Baltimore Reflections: cleaning dumpsters at the school

        Working in the school, we spent our days: moving furniture, cleaning up trash, pulling nails, and building a few shelves.  Our joy was to serve.  There were numerous displays of the love of Christ from our students to that school, perhaps the most humbling one for me was the rearrangement of trash dumpsters.  You see, when people hire contractors, it is much like hiring a bull to build a china cabinet.  They will certainly get the job done, and they’ll do it well, but what they deem inconsequential may be disregarded.  Such was our experience with the dumpsters.  There were three dumpsters outside.  Red for steel, blue for recycle, and green for all other trash.  As the summer had progressed, the workers that were hired and volunteered at the school simply used whatever was convenient for trash.  So we were given the task of pulling trash out of the red and blue dumpsters and putting it in the green one. 

            My beloved brother Jeff gave me this assignment to move trash.  At that moment, a thousand excuses shot through my mind, but Christ would not let me speak any of them.  You see, Jeff gave me the assignment in front of my students and I remembered something I was told when I objected to a similar request as a teenager,

 “Christ left heaven to be born in a stable, walked on this wretched earth, touched lepers and dying people all the time, and then died on a cross: and you can’t clean up trash for a few hours?”  -my youth pastor

 So, my objections were instantaneously removed.  (Thanks to the youth pastor that told me that… I can’t remember which one it was, but clearly you made an impression.)

             I chose one of the hardest working students I know to work on it with me (pretty much all my students are hard working so this was easy).  We tried to smash down the trash in the green one first.  While we were smashing, another few members of our crew (there were 10 of us) walked out of the building with a trash can that had been filled with rocks, soured milk (not in a container), and some other food that had obviously been sitting in a hot building for a few months.  They struggled to lift it up over their heads and pour it into the dumpster.  The smell struck me first.  Have you ever smelled something so noxious that you nearly fall over?  This was worse…  It was as if we were standing over a sewage outlet.  But we persisted.

             Having firmly compacted the green dumpster as best we could, we moved to the red one to remove all non-steel items.  The student (who will remain nameless) climbed into the dumpster without hesitation leaving me on the ground to carry trash from one container to another.  I remember being struck by his immediate humility.  He had no thought to his pride or sanitation.  He merely dove into the task of cleaning trash.  As he cleaned, he would pick trash out and pass it to me to put into the other dumpster.  We removed rotten food, broken plastic items, bits of wood, waste bags, and even toilet waste.  Smells, heat, and the shear volume of trash were overwhelming.  I felt sick several times.  Then I realized something, my student, who was working so hard in the dumpster, had not said one word in complaint.  He was even taking the worst trash and was throwing it from one dumpster to the other himself in order to spare me the smells and disgust. 

            My young student had showed me Christ (it’s always a humbling experience when your students give you grace you don’t deserve).  You see, Christ comes into our lives in the same manner.  He doesn’t complain about you or how much you’ve messed everything up or what smells He encounters.  He merely dives in and gets to work.  Occasionally He hands us some trash to dispose of properly, but He keeps the worst for Himself to remove.  Christ takes the waste that we have allowed to rot inside us and removes it.  He includes us in His work of sanctification as we pursue holiness and righteousness in Him and through Him.  Occasionally we smell something of ourselves that overwhelms our senses.  These are the times that drive us to our knees in repentance from our pride.  Then, He disposes of it for us.  These are the times of victory we reach during our spiritual journey. 

              There are countless stories from the week of work at the school.  I watched our students live out Christ’s love for people who will most likely forget they were there.  I worked with them moving furniture, cleaning trash, and weeding and planting gardens.  I saw the resurrection power of Christ move into a culture that has largely been forgotten by this world and work to display a beautiful, humbling love that will remain working power long after we are forgotten.  Praise Jesus, may His glory grow through the work of Valley Baptist Churchand FBC Brazoria.

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Baltimore Reflections: Day 2 and 3

Our thirty hour bus ride to Baltimore suddenly met a slight extension. We left Friday and it was 1am on Sunday when the bus broke down one and a half hours from the church. I looked out the window and realized that we were on 495 just north of Silver Springs. This meant that we broke down in the only place where it would be difficult to get help. Literally, thirty minutes down the road either way we could get help quicker. So we called people and waited… and waited… and waited…
Most people don’t realize how organized I am. I don’t often appear organized, but most of the time I have all the details in my brain or on paper filed in a specific order. My good friend Mike Rowell put it best a few years ago, “John, you’re way too high strung. Don’t worry… you don’t have to have everything figured out… it’ll all work out.” Ever since he said that to me, I have tried very hard to trust my Messiah to take care of my needs. So knowing that about me, you can understand my feelings when a bus I am on with 56 other people breaks down and the bus company did not have the wherewithal to have a back up plan. I was a little more than frustrated to say the least.
The Bus driver was great! He worked tirelessly to get us a replacement bus. It just took him 7 hours to do it. At 5:30am I called the church. Jeff rallied the troops and had nine cars coming to pick us up at 6:30am. Fortunately, they didn’t have to make the trek. The saints at Valley woke up and prayed, shortly after 6am the bus company had finally found someone who would come get us. Stressed, irritated, and anxious to get off the bus, we loaded the replacement bus and headed toward Valley. Remarkably, our students did not complain and were in high spirits (Jesus has truly worked in the heart of our students! They are incredible!) The new driver did not know the way and began to take us through down town Baltimore adding another one and a half hours to our trip! I moved to the front of the bus and directed him to the church.
When we arrived, we unloaded, I hugged my family, we set up our beds, we worshiped God for a safe journey, and went to work preparing for the week. I felt like God had finished with me that morning, but God seldom finishes the lessons in this life so soon. I was frustrated and thought I was doing a great job hiding it when a young student said to me, “Who are we to think that we can go on mission with Christ and not suffer something. This is going to be a great trip!” My heart was struck with my own arrogance. The voice of a young boy spoke wisdom into my soul and knocked me off my pedestal of self righteousness. Not once had I stopped to consider that this may be a blessing. Looking back I can remember the brothers and sisters saying things like, “God has reason for us to be stopped,” “perhaps he is saving us from disaster,” “I guess the church needed more time to get ready for us,” “God is good, He let us break down in 68 degree weather.” My people understood suffering as sharing in Christ when I did not. I understood this minor trial as the bus company’s lack of preparation. My perspective needed to change. The minor amounts of suffering we participate in are given to us to enjoy Christ!
Just a note, I am in no way categorizing sitting on a comfortable bus on the sit of the road for 7 hours with the suffering of our brother Christians in other countries. For that matter, I am not equating it with the true suffering in our own country… we did not suffer, we waited. I am merely pointing out that God is teaching me to enjoy Him and trust Him rather than myself and my own comfort.
More to come later.