Where I learned that I was not the mission-machine I thought I was. Mardi Gras took me to lunch.
When was the last time you were in a situation where you were petrified with fear?
Where you were literally humiliated to the point you couldn’t even raise your head?
Where you stammered through simple sentences and went blank from simple questions?
Well, that pretty much sums up my five day missions trip to Mardi Gras.
I’m about 48 hours out from the trip, which is enough time for this slow thinker to congeal his thoughts and share them with you.
One thing I should point out: This mission trip challenged lots of my beliefs and made the intangible very tangible.
For example, I always encouraged others to move out of their comfort zone. It wasn’t until I went to Mardi Gras, however, to share Christ on the streets that I actually took a deep slug from this well. Trust me, it overpowered me.
Another thing you need to know: I could not have done this without your prayers and support. You guys were in my head the whole time–your encouragement and what I’d share with you when I got back.
You helped me reach the finish line. And for that I am greatly indebted to you. Now, let me share with you the things I learned.
1. Take yourself out of your element
Okay. To me going to New Orleans during Mardi Gras to learn how to street preach, witness one-on-one, hand out tracks and perform like a clown was down-right bizarre. This introvert in a million years would never dream of preaching on his own street…let alone one in New Orleans. But standing on the curb on Royal street reading Romans 8 while people walked by and laughed or heckled is an experience few people ever know. I hated every minute of it. But I did it. And I own that experience forever.
2. Accept failure
Now, this is how cocky I can be: I walked into this mission trip thinking I was going to totally rock at street preaching and one-on-one evangelism. Why not? I practically memorized Ray Comfort’s classic sermon. I wrote posts flaunting tips on witnessing. The truth is, I flopped. In fact, I was mortified as I stuttered and shook on the curb and so petrified by the thought of engaging strangers–often morbidly drunk and wooly mouthed– in conversation that I essentially refused to do it. The only reason I engaged one person over 5 days was because a good friend threw me at her.
“But just about everyone who does these things for the first time are this bad. You’ll get better with practice and time,” I hear you saying. Let me explain why this is not true in this case.
3. Know yourself
I walked away from each failure with my head hung low. But don’t feel sorry for me. This is what I realized: God didn’t design me to be a street preacher or evangelist. So, I’m not going to kid myself and say with enough practice I can one day be a champion curb stomper. I wasn’t built for that. I already knew this. And it became more apparent as the weekend bore along. The takeaway? Knowing this will keep me from chasing unprofitable rabbit trails.
4 . Humble yourself
The opposite of failure is success. And I saw plenty of that over these five days. I saw plenty of veterans preach on the street with a seamless, smooth style. I also saw first-timers effortlessly weasel their way into deep theological conversations with complete strangers. There was no shortage of talent in this pool, that’s for sure. And I have no doubt in my mind–if ranked–I’d fall in the bottom one percent. But I’m okay with that. I’ve sincerely been broken of my pride over this. But I know where I need to concentrate: On my strengths.
5. Honor those whom are different from you
Crammed into a chartered bus–and then a children’s nursery for a bedroom–with so many men of different ages and backgrounds makes for interesting encounters. I have to confess: I caught myself too many times snubbing my nose at men who were different from me. Men who didn’t read their Bibles enough. Men who ate too much. Who snored. Who smoked. Who talked to loud. Or never stopped talking. Who looked odd. Or dressed odd. Men who drove trucks or repaired telephone lines.
Prejudice is disgusting. And can honestly deform your character and rob you of beautiful friends and remarkable experiences. This couldn’t have been more true on this trip. I met great, peculiar people and enjoyed some of the best conversations of my life.
6. Journal like a mad man
I would be a fool if I walked away from this weekend without learning the things I learned above. The one thing that helped me to process all the events was to keep a journal. And to write in it often. I also tried to record my days on Twitter. Scrolling through my diary and tweets was an interesting exercise in reliving the past five days. And in both of these mediums I tried to record more than just what I was doing. I tried to document my feelings and reactions. This discipline helped me to take my experience to another level. Let me show you what I mean.
7. Subdue your inner critic
I’m a natural born critic. So subduing the critic in me doesn’t come easy. Out of balance critics can damage people and isolate themselves. And I started to get that way. That’s why I constantly had to remind myself that I signed up to experience this mission trip. Not critique it. I paid to be there. And I needed to keep my comments to myself. Yet, at the end of the trip, the organizers required us to take evaluations. I shared my thoughts in a tempered spirit. But I didn’t stop there.
8. Search for a deeper meaning
Raw critics do nothing but complain. They merely make a list of problems and neglect the solutions. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to take it to another step. Of course, this took some time. And a few careful, thought-provoking conversations. After this I walked away enriched seeing the entire experience in a different light.
9. Confess you are a whiner
This mission trip to Mardi Gras confirmed what I already suspected: I am a world-class whiner. May not be a deep meaning to you, but I knew this is why God steered me to this mission trip. Thrust way out of my element, I kept hitting the “Not Fair” button embedded in the baby doll I carried around because, for this introvert, living in cramped rooms with no privacy and marched around doing things he doesn’t like squeezed my character. And I didn’t like what came out.
10. Don’t take your self seriously. Ever.
Finally, one of the activities we were required to do during this mission trip was clowning. Basically, all you have to do is put on a clown suit with other men and walk through the Zulu festival or parade inviting children to watch you do a skit. The skit explained what it meant to be a genuine Christian. You acted silly. Stupid. And dorky. But kids loved you. Begged for you. What a wonderful way to humble this arrogant, cocky introvert.
Let me close with 1 Peter 5:10,11:
And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
What about you: Ever been in a situation where survival mode kicked in? Where you were utterly helpless and scared? Ever preached on the streets of a city? Learn any valuable lessons I haven’t mentioned? Leave your throughts in the comments. Please.