One of the difficulties about doing mission work in a place like St. Croix is that many people immediately assume the trip is a vacation couched in the language of Christian service. I understand that, in large part because my first reaction when I heard the group chose St. Croix as a destination was quite similar. What does a trip to paradise have to do with the spread of the Gospel?
I quickly learned that wildernesses are everywhere, not just in the places we expect to find them.
Yesterday's Scripture reading reveals Christ being led into the desert, into the wilderness, to be tested. On a side note, Pastor Gerald Wallace made a magnificent distinction in his sermon at Lord God of Sabaoth in Christiansted. "To tempt someone is to lead a person toward a poor decision, while to test someone is to provide them with the opportunity to make the right choice...God will not tempt us, but from time to time, God may test us." That is a good word, but rumination upon that is for another day.
Here and now, the reality is that the wilderness Jesus entered was not only one that lacked potable water or adequate food, but one where the Devil sought to tempt him. In places like St. Croix, there is beauty and wonder, but make no mistake: there is poverty in paradise, not only financial, but relational, spiritual, and societal. This place can be a wilderness.
Today we painted at the PINNACLE Building. PINNACLE (Program Institution where Nature and Nurture Attend and Children Learn Effectively) provides opportunities for parents and children that help to support healthy family dynamics and work to avoid the removal of children from their homes and the causes for such removal. Elements include free counseling, job training, home management skills, home health practices, anger management, conflict resolution, and parent effectiveness training. PINNACLE is one of the ministries of Lutheran Social Services of the Virgin Islands (LSSVI), and one way that they help to bring living water to a wilderness that desperately needs something to drink. We came alongside some of the LSSVI staff - Paris, Big Felix, and Little Felix are good supervisors and great new friends - who guided us in their needs and helped to show us how our work helped to further their mission by making the space more welcoming to parents and children, as well as improving the visible image of PINNACLE in the community, where the ministry already has a solid reputation.
In this way, we not only helped to support the continued success of the PINNACLE mission, but we began to understand the complexities of the struggles faced by people on St. Croix. We all face wildernesses, and we all have a role to play in bringing water to the thirsty. For us, today, it was to honor the great work of an organization that works diligently to foster healthier families and keep those families together, and to provide them with the help they needed to continue the ministry.
Wildernesses are everywhere, and not just in those places we expect to find them. But good workers are there to, and our trip to St. Croix is about helping to support that good work done by Lutheran Social Services of the Virgin Islands.
What does a trip to paradise have to do with the spread of the Gospel? Even in paradise, families need support. Families need a witness to the wholeness Christ brings. LSSVI offers that support and witness, and we are gladly along for the Gospel ride.
Simultaneously a sinner and a saint.