(This post is written for the One Word at a Time Blog Carnival [Road].)
The mission trip was off to a bad start. I had unwisely followed some “money saving” advice from a travel agent, which landed me in Atlanta with less than an hour to change planes, and the flights had been booked separately, so the airline had no obligation to make it work. Members of the team had come from various directions, and everyone but me–their leader–was off on the plane for Hungary while I worked the phones to rearrange my flights.
A mere nine hours later I was on a plane for Paris and then Budapest, living out the saying about a leader catching up with the people who are supposed to be following him. There was a further glitch in the plans. We had a van arranged to pick up the team in Hungary, but it would be long gone by the time I got there. I was to pick up a rental car in Debrecen, which was close to our work area, because our team would be working at two separate locations. So we arranged for me to pick it up at the airport in Budapest. I would then spend the night and drive out to the camp east of Debrecen the next day.
The travel agent was to arrange a hotel for me as well. I specified one thing–I wanted it to be in the southeastern part of the city which would be right on the road to Debrecen, and thus make it easier for me to find my way. Did I mention that I don’t like driving in unfamiliar places. I’m happy to ride the bus; driving is not a pleasure.
Well, I landed in Budapest, tired and ready to go to that hotel. I had to call back to the states to get the details. So I took the name of the hotel and found the rental car counter where I asked for directions. It turned out the hotel was on the northern side of the city, fortunately still east of the river, but nowhere near the route to Debrecen. In addition it was a luxury hotel that cost about three times what I had wanted to pay. I got a marked map along with verbal directions. I was told it was easy to get to the hotel, and I took off.
Now before anyone gets the wrong idea let me say that I love Hungary. The teams I was working with stayed in Hungary and served children from the Ukraine. Our hosts there were wonderful partners in ministry. In addition, the public transportation system is great (see “bus” above!) and the roads are well marked. The problems here have much more to do with me than with where I was.
I was in a bit of doubt about a couple of turns, but then I got back on what appeared to be the right road. The way seemed right to me, right up until the moment I looked out the right window and down to the beautiful Danube. By the way, it’s a great scene, if you’re not fully focused on finding a bed.
For two hours I drove around Budapest, both using the map and asking directions. Every time I stopped to ask for directions I was surrounded by people who tried to explain. But my Hungarian vocabulary was around a couple dozen words, fortunately including left, right, and straight, and very few of the folks I met spoke English. In the end, it seemed almost an accident when I ended up in front of the hotel.
The next morning, somewhat rested, I carefully studied the map and planned my route out of the city. Do you want to guess how many wrong turns started the problem?
I made one wrong turn that took me off the original route. Had I made that one turn correctly, I would have driven past the well-marked hotel entrance about ten minutes later. I was annoyed. I had already lost time on my mission, and I definitely saw no purpose in all that running around. I definitely wasn’t thankful, and I wasn’t rejoicing.
The next Sunday in the camp near Debrecen I was asked to give the message to the campers at the church service. What would I say to all those kids?
This text came to mind:
So I told the story. The kids had a great time laughing at the American teacher lost in Budapest. But they seemed to get the message. I was sure of it when I got to the Ukraine and was again asked to speak to some children, this time in a little house church. Again, the children laughed, and again they got the message. When I got back to Debrecen, nearly two weeks after the initial sermon, several of the kids came up to me and repeated the text. I’m willing to bet that there is no other sermon I’ve ever preached has been remembered by that many people two weeks later.
There’s a basic lesson in the text, of course. It’s easy to think you’re on the right road, but if you aren’t following the map, you can be headed to the other side of the river, so to speak.
But for those in ministry, there’s another lesson. There is a way that seems right in preparing sermons. Beautiful quotes, flowing language, fine rhetoric, jokes to relax the audience, serious theology. These are the things that make you look and sound more important than those who listen to you.
But sometimes, many times, in fact, it is your own experience that’s going to make the difference. It may involve getting laughed at, but where’s the problem in that?
I have to add one other note. In the Ukraine, when I used the “lost” sermon, I was invited to speak to the adults as well. I spent a good deal of time on what I would say to the adults. I had a great lesson for them. Or so it seemed to me. (There is a way that seems right, no?) When both were done, I saw the head elder of the little congregation copying some stuff down from what I’d said.
What was he copying? The illustrations on the blackboard for the children’s lesson. Nobody commented on my well-prepared sermon.