Saying "yes" to God's call always involves laying one’s life on the line. The risks are increased when that "yes" involves traveling several thousand miles to be in mission with people of a foreign land. God expects us to use common sense in minimizing the risks.
On April 27, four persons from Holston Conference left early in the morning to board a plane bound for Mexico. Our final destination was the Methodist Church of Ixtepec. This congregation, located in the extreme north of the Sierra Madre Mountains in the state of Puebla, frequently hosts a medical mission team from Holston. The church building is supplied by a single electrical circuit. Our team was an advance team that would install a new electrical supply just prior to the medical team’s arrival.
On the day of our departure, Homeland Security indicated that travelers to Mexico should not cancel their trips, so we left expecting to be joined by the medical team later that week. The day before the medical team departed, Homeland Security issued a traveler’s advisory to cancel all trips to Mexico. Physician Paul Brown, a member of Munsey Memorial UMC, and the Rev. Jim Dougherty, a retired pastor in Knoxville District, reluctantly called off the trip.
Even though we had heard of widespread swine flu cases in Mexico City, none had been reported in Puebla. The possibility of its spread to such a remote area (a seven-hour drive from Mexico City) seemed very low. So our advance team continued until we had completed the electrical work. We returned to the U.S. as soon as we could schedule a flight.
I would not have led a group into Mexico against the advice of our government authorities. If the mission had involved only me, I might have gone on if I felt that was God’s calling. But, I had responsibility for three other lives, one of whom had a young daughter. That child really worried about her daddy.
My reflections are not about the details of our trip, but the hysteria created by a pandemic that might rival the flu of 1918 and 1919. Yes, I am concerned about that possibility. Taking precautions are important. I would no more go to the nursing home to visit my 94-year-old mother than I would to go in with guns blazing as some deranged man did recently in a nursing home in North Carolina. Flu would be just deadly for those residents.
However, concern and worry are two different things. Jesus warned his disciples then, just as surely as he would warn us today, not to take anxious thought about tomorrow. Many may die in a flu pandemic. I could become a statistic in such an event. Nevertheless, I don't want to live out my years worrying about death to the point that I am paralyzed by fear and live in the shadow of death! Perhaps our economic recess has made our society more fatalistic as it faces the possibility of widespread death, but I choose to live my life in the context of the promises of God.
In times like these, I want to live my life in the way suggested in a prayer found in our "Book of Worship," which I pray in services of death and resurrection. The last words of that prayer are as follows:
Help us to live as those who are prepared to die. And when our days here are accomplished, enable us to die as those who go forth to live, so that living or dying, our life may be in you, and that nothing in life or in death will be able to separate us from your great love in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
I encourage you, as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, to live out the essence of this prayer. Death is always with us, whether it be from the swine flu or from some other cause.
The Rev. Mack Turner is interim pastor at Elizabeth Chapel UMC, Johnson City District.