I love youth trips. I guess they make me feel young.
I love youth trips – except. When I’m driving youth and a new song comes on the speaker: “Skip it” I don’t like this one.” When the sun comes out from behind the clouds and just starts to warm us: “Turn on the air! I’m hot.” And on and on, a moment of discomfort and switch to comfort – immediately.
A gift of living in the affluence of the United States is the ability to grab immediate comfort. There is no need for patience. No one needs to learn “the long haul.” We want comfort, we get comfort.
It has affected our faith. We want comfort, relief, answers, cures. We pray. We hear/feel/see no immediate response. Our faith is shaken. We want the gift now, and, if we don’t get it now, there must be no God. I know this seems to be drastic hyperbole, but it is reality we’ve been a part of over and over again.
In 2005 I had the opportunity to live and teach in the highlands of Ethiopia. Daily I encountered people who did not know if they would eat that day. Regularly I met children who were orphaned due to AIDS, and the disease was not disappearing, on travels to the dry lands I met people who could not see a forthcoming end to drought. For the needs of the population there was rarely immediate relief.
Yet each Sunday I attended worship in overflowing church buildings. Songs and prayers and semons were offered for hours at a time. The faithful thanked God for holding them in God’s holy hands in spite of present hardships. They prayed for comfort and release. “How long, O Lord,” was not an uncommon prayer to a God they trusted to be present. And they returned Sunday after Sunday to do it over and over again – faithfully – in one of the fastest growing churches in the world.
Faith is different when instant comfort cannot be expected. Faith is fuller when it is recognized as a gift in the middle of a world with few gifts. Faith has depth when we’re in it for the long haul.
Fifteen years ago the Ethiopians taught me some lessons – lessons that are gifts in today’s new reality.