RITE OF PASSAGE: Parachutes or hats?
I have done short-term mission work in Mexico for more than 30 years now. It began soon after I graduated from Hannibal LaGrange College. I had just finished my Associate of Arts degree when I was called to be on staff at First Church, Quitman, Texas. Married for only five months, I moved my bride and myself to a new home, new church and new state.
Moving from Missouri (where I had lived all my life) to Texas was like moving from the Earth to the moon. Texas was such a strange place! There, everybody talked funny. It seemed they were always having conversations about “carrying.” A Texan would tell us that he “carried” his wife to the grocery story that morning. When I first heard this, I felt sorry for the man whose wife must be an invalid. Then I found out everyone in Texas “carried” somebody somewhere. Eventually, I figured out that the Texan word “carried” translated into Missourian as “took.” We also thought everything in Texas must be broken because people were always “fix’n'” to do something. If they weren’t “carrying” their wives to the stores, they were “fix’n'” to.
We were still adjusting to our new culture when my church asked me to attend a meeting about ministry needs on the American-Mexican border. Not long afterwards, I found myself serving at the First Baptist Church of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. As regularly as the swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano, every spring and Christmas break, I either go to Mexico myself or send teams there. This year, the First Baptist Church asked us to join them in an extreme trip deep into the jungles of Mexico to bring the Gospel to the Totonoc Indians. After a 31-hour van ride, our team arrived in a small village.
Part of the team’s ministry while there was to assist the Mexican churches in hosting Vacation Bible School. In preparation, our staff spent hours cutting cheap plastic table cloths into 10-inch squares. They poked holes into each corner and cut yarn into short lengths. After threading the yarn through and tying a heavy metal nut to the end to weigh it down, the children would have a toy parachute. We had visions of happy little ones throwing their parachutes and watching them drift down the side of the mountain.
On the second day of Bible School, our team helped each child gather the needed supplies: one plastic square, four pieces of yarn and one 9/16″ metal nut. Soon, all the children came out of the church, their parachutes placed squarely on top of their heads. The strings hung down past their ears and the bolts were tucked securely under their small chins. The children smiled ear-to-ear, delighted with their beautiful new hats.
Since none of our team members spoke the Totonoc language, they tried to show the children what they had actually made. One took a hat from a child’s head and threw it into the air. The children watched as it floated gently back to earth. Instead of smiling, though, they all looked stunned.
The hatless child ran to get her parachute, smiling once it was safely on her head again. While all this was taking place, the afternoon clouds began to gather and the rain let loose. Now the craft wasn’t an ordinary hat but a rain hat to keep their hair dry! Finally, our team gave up trying to convince the children that they had made parachutes. They showed them Jesus’ love as they admired their beautiful . . . hats.
You may move to a place called Texas where they are “carrying” you somewhere or “fix’n” to do something. You may travel to the heart of Mexico to bring the Gospel to the Totonocs, who think toy parachutes are hats. You may share your home with a teenager or two who speak a totally different language. Wherever you are, you must learn to adapt to the culture. Take the advice of the apostle Paul, who said, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).
Paul knew that for us to minister even to our own family members, we must sometimes leave our own culture and enter theirs. Jesus left Heaven; Paul left Jerusalem; Walker left Missouri. What are you leaving to reach out to someone? Paul saw some come to Christ; I saw some come to Christ in Texas; and our team saw some of the Totonocs come to Christ, too. Who are the “some” you’re trying to reach today?
Right now, I’m trying to master that other thing Paul said, the one about being content whatever state I’m in. Do you think he knew about . . . Oklahoma?