D.L. Mayfield

living in the upside-down kingdom

mission trip

“But I want to go to jail,” he said, not even for one second caring how crazy he sounded. “I want to be persecuted for my faith. I want to be like all of those people in the Bible--Paul, and . . . and all the others.”I looked at him, trying hard to appear composed but allowing my eyes to open wide, mentally imagining them to protrude an inch from my face. It would all be so funny if we weren’t in the middle of Turkey, on a mission trip composed primarily of middle-aged women who were more interested in the spice bazaars than proselytizing. The team was crashed in various rooms of the small and quiet hotel, sweating on ornate and uncomfortable couches, recuperating. I had found myself in a conflict of wills with the team leader: he, the only man on the trip, filled with visions of grandeur; me, barely in my 20s, bewildered at my own unwavering convictions on this point. I said it slowly, emphasizing his altered mental state: “I’m not leaving this room until you promise not to pass out the Bibles”.

“But I want to do something!” He sounded like he was pleading with someone, his ambitions and insecurities sweating out of him, all the slights of the pastoral life catching up to him at the same time. He was only a couple of years older than I, freckled and determined for something big to happen. His wife stood next to him, trying to be supportive but failing just a little. My sister, who had agreed somewhat warily to come along on the trip with me, stood next to me in solidarity, blocking the door. We were all feeling pretty insignificant, for different reasons.

There were the gypsy children, coming up to your tables while you ate your kebab, putting their tiny brown hands under your nose for a few small coins, saying the same words that you don't understand over and over again. There were the crowds of people milling about their everyday life, not sensing your urgency or your desire to help. There was the heat, making everybody listless and angry, the flaws in their plans becoming glaring. There was also the church, the wonderful pastor with his unmovable eyes and welcoming building, the smattering of the dedicated followers. There were the women who loved Jesus, even though it meant losing everything else in their lives. There was you, not understanding how you fit into anything in this situation, but hoping that there would be some redemption somewhere in all of this.

All four of us stood that room, all of us shocked by our convictions making themselves known: on wanting to do something big for Jesus, on our fierce desires to see the shepherd and the sheep of the small church protected. We would stay in that room until he promised me, promised the room, not to pass out the box of Turkish Bibles we had brought. And finally, deflated, we went to sleep.

In the morning, we would go back to wandering the streets with the rest of the team, ushering the women around as they looked for yellow saffron and cold diet cokes. And we were all starting to realize that proclaiming the gospel is much more difficult than any of us would like to admit.

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