16 Jan 2015 Servant Teams – Brave New Missionaries
“My perspective got rocked in Portland—by the communities we were working with and the things that they struggled with and went through. Then getting here (to East Africa) it got changed even more!” said 2015 Servant Team member Megan Jackson trying to summarize her experience over the last 6 months. In June she and two other people, Brett Marshall and Ohilda Difo awkwardly gathered in a graveled church parking lot as strangers, unaware how much their lives would become interconnected and changed, but willing to learn and serve together.
From the beginning this was a brave group. The possibility for frustration and conflict were high given the rigorous nature of the Servant Team program, the challenge of fundraising, and the diversity of backgrounds represented by our team members. Yet they forged ahead in the faith that God would guide, provide, and equip them for a life of mission.
That first weekend focused on opening up the doors to relationship – a retreat, the sharing of life stories, long bike rides through outer Southeast Portland, watching a movie, studying the Bible, praying, preparing and eating meals together. Many weeks later Difo said, “This team is pretty perfect. Where I am weak, Megan and Brett are pretty strong, we are quite complimentary.” She went on to identify the strengths of her teammates and express appreciation for the dynamic interplay their differences bring to serving together.
During the following weeks the activities and pace kicked up a notch. The team members were housed with families that are engaged in their communities and sensitive to issues of poverty and the need for training of missional leaders of color. Each week the team processed and wrote reflection papers on theology and community development, guided by various leaders and friends of Lahash. They read and discussed a new book every other week. They worked as interns at Lahash, and Word Made Flesh and volunteered at Rockwood Community Development Corporation supporting a program that serves children of refugees and migrant workers.
This was all designed to disciple the team to better understand and be transformed by God’s heart and mind related to missions. Megan described the training this way, “We started with our idea of God and then from there we built on to other things like social justice, and poverty, and hunger, and cross-cultural ministry. All of that stuff came after. I think that was one of the best things that prepared me for this.”
Brett said, “The training was just amazing. It’s incredibly important to me and I think it’s going to affect everything else I do. It starts off and goes head on into some serious theology and challenges your faith really. And then builds it up and fortifies it and makes it something that can stand up against some of the hardest questions.”
The second half of the experience was re-contextualizing all they had learned in Portland to East Africa. They worked in Tanzania and Uganda, fitting into the ministries led by Lahash’s partners. The Servant Team members played kid games, sorted and filed child sponsorship documentation, served meals, taught Bible lessons, colored dozens of pictures beside vulnerable children, toured family gardens, slept at sponsored children’s homes, and prayed with single moms. “We spent a lot of time with the kids, trying to build a relationship that really reflects who God is,” Brett said.
Speaking about serving kids who are experiencing the painful impacts of poverty Difo said, “You have to learn to trust God because you can’t be the one to make sure the kids are all getting enough food to eat, and an education, that they aren’t being abused or overworked with low wages. You have to take it by faith that God is in the midst of what’s going on and that he is the one here and he is the one who is going to carry it through to completion.”
Megan spoke for whole team when she expressed how vulnerable children can impact one’s personal growth. “The kids are super inspiring. Their stories are something that would absolutely destroy me long before now, but they are still going and they’re absolutely incredible. Even in the mud brick homes with dirt floors and a mattress in one room where maybe four kids sleep and the parents and two other kids sleep on the floor in another room, they are generous to us. They let us have the mattress, they shared all of their food with us, and they just wanted to bless us so much. It was hard to just sit there and accept it.”
Lahash’s partners taught so much about trusting God in mission. Their programs created an experiential training ground for our Servant Team members. Difo affirmed, “It has been super encouraging to me to meet the people who are working with these kids everyday; to see that they are fully devoted to the welfare of the kids, sacrificing and caring for them. And especially to see that God is at the center of all that they do.”
Edwin Angote, Lahash’s East Africa Director and Leisah Otieno, Lahash’s Partner Development Coordinator were also instrumental in shaping and facilitating the experience of our 2015 Servant Team. Each of them took time to train and counsel so that the team was able to process what they were going through together with those who have much more experience in cross-cultural ministry.
As the director of Servant Teams, I have been thrilled to see God use the experience this year in the lives of Brett, Difo and Megan. My hope is that he would invite several people to join us next year. We are seeking an ethnically and socially diverse group of team members committed to sharing God’s love both locally and globally. During the first 4 months, team members will come together in Portland, Oregon. They engage locally in academic and experience-based training in missional theology and community development. During the following 6 months, teams will be sent out globally to serve in hands-on ministry among the poor in East Africa.
If you have a sensitivity to the need for diversity in missional leadership, if you have a desire for theological training for mission work, combined with a practical and active experience, and if you can spend a year to be forever changed, this is the program you should consider.