Posted on : Tuesday October 9, 2012

By Gayla Parker, BCM/D WMU Executive Director and Missionary for Missions Education/Customization

Conventions and election years go hand in hand. Certainly this year has been no different with both the Republican National Convention and the Democrat National Convention. And now in just a few short weeks the Baptist Convention of Maryland and Delaware will be having their own convention. For some, the thought of being a part of a convention seems boring. But really they are a great opportunity for learning. If one is listening carefully to the speeches you will know the core values, the philosophies, the priorities and the heartbeat of the organization. And once in a while, you just might be inspired to make changes in your own life.

This past August, I was part of a team that went to the Philippines to help with the Mindanao Tribal Pastors Convention. Along with me were Fred and Kay Dyer from White Marsh Baptist Church; their two granddaughters, Becca and Karen; James Dixon, pastor of El Bethel Baptist Church; and my husband Freddy. Of course we had our funny and not so funny moments like carrying 4,000 pencils to a local school where Becca and Karen were treated like celebrities with camera flashes abounding on the first day or James coming face to face with a cobra on our last day. With a start and an ending like those, you can only imagine what the middle was like!

But it was in the middle that my heart was changed. Tribal pastors are the poorest of the poor. Most of them live in straw-like houses up on stilts with no running water or electricity. Clothes are washed by hand every morning at the river. Fires are built for cooking meals consisting mostly of rice with just a few vegetables and maybe a small piece of meat. The children attend schools that have up to 100 students in a classroom with no air conditioning or books. Yet they save all year long for two things: giving to missions and attending their annual convention.

To get to the convention, many rode in the back of a dump truck. Yes, a dump truck with 30 to 40 people piled in the back riding for up to eight hours. Some did not have the money to sleep in a cabin so they slept outside under a tree. Others cut cost by putting as many in one cabin as possible—a much different look than our own Baptist convention.

But it was sitting in a worship service that I found my heart moved to tears, and I found myself under great conviction. Three hundred plus attendees started singing, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning, new every morning. Great is Thy faithfulness, oh Lord; great is Thy faithfulness.” As I looked around me, I saw faces full of nothing but pure joy. And I wondered could I sing with that much abandon and that much joy if I were living life under the same conditions.

Ashamedly, I am not sure. Could I sing about God’s faithfulness if I had nothing? It is easy to sing when God has blessed me with a nice home and a good job. Certainly those things are blessings from God and I give Him the credit for them all! But if I could only say God has blessed me with His love and mercy…well, I had to work through that and resolve that the next time I say “God has blessed me with…” the second half of that sentence will not be associated with something material. His greatest blessing of all is not a thing but His salvation.

This past year there has been much talk about the come back church. I wonder if we might be able to learn from our tribal brothers and sisters. They are not relying on anything they have, after all they have nothing. They are relying totally on the steadfast love of the Lord for everything; their joy, their strength, their guidance, their planning. And with nothing by our standards their churches are growing and their churches are planting churches and their churches are giving to missions!

Lamentations 3:21, “But this I call to mind and therefore I have hope, the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.” Regardless of our church’s past or present, our hope for the future of the church comes from the Lord. Perhaps that is what my tribal friends know so well because it is easier learned when there is nothing else.