By Alice Marleaux
I am a doer, a helper, a fixer. I like getting things done, striking them off my to-do list, and moving on to the next task. On a recent short-term mission experience in Costa Rica, I was gently reminded that God is not only present at the final destination of the completed projects and checked off items, but also in the winding journeys and unfinished moments of our daily life.
I had journeyed with six teenagers, their fathers, and Marty, our clergy person in charge of outreach, to continue work on the construction of the Church of the Ascension in San Jose, Costa Rica. For years, a growing group of Episcopalians had gathered for worship, but their church was a small, unsafe structure. Perceiving the need for a new, larger and safer structure, the Diocese of Costa Rica decided to build the Church of the Ascension. Now in year three of the project, the original unsafe structure has been demolished, foundations have been laid, and walls have been constructed.
As our second morning of work came to a close, Marty and I were invited to sit with Padre Eduardo, the priest of Ascension; the architect; the engineer; and Augustine, our work crew chief. We had come together to talk about next steps in the project like funding, future dreams and hopes for the construction. As we squeezed around a table, huge architectural drawings of every part of the church were spread out before us. As our four Tico (Costa Rican) friends poured over the drawings, it became even more evident what an absolute labor of love the construction of this church is. They spoke with such animation and joy and pure excitement and pride of this project.
When I asked when they thought it will be done, Padre Eduardo responded, “Well, it’s not all about when it’s done.” It was a perfect answer. He beamed as he shared about the relationships, the friendships that are forming in the process of building the church, the faith lessons of God’s provisions being learned, and the sense of fellowship and community with Episcopal brothers and sisters from different parts of the world. As someone who frequently focuses on a goal, I was reminded that the process of getting something done is just as important as completing it. For me, this has been a lifelong lesson of spending time in mission. Though I arrived with a specific goal to achieve, Padre Eduardo saw the bigger picture: He is not driven by the act of achieving or beating deadlines; he is driven by the desire to build the kingdom of God now, a kingdom where all are included and where all are asked to share their gifts.
I wonder how many “projects” I am working on where I have become blind to the importance of the process and only fixated on the end product. I wonder how many times I’m more concerned with checking off my “to do” list item by item than I am in opening my eyes to look for God’s presence at every point along the way. I wonder how many times I become focused so deeply on a deadline that I make no room for the spirit to move.
Yes, we worked on floors being leveled, dirt being dug and moved and dug and moved again, but so many other things were taking place too: laughter-filled friendships were forming between our teenagers, with the work crew, and amongst all of the laborers. Barriers of language, race, class, and gender were being broken down over dirt and cement and gravel. Lessons of work and hospitality and love were being shared.
In every mission experience, if we open our eyes to the beauty of the process I believe we will find God’s presence in much more than simply the finished project.
And so my prayer is to be constantly aware that my life is not governed or driven by deadlines or achievements or checking an item off the list, but instead by the amount of love I can receive and pour into the process of any given day.
Alice Marleaux serves as the Director of Outreach and Mission at Christ Episcopal Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and has been involved in mission-related programs for ten years having led or participated in fifteen short-term mission experiences in Guatemala, Costa Rica, Cameroon, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic.