I like to pack light. During travels at home and abroad over the last 5 years, I can recall only a couple times when I've actually checked a bag. Carrying on saves time at baggage claim, the risk of lost or delayed luggage, and these days money, too. Last week, my son and I took an 8-day trip to minister in Brazil and we carried on. As a result, I only had room for 1 pair of shoes, which I wore on.
I love my Timberland hiking boots. Though getting worn out after trips to places like Tunisia, Morocco, Bosnia, Egypt and Jordan the past few years (not to mention hiking the Peaks of Otter and mowing my own lawn), they're quite versatile, clean up nicely and work with jeans, shorts, and dress pants. So they were the natural choice for our Brazil trip. Indeed, I wore them on the plane, took them off at several security check points (sorry TSA agents), wore them to teach 2 days at a theological seminary in Porto Alegre, to preach in 2 churches, and to visit people in the favela (slum) communities of Vila Nova, Vila Safira, and Capoa Canoa.
While visiting in the favelas, my boots got dirty from the dusty roads, from the unsanitary paths walked, and, yes, from stepping in horse poop. At one point, I thought I had stepped on a nail as I felt the sharp point just slightly penetrate the sole of my Timberlands.
Once, I came from a favela to church and needed to clean up my shoes before entering the church facility to preach that night.
As I reflected on where my boots took me last week in southern Brazil, two thoughts have stayed with me.
1. Isaiah's declaration: "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, 'Your God reigns'" (Is. 52:17; see also Rom. 10:14-15). Where our feet (enclosed in shoes) take us, we proclaim the Gospel--God's peace, healing, and salvation. Yet, our feet can only take us to the place where our heart is burdened to go. Where is our heart (and our feet) leading us today in the mission of God?
2. I'm reminded of the integrity of Jesus' ministry. I don't think Jesus got dressed up to teach in the synagogue after a day of announcing good news to the poor, freedom to captives, and God's jubilee (Luke 4:18-19). I think Jesus' clothes and sandals smelled like the places he had been teaching that day and the Gospel message proclaimed in the synagogue was the same that was related in the communities of the poor (economically and spiritually). In short, Jesus was obedient to carry out the mission of God in acceptable spiritual locations and everywhere else, too.
I'm glad I didn't take 2 pair of shoes or I might have missed this lesson.
In a couple of days, I'll be headed to the country of Brazil for the third time since 2008. Though I'm not looking forward to trading a week of Virginia summer for southern Brazilian winter, at least a few things excite me about the trip.
I'm encouraged to partner with dear friends at Living Bread Ministries, which focuses on planting churches among the poorest of the poor in Brazil and Latin America. As LBM is a ministry committed to holistic mission, I look forward to a week of communicating the good news of Jesus with our words and also ministering to real human needs through food and clothes distribution as we serve alongside the work of seven new church plants in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. It will be a blessing to worship with some of these churches and even encourage them through preaching God's Word.
What excites me even more, is that the "we" on this trip includes my 7 year old son Brennan. Though he was born in North Africa, Brennan has not traveled outside of the USA since he was 3. My prayer is that as we minister in southern Brazil, that Brennan's vision for the world would grow and he would begin to develop an idea of his role in the mission of God (Gen. 12:1-3).
Finally, I look forward to teaching 2 times at the Baptist Seminary of Rio Grade do Sul on intercultural ministry and a survey of Brazilian mission efforts around the world. A few months back, I finished up a PhD dissertation entitled, "Brazilian Evangelical Missions in the Arab World: History, Culture, Practice, and Theology." It will be a blessing to encourage these Brazilian seminary students through what other Brazilians are doing around the world in mission.
If you're reading this, please take a moment now to pray for our trip and that God will use it to glory His name among the nations.