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Rite of Passage Parenting: Lessons from the outhouse

by Walker Moore

Greetings from Panama! If you don’t know how to find this Central American country on the map, just look for the one with a big ditch running through it. I’m spending the biggest part of my summer working with church groups to plant churches among several different indigenous people groups here.

To reach these people groups, we have to trek back into the Darien, otherwise known as the jungle. It is quite comical to see “city kids” learning to live there. No electricity, no running water, dirt floors and only a thatch roof over their heads. Everything goes fine until they have to visit the facilities. You should see the looks on their faces when I explain that there is no bathroom.  At first, they think I’m kidding. But they believe me when I add that the people they see walking into the underbrush and returning a few minutes later sure aren’t checking their email.

In some jungle locations, we’re blessed with the luxury of an outhouse. Some of you are like me and grew up when these stand-alone buildings were still common. But for most of these students, the jungle experience marks their first trek to an outhouse of any kind. Often, they expect to find creature comforts like those they have at home: a porcelain toilet, a roll of quilted paper and some doilies placed gently on the water tank.

I wish I could paint in words the looks of horror on their faces when, for the first time, they open the outhouse door and stare inside. Their expressions resemble those they might wear if given a peek into the abyss described in the book of Revelation—although the smell of the abyss may be an improvement over the smell of jungle outhouses.

And then there are the toilets. These loosely-defined conveniences usually consist only of a short round tube of concrete and a hole with unknown creatures scurrying around inside. I’m not sure which the students fear most: making a trek into the jungle or sitting on a tube with no real knowledge of what lies below. But sooner or later, we must all face—or at least sit on—our fears.

Soon, an amazing thing begins to take place. What the students once feared becomes the norm. The thatch roofs and dirt floors seem like home. At the crack of dawn, the Kuna children wait outside the huts, calling the students’ names and hoping they’ll come out to play. Later, the young missionaries take great satisfaction in sitting on logs that surround a black kettle with a fire simmering underneath. They smile as they eat their fried Spam with macaroni and cheese. And I know they couldn’t have a better time if they were dining at a five-star restaurant.

When the sun goes down and they must be safely tucked into their mosquito nets, these young adventurers talk to each other through the veils that surround them. No longer do they complain about the things they’ve left behind. Instead, they share their excitement over the wonderful new discoveries they’ve made and the divine encounters God has brought their way.

One day, the students wake up to realize their jungle stay is nearing its end. Sadness begins to overtake them. Here in Panama, they’ve come to understand that Jesus plus nothing equals everything. They don’t need Jesus plus a car or fancy clothes. They don’t need Jesus plus a position, possessions or prestige. Their brief time in Panama has helped them acquire a new perspective: they already had everything they needed          . . .  in Him.

Sometimes, our lives get so cluttered that Jesus gets hidden. You want peace? He is the peace that passes all understanding. You need hope? He is our hope. You seek direction? He is our compass and guide. The students have discovered that He is the Alpha and Omega; in Him is everything!

The students who got off the boat to serve in the jungle are different than the ones who get back into the boat to return to civilization. As the nationals stands on the hill waving good-bye and the children chant the students’ names, I recognize the expression on our returning missionaries’ faces. It says that during this trip, they have all lost a piece of their heart. But losing your heart means gaining much more. As Jesus said, “Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it” (Luke 17:33).

I would rather be locked in an outhouse in the jungle than in a room with someone who has never given their heart away. After all, those who hold onto their lives only cause them to . . . stink.

Walker Moore is president of AweStar Ministries in Tulsa, P.O. Box 470265, Tulsa 74147, e-mail walker@awestar.org, phone 800/AWESTAR (293-7827)

Walker Moore

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  • Linda Hinds

    I enjoyed your article very much! I got a good laugh out of it. I can well remember the outhouse, as I was 8 years old before we had indoor plumbing. But, here in Chile when we go out to the Campo (what they call country here), on the Mapuche land it is still common. So, I have had occasion to visited an outhouse recently. What is more important is how the experience has changed their lives, when they get more of a world view outside of the U.S.

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