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The Power of Presence

In just two weeks, I’ll be on a plane to Africa.

My wife and I, along with four other Harvest members, will travel from Detroit to Amsterdam, from Amsterdam to Rwanda, then to the border of D. R. Congo, where we will walk across the river to the city of Bukavu. From there, we will make our way to the remote village of Katshungu. In all, it will take us 4 days to get from point A to point B. Our mission is to equip local church leaders in various areas of discipleship.

Having been to Congo two years ago, I remember well the trans-Atlantic flight, then the second flight into Africa. The hours drag on. No amount of gripping novels, in-flight movies, and neck-pillow dozing could compensate for that many hours on a plane.

Why bother?

I’ve heard people ask… What’s the point of raising a few thousand dollars, spending countless hours in the air, and risking your health and safety halfway around the world? Why not just send money? Why not just ship books? Why not just write up some lecture notes, email them to a local pastor, and have him teach the classes?

Fair questions. But they overlook one very important factor: the power of presence.

In this era of ubiquitous social media, presence is an increasingly rare and valuable commodity. Technology has shrunk the world and people are more connected than ever, yet people are more lonely than ever. Cell phones, text messages, emails, snapchat, Skype, and even blog posts(!) can be a blessing, a supplement to relationships. But nothing can replace the dynamic of actually being with a friend or loved one. Nothing can replace the dynamic of meeting someone in person. When present, we can exchange more than words: handshakes, hugs, genuine smiles, shared experiences.

The apostle Paul understood the impact of the written word. Half of our New Testament books are letters penned by Paul. Yet he understood that long-distance communication could never replace the joy of presence:

I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. (1 Cor 16:7)  
I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence, for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. (1 Cor 16:17-18)  
But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again. (1 Thess 2:17-18)  
Do your best to come to me soon. (2 Tim 4:9)

Our mission team is under no illusion that the church in Congo needs us. The saints in Congo are inspiring. They have seen war and severe hardship, yet they serve the Lord with joy and perseverance. With few resources, believers operate a Bible Institute and a hospital in the small village of Katshungu. Frankly, it will be our privilege to be among them!

Yet, we know the saints in Congo will be greatly encouraged by the effort we are making to travel all the way from Michigan to be with them. In person. Face to face. They will learn from us, and we will learn from them. We will encourage one another in the Lord.

Nothing can replace the power of presence. 

Thank you, Harvest family, for sending us. Please pray for us as we meet with our brothers and sisters in Africa.

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