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On Faith: Finding purpose in the mission

"You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven." Matthew 5:14-16 14

Last week, the United Church of Two Harbors sent a mission team to the Spirit Lake Nation Reservation in North Dakota. Our assignment was to build a multi-level handicapped access wheelchair ramp. I want you to know that we are definitely not professional (or even amateur) handicapped ramp builders, and yet, that was our assignment.

The weather we experienced this past week was definitely a metaphor for how I experienced God during this mission experience.

As we made our way to the Spirit Lake Ministry Center, near Devil's Lake, it became colder and blusterier and eventually we were riding through snow squalls. When we got to the Center we were shown our sleeping quarters, which were cold and not exactly 5 star accommodations. As a matter of fact, due to the early extreme cold, the bath house was already winterized and was not usable. You can draw your own conclusions.

Being the troopers we were, we got up Monday morning, had a hearty breakfast, learned the motto of the week was 'flexibility, flexibility, flexibility." We drove to our work site and discovered we were locked out, so back to the ministry center we went. It was our first of many lessons in flexibility.

Later that day, we were able to gain access to "Big Al's" home and we got our assignment: Deconstruct the current stairs and deck, then build a ramp, and not just any ramp — a multi-switch back ramp to accommodate a 6.5-foot, nearly 300-pound man.

It was cold and windy, we hadn't slept well, our bathroom accommodations were nonexistent and we didn't know what we were doing. I thought to myself, where was the blueprint, the step-by-step color coded spreadsheet that would show us how to do this impossible project? Where were the instructions, the experts, the people to teach us!

There may have been a discouraging word or two or three being uttered amongst the group. I started having dark thoughts. Why did I think this was a good idea? I knew that God was leading us on this mission experience and yet how could I have read God's intentions so wrong? This was a disaster! We needed someone to tell us exactly what to do!

Monday night was a better sleeping night, at least for the girls. We piled spare mattresses on our beds and that made a world of difference. Tuesday was still cold and windy, but not quite as bad. We started to get an awkward rhythm.

Luckily, there were a few in the group who were good at math and knew their way around power tools. Oh sure, there was still some consternation, but we were making headway and the weather had mellowed a bit.

Then Wednesday dawned beautiful. We were really making progress. The ramp was coming together. It was then where I most certainly experienced God as I heard our two 13-year-old boys having this conversation:

Boy 1 to Boy 2: "Grab a screw-gun and get to work."

Boy 2: "But I'm not any good at that."

Boy 1: "I don't care. Do it anyway."

When I heard that exchange, I had a "I could have had a V8," head-thump moment. It was like I heard God saying to me: "I beg your pardon? I never promised you a rose garden. Quit your bellyaching, grab a screwdriver and get going. We don't have all day."

God sent us to the Spirit Lake Nation — not to be the most perfect ramp builders ever created. God sent us there to be the hands and feet of Jesus, which meant we were sent there to build a ramp for Al.

We started out — like the weather — raw, cold, we didn't feel very capable and there was a lot of turmoil. Then as the week went on, the weather improved and so did our confidence and our trust in God's plan. As the sun shined and the temps rose, so did our sense of teamwork.

By Thursday morning, we were practically skipping up and down that amazingly sturdy ramp. We were hugging and high fiving and singing camp songs. We actually finished the ramp a half-day early!

I know that God had a plan all along — that this mission experience was a process and what became abundantly clear was that I needed to get out of the way and let God lead.

We never met Al, and I'm glad that we didn't. We weren't there to build up our confidence and gain Al's appreciation for our efforts. We were there to perform good works in order to glorify God in heaven.

Praise be to God!

"On Faith" is a weekly column in the News-Chronicle written by area religious leaders.