"Blood is thicker than water", the saying goes, but in the kingdom of God, the Spirit is thicker than blood. Throughout the New Testament the church is referred to as family, brothers and sisters. We are called to spread the gospel to all people groups, which extends our family. The end result is that your family is much bigger than you tend to think. We simply haven't met them yet. The Burkles thought they knew who their family was: Clay, Christine, Arley, Griffin, and Cayden. God showed them it's bigger.
Is your family only your siblings, children, parents, or other blood-relatives? Jesus told us that there will be no marriage in heaven. Genesis tells us that every one of us was made in God's image. Paul calls us brothers and sisters. The Burkles encountered this truth in Monterey, where they opened themselves to a larger family. As I sat with them it was obvious the impact it had on the entire family. Their oldest, Caden, interjected, “It was really awesome.” Griffin admitted that, “It was hard to leave.” Their daughter Arley proudly beamed, “I gave away my only swimsuit.” Christine pointed out, “It really shook me from my comfort zone,” to which Clay responded, “We all got pushed outside our comfort zone.”
One thing they desired for their family was an identity, a shared purpose, a different rhythm to life that would change the children's perception of life. It wasn't long before their opportunity came knocking.
They were asked to go to Monterey with Back2Back. They had been considering a trip to Kentucky but were not entirely comfortable with the idea of an international missions trip as a family with three young children. In fact, as they were considering the trip, they received signals that left them with a serious concern about safety and security. God, as usual, finds a way to stretch us into obedience. Clay and Christine found themselves agreeing to go as God worked on them at a heart level.
And yet, when we are being told to go somewhere we behave like Gideon in seeking confirmation of God’s instructions. They were booked on a 3:30am flight to Mexico. That very night Arley got sick and started vomiting. This was June, a time of significant heat and the area they would be traveling to does not have the amenities (like air conditioning) we're used to. So Christine asked for a sign: if they were intended to go, please stop her vomiting and if it occurred one more time they were to stay home. As you might expect, God answered and told them to keep going. They went.
One of the first things they noticed was how different life was in Monterey. The families they encountered were structured differently than they were used to. The local children didn't have the same oversight and may have suffered some significant trauma. Things were much less in control than they typically are here. However, some things remain the same. The children connected quickly despite the language barrier. They worked. They played. They ate. They talked.
From a writer’s perspective, one thing you learn when you have spent some time interviewing people is what they repeat about the experience is what defines their experience. The Burkles, kids and all, talked most about the children that they spent their time with. They keep up with these boys over Facebook, tell stories about them, think about their needs and how they can enhance their lives. They hardly spoke of the work. For instance, Clay told me how he struck up a conversation with a boy named Amerigo in church early on in the trip as Clay repeatedly asked him what was happening in the Spanish-speaking church. "Rigo" apparently hadn't connected with anyone else during the prior Back2Back trips. However, something happened where Rigo and Clay bonded and began spending time with each other. The children speak of Angel, a boy they played with and Clay pointed out that he is someone that they… Arley interrupts to say, “…really loved.”
The underlying story here is how their family expanded to include these children because they simply spent time together. They video-chat like extended family, they stay in touch over Facebook, they support these children now; more significantly, they pray for each other. We can observe how God connects people of different creeds, different cultures, different lives, and reminds us we are all made in His image. The Burkles now see these people are part of their family they just hadn't met until Monterey.
As Christine summarized, "You go on these mission trips to change and help other people. It's amazing how you get changed in the process."
If you'd like to learn more about Back 2 Back, please visit their website.
Author: Jonathan Allain
Originally published: January 13, 2015