"Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway."
-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit.
I had the privilege of traveling in a group of thirteen young adults to Spain and Morocco a few weeks ago. Though this was a mission trip, it wasn't what you would traditionally consider a "mission trip." We didn't paint any walls, build any shelters, or provide clean drinking water to those who need it. The things we did are intangible, and may not see fruition for many years. But I can honestly say the things I learned are absolutely invaluable.
We flew from Nashville to NYC, to Madrid, and finally arrived in Malaga after a day of travel. Malaga is a bustling city in southern Spain, nestled between the Baetic Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea. Our group stayed in a house only a block from the sea with five missionaries and their children. We stayed in Malaga for four days. We went on three different prayer walks around the city, and attended one of the only evangelical churches in the city. We all crammed in the tiny kitchen and dining area of the house, and learned about the Islamic faith, as well as modern missions strategies.
Spain is a very European country, but it definitely has its own, colorful flair. The people there are friendly, though rather quiet. They are also hurting. Unlike a third-world country, we could not meet their physical needs, then share with them about Jesus. The majority of Catholics in Spain are nominal, and see evangelicalism as a cult. So we prayed. We prayed fervently for the people. We prayed fervently for the missionaries and the churches. And during all of this, we fell in love with them. The people, the missionaries, the churches.
Early Monday morning, we boarded a bus which took us to the port, two hours away. Upon our arrival, we discovered our ferry had been cancelled. Nearly five hours later, we were finally on a boat that would take us to Tanger, Morocco, North Africa. As I sat on the boat, most of my friends asleep around me, I tried to push the growing anxiety I felt down into the deep recesses of my brain. I was terrified. Spain was different, but comfortable. But Africa? Arabia? Morocco? I was headed to a country hostile to the gospel. I was headed to a country where speaking the words missions, church, and missionary could land me in jail. I was so far out of my comfort zone, that the only device left to me was prayer. And I prayed. I prayed God would push the anxiety from my mind.
A few hours later, we arrived at the Tanger-Med port. Even though the geography was very similar to Spain, Africa felt different. I was surrounded by Arabic symbols I couldn't decipher and a language I couldn't begin to understand. My grasp of the world hello in Arabic (which sounds a lot like sallam allekum) began to feel paltry. We again boarded a bus. I watched as the sun set, and we set off through the African countryside. Six uncomfortable hours later, we arrived in Fez. We met our contact, and were soon whisked quietly though the streets of the Old City, which looked and felt like a mixture of the New Testament and Aladdin. After a traditional Moroccan meal, we each split up in to our respective groups and walked to our home stays. Two other girls and I stayed with an elderly Berber lady and her 24 year old daughter, who spoke good English.
As I settled into my bed that night (which was more like a couch) I prayed. I couldn't shake a feeling of dread. I finally fell into a fitful sleep, and was startled awake at 5 am. I could hear a faint call, which sounded like the cry of someone in distress. I soon realized it was the call to prayer, and it was not just coming from one mosque, but many. Each chant had blended together to form a disturbing, wailing cry. Pray. I prayed like I never had before. This became a common theme during my stay in Morocco. To chase away the feeling of utter dread I would feel each time the call sounded, I had to pray. These weren't just prayers for myself. In fact, I think I prayed some of the most unselfish prayers while in Morocco. I realized the dread wasn't for me, but rather, it was for the beautiful, sad faces I saw as I walked down the crowded streets each day.
We walked. We walked to each city gate and prayed. We walked. We walked down the street and prayed. We walked. We observed people in the new city, and we prayed. The most poignant moment in all of this was when I was standing still, for once. I stood on the flat roof of a home. I looked at the countryside behind me, littered with sheep. I observed the cluttered city before me: a conglomeration of muddy roofs covered in laundry, satellite dishes, and people. I could see the minarets of dozens and dozens of mosques. The call sounded. I don't know how long it lasted, but I do know that it literally brought me to my knees in prayer. For the first time in my life, I truly knew what an intercessory prayer was. I knew what it meant to petition the throne of God on behalf of a people who will have nothing to do with Him.
I could tell many more stories. Some happy, like us visiting the Volubolis, how the girls stayed up until two in the morning one night discussing fantasy novels, how Leslie somehow became Neslie, how I bought fifteen pounds of Spanish cookies. Others, sad: how I wonder if the girl I stayed with, whose name means Happy, will ever come to know Christ. How we were looked down upon and profiled because of our home country, America. How seeing every unsaved face in Morocco drove a dagger in to my heart.
"Missions isn't just for poor people, it's for lost people." It's for hurting, dying, hostile people. It's for the men on the street who revile you because of your skin color. It's for the naive girl who welcomes you in to her home despite your skin color. It's for every soul who has never known the love of Christ here at home, and in every corner of this vast planet on which we live.
Pray for the missionaries. Pray for the people. Pray for Happy. Pray for our team. Pray for me, that I might be receptive and willing if God calls me back to these hard places.