We were Xhausted.The members of the Xtreme Team to Georgia were splayed around on the grass, leaning on backpacks, guzzling water, in some cases sleeping.We had been walking since 8 am, almost always uphill.It was late in the afternoon.Some of our team weren't used to such Xertion.Furthermore, our backpacks turned out to be defective and were disintegrating as we hiked.We were holding them together with belts, handkerchiefs and bits of twine.Some of us who were hardier were carrying the packs of those near collapse.But we still had further to go.Trinity Mountain loomed up ahead, and our goal was the ruin of an ancient church perched on a peak of the mountain, well above the tree line at perhaps 10,000 or 12,000 feet (altitude was as vague and relative as distance for our Georgian friends).
We had come to engage in an adventure in mission Xperience for young adults.International Ministries has been sending Xtreme Teams since 1998 to various countries where we have mission partnerships, and we've had 3 Xtreme Teams from other countries come to the United States.In 2005 we had two teams going to the Dominican Republic and to the Republic of Georgia.Because of my work in Georgia over the past two years I was the missionary on the leadership team, serving as Xtractor—the one who leads the debriefing sessions so the team members dig out the most learning possible from the cross-cultural Xposures and the mission Xperiences we have.
Our 8 team members and 4 leaders were to go through Xposures to the culture and life of the people of Georgia as well as to see the mission that God was engaged in especially through the Baptist churches.We Xplored the history of Georgia from the 4th Century evangelistic outreach of St. Nino, a solitary woman who brought the gospel to Georgia, to Stalin's communist era, to the 2003 nonviolent "Rose Revolution" in which Baptists played a significant role.We Xperienced the Xtremes of religious bigotry talking with Orthodox radicals who were intimidating and harassing religious minorities and visiting a Baptist church burned by Orthodox arsonists.We Xperienced the Xtremes of love as we heard the testimonies and saw the actions of persecuted Baptists who have become a place of shelter for all people, including Orthodox folks, who are committed to human rights and religious liberty.We Xtended our hands in love, relationship-building and service to refugees from Abkhazia, to orphans living in a shabby facility and cleaning up a gorge favored by campers, working alongside Georgian Orthodox, Catholic and Baptist youth.We Xercised our faith in leading worship at many mission sites from cities to villages, seeing how the Baptist churches had grown from 10 congregations in 1991 to 62 today.
But as we lay on the ground near the base of Trinity Mountain, it seemed like we were going to "crash and burn."The Baptist bishop, Malkhaz Songulashvili, kept gently pushing us on:"We will rest, then go."He borrowed a horse from a farmer to help us with the packs and food.He kept us going when we thought we could go no further.Then as we came to the final ridge—there was the church at the top!—we burst into the most glorious mountain alpine flower meadow I've ever seen.The blooms were white, yellow, blue, orange with brilliant red poppies sprinkled like paprika through the cascading carpet that rolled from the peak down hundreds and hundreds of feet.It was the garden of God:God certainly planted these flowers, and they were primarily for God's enjoyment as only rarely did a human venture into this remote place.The sun was setting in blazing multi-hued glory as we climbed that last stretch to the top.
We entered through the broken wall of the church compound and explored the dank musty interior of the ruined sanctuary.Malkhaz comes to this place for retreat and to bring ministers seeking ordination here on spiritual pilgrimage.It is the most beautiful place in Georgia in his mind, and he wanted to share it with us.We slept either on the grass outside or on the stone floor of the sanctuary.The next morning after witnessing a glorious sunrise over the Caucasus Mountains we celebrated the Eucharist around the stone altar.Our trek down would be long and wearisome, but our hearts and spirits had been transformed by our mountain-top experience.
Xperiencing God's glory doesn't come easily.Whatever our journey, whether the climb up Trinity Mountain, sharing the gospel in a place desperate for hope, witnessing to people who have been broken by the cruelty of life, or forging a community of faith with people who are sinners like us, the glory comes with struggle.We can get so focused on our hurts and the effort we Xpend that we miss the Xplosion of glory and grace all around us.As I panted for breath I shouted praise across the mountaintops for the wonders God was showing us.I reminded my companions with their heads down to look up, look around, drink in the gifts of the Lord.Take time to smell the roses, and buttercups, and poppies, and who knows what these beauties are named.The beauty may be seen on the mountaintop or in the smiling faces of children, old people, young adults, parents, anyone who lets love and joy come out to another, even amid appalling surroundings.I saw the glory of God in the orphanage, the refugee camp, the mission stations, the congregations and homes we visited.Each embrace (Georgians greet with hugs and kisses) was a treasure to be delighted in.
Thank you for the ways you shine as a reflector of God's glory.For those of you who prayed for the Xtreme Team, I say thank you.Your prayers gave boosts to our guardian angels who got a workout for us, especially on the Georgian roads and in late night streets.You can go to the Xtreme Team website to see photos and read the journals of our team members:http://www.xtremeteamonline.org/index2.html.Be sure to check out the Xin Shos (a Chinese word for the "ah ha" moment when the puzzle pieces all come together for you) from the team members that will be added at the end of our reports.
In Christ's hope and peace,