The climax of the book The Silver Chair (by C.S. Lewis) centers on a single decision: will the characters of Narnia choose to release a ravaging man from his bondage to the silver chair? The choice is an agonizing one because they are not sure what is truly real. The man bound to the chair was introduced to them only as a dark knight and he claimed that he needed to be bound to the chair at night because he would become a dangerous lunatic due to a spell that would completely change his mind. But as the night falls, the man bound to the chair begins to plead for his life and claim that a spell really torments him during the day and it is only at night that he knows his true identity and can plead for his escape. Those of us who have read the book know that the man turns out to be Prince Rilian, the lost son of King Caspian, who was indeed tormented at the hand of an evil enchantment that would change his mind until evening. But for the characters in the story, that one decision of which split personality to believe would completely define the ending to the story.
The climax for me on our trip to Bithlo came not at the end of the trip like you might expect, but on a seemingly normal Sunday morning at church. We were visiting the church in the suburbs of some of the most loyal and generous volunteers who helped our team and OCA on what seemed to be a daily basis by bringing us food, allowing us to shower at their homes, etc. The church service was a powerful moment for me because I could look around at the thousands of people in the auditorium and know that only a small handful knew about the extreme poverty and brokenness only twenty minutes down the road in Bithlo. It brought back a whole flood of feelings and emotions that have similarly washed over me in past missions trips when I come to the place where I realize that I have to do something as a response to the things I have seen and heard. Too many people live their lives without knowing or caring that a small community in the United States of America does not even have clean drinking water and the people who live there are unable to advocate for themselves to get the help they so desperately need. Now that I had met these wonderful people and seen the situation in Bithlo I couldn’t just walk away and go back to my comfortable life with my abundance of clean water in Washington. Something would have to change.
To make matters worse, I knew that I had similar feelings before on other mission trips where the feelings of responsibility to the things we were exposed to felt so very real. But like most “mountain top experiences”, after about three weeks at home the urgency and need always seems to numb and fade away completely until I didn’t ever think about those people and problems except on rare occasion. So the question that really haunted me was which perspective is real? Were the feelings I felt at moments like these when it seems like my eyes have been opened to the truth that I had always been blind to the “real” deal? Or were the moments that dominate my life back home when the cares and worries of life make my experiences on mission trips feel like a simple emotional experience that may have temporarily clouded my judgment real? What was real and what was not? The same dilemma that faced the Narnians with the silver chair also seemed to face me now.
So the questions and thoughts flooded through my mind like a raging tide and I simply lost my composure in the middle of the service. I thought, “Now I know about Bithlo. Now I have to do something. If nothing changes, what’s the point of even coming? How can I give of myself: my time, resources, money and influence to help further the cause? If the people around me in church don’t know about Bithlo and it’s just down the road, what hurting people are back in Washington in my own neighborhood that I am completely ignorant about?”
I shared my thoughts with the team at our devotional on Sunday night, and we had a great time of humbly asking good questions and challenging one another. Spencer led us in a great devotional about transparency and we all agreed that something needed to be done now that we had seen and experienced the conditions in Bithlo for ourselves. The only problem was that none of us knew where to start. That was perfectly alright though, because God was just beginning to prepare our hearts for the days that came next.
– Mr. E