Team Trinidad

Series: Window on the World

by Phil Ryken September 12, 1999

Window on the World is our weekly opportunity to develop a Christian world view. Often, I speak about one of the great issues facing our culture. But Christianity also has a great deal to say about the little things, like how I spent my summer vacation. (At this point, I'm sure you'll be relieved to find out that I'm not going to show you any family slides).

This summer I traveled to Trinidad. For those of you who never took high school geography, Trinidad is a small island in the West Indies, only seven miles from the coast of South America. About twenty of us went altogether, a team of high school students and leaders from the Maranatha youth group here at Tenth Church. We had been invited to Trinidad by Scripture Union. Over the course of two weeks, we presented evangelistic programs in secular schools and conducted Vacation Bible School for more than 3,000 children.

It was a wonderful trip, and I had a great time getting to know some of our high school students—there is nothing quite like sharing a dormitory for getting to know people. I came back with the highest respect for the students who went on the trip. The gospel work they did this summer was outstanding.

I also came back from Trinidad having relearned some important spiritual lessons. I'm not sure I learned anything altogether new, but I was reminded of some very basic principles for living the Christian life.

One is to be thankful for every one of God's gifts, especially considering the abundant material prosperity we enjoy here in the United States. Trinidad is a Third World country, and although we saw very few people who were destitute, we met many who were living in relative poverty—children in tattered clothes, families living in ramshackle dwellings, and so forth. It is good to be reminded from time to time how fabulously wealthy we are in America. This should not necessarily make us feel guilty, but it should inspire us to be grateful.

We were reminded how accustomed we are to the easy life one night as we stood in the hallway of the dorm, contemplating an insect of unusual size. This was an everyday occurrence in Trinidad, “but can you imagine,” someone said, “what would happen if that thing showed up in your house back home?!?” Our standards of necessity and convenience were changing, and we were learning something about contentment. We were learning to be satisfied with good things like basic shelter, and never mind the bugs.

Another lesson I learned all over again this summer was the necessity of good teamwork. I knew this already, of course, because it is one of the major themes of the New Testament. We need one another. Indeed, we cannot live without one another, for we are one body. But still, it is good to be reminded that everyone has a different job to do, and that whatever your job is, it needs to be done to the glory of God.

My own role on Team Trinidad was a little different from my role here at Tenth. Here people call me Dr. Ryken. Over there people called me “Phil-Dawg” (I think it was a term of endearment, although it did require an awful lot of barking). Here I get to be the preacher. Over there, it didn't matter whether I could preach or not. It wasn't important, because it wasn't my job. My job was to encourage the other members of our team, and to serve them however as I could. That meant doing the little things like sharpening pencils, loading bags onto the maxi-taxi, helping to lead the games, and so forth. Not everybody gets to be the preacher—and not even the preacher gets to be the preacher all the time, I discovered. Sometimes your job is to sharpen pencils. If your job is to sharpen pencils, then do it to the glory of God, because someone else is counting on you.

I relearned some things in Trinidad about worship, too. My first full day there I had the privilege of preaching at an evangelical church in St. Augustine. It was a fair-sized church, maybe one hundred worshipers on a good Sunday. I was impressed by how similar their approach to worship was to ours: Christian worship is to be regulated by holy Scripture. At its heart is the reading and preaching of the Bible. God's people are to respond to God's Word by confessing their faith, praying for their needs, and praising their Lord, using some of the great hymns of the faith.

There were some differences, of course. One of the churches our team visited had a steel drum, which I understand is a matter our students may want to take up with the Music Committee. More time was devoted to personal testimonies, which we do not often have. There also seemed to be a more natural and exuberant joy in worship than we generally experience, which was extremely attractive.

The essential thing, however, was this: that we share the same fundamental commitment to worshiping God in a way that is pleasing to him. As I worshiped there I was reminded that the same thing was happening in churches all over the world. In people's living rooms, in little country churches, in warehouses and auditoriums, in great big sanctuaries like this one, God's Word was being preached and God's Name was being exalted.

It occurs to me that some of the basic lessons I relearned this summer are absolutely essential to the spiritual vitality of Tenth Church: Be content with what you have; you have so much to be thankful for. Know your role; carry out your unique calling to the glory of God and to the best of your ability. Finally, worship the Lord in Spirit and in truth.

[With special thanks to Chewy, Sunshine, Fizz, Guppy, Giggles, Bugsy, Slick, Odie, Animal, Ace, Hammer, Flipper, Dudley, Strawberry, Bean, Gummy, Tik, and Sniper for one of the best mission trips ever. All right puppies and dogs, let me hear you woof!]

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