On July 25 I found myself flying over the heartland of the U.S. as I flew from Mexico to Wisconsin.I and my missionary colleague Mylinda Baits from Costa Rica had been asked to coordinate all the evening worship services for the World Mission Conference (WMC). This was our second year to partner in this endeavor and I was looking forward to the creative energy we would expend on this event.
As I gazed out the airplane window, I began to notice how square and uniform much of the Midwest appears when viewed from high above.Cities are laid out on a grid.Farmland is laid out on a grid.Most roads run North and South, or East and West.Houses are lined up in a row.It seemed so orderly and predictable.And I found myself longing for something out of the ordinary.Something like a crop circle.You know, those unexplainable circles that have randomly shown up in fields around the world, some with intricate geometric signs woven into them.
If you saw the movie "Signs" which starred Mel Gibson, you might recall that this movie's interpretation of the crop circles is that they are a mapping device by a race of aliens to take over our planet.While I didn't quite buy into that theory, I did find myself wishing for something a bit "alien" as I viewed the landscape far below.Something to break up the pattern of straight lines and sharp corners.Something that spoke of unique creativity and just a bit of ingenuity.Something that pointed towards mystery and hope, and meandered longings.A sign.
When my plane landed in Appleton, WI, I was greeted by a Green Lake Conference Center volunteer (where the WMC was to take place).Vern was the shuttle driver that evening.He is also a long-time friend of my parents.While it was an unexpected joy to see him again, it also brought a moment of intense grief.For he was one more person who didn't know yet about my parent's impending divorce.A crop circle that had appeared in my very ordered existence 10 months ago.A sign.Of brokenness and betrayal.But also a sign that was causing me to dive deeper with God.Was this encounter with Vern a sign to not anesthetize myself, even here, in a place where at some deep level I'd wanted to run away and hide from my own personal pain?Seeing Vern again was a surprise.But perhaps a God surprise?Signs.
The day after arriving at Green Lake, Mylinda and I spent 9 consecutive hours meeting with missionary after missionary to hear their stories.The theme for the WMC this year was Surprised by Prayer:Mission and the Untamed God.Each evening we had decided to focus on an element of prayer: praise, confession & lament, intercession, thanksgiving, healing & wholeness, offering & surrender, and blessing.The missionaries and international guests were to choose which night their stories best fit.As we sat there hour after hour, listening to story after story of God's amazing work around the world, I discovered myself standing in the middle of another crop circle.As I heard of God showing up in miraculous, marvelous, surprising ways from Nicaragua to Bolivia, from South Africa to Thailand, from Belgium to Japan, I found myself being swirled through a vortex of Holy Spirit Grace.Everything was turned upside down.And God was roaring in the forefront.Signs.God was posting them right and left before my very eyes.
In the middle of the week, the kids in the youth program and the missionary kids (MKs), facilitated one of the evening programs.Cassie Clemmer, a MK who serves with her parents in the Democratic Republic of Congo, shared a story of divine protection.The D.R. of Congo has seen constant military uprisings and unrest over the last 5 years.Cassie and her family have experienced countless atrocities.One day, she and her mother were traveling by car when it broke down.Men surrounded their car and began to rock it and threaten them.Suddenly, a policewoman appeared and convinced the men to calm down.She asked Cassie's mom Ann for some money to bribe the men to leave, which Ann did.Ann called her husband Bill on her cell phone to come assist them.The police officer stayed with them until he arrived, and then she went back to her duties.Later, as their family got ready to leave the area, Cassie's dad went looking for the policewoman to thank her for her assistance.He found a policewoman directing traffic a block away, but it wasn't the same woman.In fact, this woman told him she was the only officer on duty in this area—there was no one else for miles!Had God sent an angel to protect Cassie and her mother that day?Cassie doesn't know for sure, but she does know that God answered her prayer for protection.Signs.In the middle of chaos and confusion, Christ spoke, "Peace. Be still."
The last day of the conference, we were able to host Dr. Martin Acaad, the academic dean of the Arab Baptist Theological School in Beirut, Lebanon.Dr. Acaad has been stranded in the U.S. unable to return to his home and work since the fighting broke out between Israel and Lebanon several weeks ago.Dr. Acaad works alongside American Baptist Missionaries Daniel & Sarah Chetti who also teach at the seminary.The Chettis have decided to stay in Lebanon despite the option to leave.Dr. Acaad said that they are embracing incarnational ministry.By deciding to stay, they are communicating to the Lebanese "We are here to BE with you, no matter what the circumstances.We will be with you, in life or death."Can you imagine?One day you are ministering in a country of relative peace and safety, and the next day bombs are falling from the sky?Crop circles of death and destruction marring the earth around you.And you decide to stay.You become a sign of Christ's love and light in the darkness of fallen humanity.You are suddenly God's champion on the front lines battling evil in one of its basest forms.Signs. Is your life a signpost to God?
I'm now back home in Mexico. Trying to capture all these moments in words so that I can allow others to glimpse the power of God's mission around the world.We are all navigating crop circles: some personal, some communal, some global.But the Good News is that Jesus Christ will grasp our hand and lead the way through every alien situation we come across. When Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?"Jesus answered, "I am the way, the truth, and the life.No one comes to the Father except through me."(John 14:5-6)
Do you see them?
Blessings in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Joyce and David Reed