOPLE WON’T.”
For this reason, I told them, I was certain that we needed to go to Mexico. Some churches had stopped visiting Piedras Negras because other places in the country had become dangerous.
It was as if someone wouldn’t visit Los Angeles because of violence in Detroit.
Without condescending others in our church family, I challenged the students in my church to do something that the world saw as foolish. Run towards the danger.
Don’t be a Galen.
But I was never sure if they heard me.
Talking with Amy on Sunday was one of the most encouraging after-church conversations I’ve ever had. Sure, she proved that people are listening to my lessons. And of course it’s nice to know that people want to go on a trip I’m organizing.
But the most encouraging thing is that Amy is doing something because it scares her. She knows what God is asking her to do, and she’s doing it. Even if other people won’t.
Did I mention that she’s a grandmother?
I hope I’m that cool when I’m her age.