June 30 – Beware Dancing Elephants

Our Brazil Mission Team leaves for Belo Horizonte late afternoon, Monday, July 17, arriving some twenty hours later around noon on Tuesday.  But the work of our team does not begin that Tuesday morning when ten bleary-eyed Americanos emerge from the baggage claim area at Aeroporto Confins.

For the past two months, the ten of us – Fred, Beau, Mark, Sue, Jake, Eva, Brian, Cathy, Becky, and I – have been about the work of the team. We have been learning language and singing songs.  We’ve been challenged to think that the work of our team is not so much working as it is being; being a listener, a learner, and an encourager, being a friend and a follower. We have used some amazing materials that may help us avoid the pitfall of hurting as we try to help.

We’ve been warned about being a dancing elephant.

The story is told by African Christians:

Elephant and Mouse were best friends. One day Elephant said, “Mouse, let’s have a party!”

Animals gathered from far and near. They ate, and drank, and sang, and danced. And nobody celebrated more exuberantly than Elephant.

After it was over, Elephant exclaimed, “Mouse, did you ever go to a better party? What a blast!”

But Mouse didn’t answer.

“Where are you?” Elephant called. Then he shrank back in horror. There at his feet lay Mouse, his body ground into the dirt — smashed by the exuberance of his friend, the elephant.

“Sometimes that is what it is like to do mission with you Americans,” the African storytellers conclude. “It is like dancing with an Elephant.”

The opportunity before the Brazil Mission Team is a wonderful opportunity.  We have the means and the ability to travel 5,000 miles.  We have been encouraged and supported by LPC and by our friends and family.  We have sensed God’s call.

Lord, keep us from being dancing elephants.

Too often short-term mission teams from North America show up in the majority world with trinkets and technology, solutions and assumptions; exuberance about doing God’s work.  We too often end up hurting our friends with our ill-considered help.

What does it mean, then, to listen and learn, to encourage and befriend? What does it mean to follow our Brazilian friends as they live their Christian lives and offer their Christian witness in the world in which they live?

People ask, “What are you going to do in Brazil?” The conversation begins with the answer,  “We are not going to do, we are going to be.”  Of course, as the conversation continues, we talk about the work of coming alongside or following right behind our Brazilian friends as they bring God’s love and gospel hope to the children of Favela da Ventosa through EBF, Vacation Bible School.

“Are you going to build something?”  No houses or hospitals, no churches or clinics.  We are going to be at meals and Bible studies, in Sunday School classes and worship services, where God just might begin to build friendships to last a lifetime.

Becky and I have been traveling to Brazil, to the same church and the same neighborhood, to be with the same people (and new friends every visit) for 17 years. This will be Brazilian trip number 21 for me.  This crazy idea, this biblical idea, of being instead of doing, of listening and learning, encouraging and following, of being a friend, a brother or sister in Christ, is powerful.

One of the children’s songs we’re learning to sing is called “Pare.”  Pare means stop. “Pare, eu vou contar-lhes o que Cristo fez por mim.”  “Stop, and I will tell you what Christ has done for me.”

It turns out that Christ does some really good things through us when we stop and listen and learn, encourage and follow. We have some stories to tell about lives changed, hope shared, there and here, and there will be more stories to tell when we get back. No trinkets, no technology, just a team of ten.

I’m still trying to figure out how not to be a dancing elephant.

See you Sunday