“Brazil” – the first word stamped in my passport.
Many other stamps have followed — and I have relished each one. I consider it a unique privilege that almost all my stamps have come from travel on mission trips. While I’ve definitely enjoyed a few tourist spots along the way, my memories attached with those stamps come primarily with the people of those stamps. Had I traveled as simply a tourist I would have likely seen major attractions in well-known cities. My stamps, however, have taken me to meals around tables, joyful walks through vegetable gardens and tearful conversations far outside city centers or travel guides.
Naïve to travel, I listened intently to all the team training and guidance for that first stamp — learning what “to do” and what “not to do” in another country to love and respect the culture and its people. Perhaps conditioned and cautioned to anticipate the differences, I noticed and enjoyed the distinctions of the Brazilian culture and Portuguese language. Amidst the beautiful language, cuisine and culture, I gradually found the meals and people far more similar than different to meals and tables here — and not just because there seems to be a McDonald’s everywhere. One Brazilian women in particular colored all future stamps and people.
Marked forever by that first stamp, I remember the impact of that meal with her. Other than a few basic Portuguese phrases, I offered nothing in the way of communication in her first language, but she knew mine. To this day, I have never met someone more similar to me in the internal struggles we faced — the way our anxieties and fears manifested, the way our thoughts and emotions at times derail, the deep pain we experienced in the battle. How could I have traveled so far and trained for such division and found such unity? We shared how we fought our fears, leaned on the Scriptures and desperately depended on Jesus. Knowing nods and “me too” glances characterized that meal — and forever marked my view of my struggles, my Bible and my God. Yes, they are very personally mine, but they are also hers.
At the risk of sounding like a cheesy Lifetime movie or Coke commercial, I look back on that stamp as a lesson in how undivided we are from people in other countries and especially believers in other countries. In a profound and personal way, I saw that all Christians struggle with life and sin. The Bible encourages, teaches, equips, convicts all believers. The God of all people and nations — including two young women sharing a meal — saves and sustains.