The year was 1996, and I was in Ecuador. Our missions team was spending 2 weeks of our college break with an indigenous people group in the Andes mountains. The objective was to contribute to the building of a church facility for a growing population of Christians in the area. The primary language being spoken was a local dialect, but the secondary language was Spanish, a language in which I am moderately fluent. I was more or less a student leader of my group, as I was leading Bible studies and had the opportunity to preach to the entire village. Physically, I was in good shape, as I had spent much of my fall semester in the gym and on the basketball court. This was helpful regarding the physical labor required to build the church. It also appeared that at least two of the co-eds on my missions team were interested in me romantically. I wasn’t making any commitments just yet, as I was simply enjoying all of the attention! My self-esteem was flying high, let’s be honest.
We took a break from the construction work one day in order to take a horseback ride through the mountains. Suddenly, my super-confident streak came to a screeching halt, as I abruptly found myself unable to lead the way. The realization that we would be riding horses along steep cliffs spiraling around a mountain simply made me sick to my stomach. I don’t do heights. If you’ve read past devotionals, you also know I don’t do snakes. The possibility of mountain snakes crossed my mind, along with the possibility of falling over a cliff. Or the slim chance of falling over a cliff onto a nest of mountain snakes. Needless to say, I was unhappy. Not to mention I don’t ride horses.
Yes, they gave me the crazy horse. The one no one else would be able to ride. And he was crazy. Saddles were not available, so we rode bareback around the mountain. I didn’t even have an opportunity to tackle my fear of heights and snakes, as I was entirely preoccupied with staying on my horse. I was also praying that my manhood would remain intact, as I had high hopes for having children one day!
We reached the top of the mountain, at roughly 10,000 feet above sea level. I felt queasy. I wanted to give my team a pep-talk and perhaps engage in some prayer as a unit, but I was too sick. A team member felt my head and exclaimed that I was “burning up.” I passed out.
The next thing I remember was waking up back in the village. There were 2 girls in bed with me (fully clothed, don’t worry) and they had their arms wrapped around me tightly. I thought perhaps I had died and this was heaven! I then realized they were trying to keep me warm because I was shivering violently. My temperature had spiked to nearly 105 degrees, and I was extremely vulnerable at that moment. My week went from being a high-flying leader/preacher/construction worker to being bed-ridden and fighting a fever. I was miserable and altogether humbled.
What I learned in that moment was that God didn’t really need me. He wanted my obedience and worship, but he didn’t need it because, well, He’s God. I recognized this truth while observing other team members from my bed, all making an impact without my help. They were preaching, praying, nailing, drilling, and loving on each other and the surrounding people. God was using them mightily, even in my absence!
As much as God may be pleased with our efforts, He is more concerned about our holiness. Our aspirations should be rooted in seeking His facing and longing for Christ-likeness. Any humanitarian and evangelical efforts need to stem from that.
15But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1: 15-16)