A 37-hour journey, an emotional reunion, the joys of Christian community, a few days of hard work, and lots of encouragement.
That’s how I would summarise my recent trip to Argentina (18 March to 1 April). A few people have kindly asked me about it, so I thought I would write an article for our newsletter briefly outlining what I got up to, but with the principal purpose of providing an update about how Bethany is getting on with her year (plus) out.
For those of you who don’t know, my 19-year-old daughter, Bethany – Beth from now on – left us in August to work with the Christian charity, Operation Mobilisation (“OM”). She worked for them in the USA for 3 months last year, and is now spending at least a year on their Ship, Logos Hope, which is sailing around Latin America, bringing “Knowledge, Help and Hope” – the message of the love of Jesus in word and in deed – to tens of thousands of people in various different communities.
Having joined the Ship in Guatemala, prior to my visit Beth had also been in El Salvador, Costa Rica, Ecuador and four ports in Chile, including one right at the bottom of the world. I met the Ship in Bahia Blanca, which is about 750 km south of Buenos Aires and about 4 hours’ drive west of Franco’s home city, Mar del Plata.
Space doesn’t allow me to tell the story of my 7,250-mile journey there, but it was quite a tale of God’s sovereign care and kindness, even when my well-made plans didn’t quite work out. It was just wonderful to see Beth again at the end of it all. We have spoken with her regularly via WhatsApp, which we’re really grateful for, but being with her again reminded me that electronic relationships are a poor substitute for the real thing. And whilst she has had her fair share of challenges in seven (now eight) months away, it was so encouraging to see how much she has grown in character and in her trust in God. I feel well left behind in the race we’re running!
We spent a few days off the Ship, in a local hotel, resting and catching up; and the rest of the time I got to experience full-on Ship life, and meet a lot of the crew, including Beth’s close friends. So, what would I highlight to give you a flavour of what Beth has been experiencing?
The first thing is the Ship community. The crew are all believers, about 360 in total from 57 different countries, and most of them are below age 30 – I felt rather old! It is of course flawed in various ways; and I was encouraged that Beth sees those flaws, because as Dietrich Bonhoeffer rightly said, you cannot experience true community until you have become disillusioned with it. But she is loving the opportunity to live in a large multi-national Christian family, and I can definitely see why. Despite the shortcomings, it was in many ways a beautiful picture of the kingdom Jesus is building: people from very different backgrounds, sharing life, work and mission, bound together by a common love for God. Truly inspiring.
Secondly, hard work. Each member of the crew has a job onboard: this is a huge Ship, that needs everyone to play their part, and as some of you know Beth is part of the “Angels” cleaning team that cleans the whole Ship interior every day. Some people have wondered about the value of going 7,000 miles to do manual work. In response, particularly having been onboard and spent some time doing the work myself, I’d say two things. First, I am totally persuaded of God’s provision for Beth in putting her in a team of young women that so highly prizes praying and reading Scripture on a daily basis. And secondly, there is inherent value in believers working hard together each day, each person playing their part (in what is an undertaking of almost military standards!) in serving other people and their Lord. Beth is learning a huge amount in her work; a reminder that God sees things so differently to us.
Thirdly and finally, mission. Sure, the Ship environment is a bit of a “bubble”, but it was great to feel the sense of everyone being on mission, as people go into the community and welcome the community onboard – the numbers were comparatively “low” in Bahia Blanca, but still reached 6,000 on one of the Saturdays. Beth is growing into this aspect of Ship life, getting increasing opportunities to share her faith one to one, in church settings and, most recently, on the streets of Montevideo, Uruguay. It’s part of the DNA of Ship life.
Community, work, mission – three essential elements of being human, and all three invested with the life of Jesus. An imperfect but inspirational pattern. As incredibly tough as it was to say goodbye, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Thank you to all of you who prayed for me, and who continue to pray for and support Beth. Philippa, Rebekah and I would be happy to tell you more if you’re interested. In the meantime, I thought you might also like to see a few photos – including my attempt at being an Angel