When I lead mission trips, one of the key tools I take with me are journals. I encourage each member of the team to keep a personal journal where they can write memories and insights then reflect upon them in prayer to see if they can sense the Holy Spirit leading them to a deeper understanding of themselves, of God and of their experience.
I also bring along two other journals for the team. The first is a group travelogue that includes morning and evening reflections and rotates through the entire group. The second is my favorite. It is a complaint journal.
On our last trip to Brazil, I described the journaling process to the team. When I came to the complaint journal, there were many puzzled faces and the obvious question, “What’s a complaint journal?”
I shared how a good friend who led the first international mission trip I participated in taught me the value of this tool. It is a place vent frustration and concerns so that they stop weighing you down in your ministry. “Who reads the Complaint Journal,” they asked, and I replied, “no one.”
The point of this journal was to give a tangible way to express inner turmoil without burdening the entire team with negativity and without trying to keep such corrosive feelings bottled up inside. Here was a place to whine about the food, the lack of hot water, and the snoring in the next bed. It was a safe place to vent feelings of helplessness and loneliness, all mixed with a little homesickness. It was a means to honestly address what we felt and thought without the destructive results other forms of expression could have.
I still keep a complaint journal. Now it is most likely found in my freewriting, as I seek to limber up my thoughts, mind and skill. Occasionally, it seeps over into my daily journal as well. Life is hard and hurtful, and it is important to have a place to address those challenges openly, to say what is really on our mind and “lay it all out” before ourselves and God. Once we do, then we can begin to seek solutions. I often use my venting as the foundation for my prayers so that I can listen for God’s answer to speak life into challenging moments.
One of the most powerful words in our faith vocabulary is “redemption.” God likes to redeem things. It is the message of our faith history and we see God’s acts of redemptions time and again throughout the biblical story, culminating in the redemption brought by Jesus Christ. It is the power of this redemption that allows us to speak wholeness and healing into places of brokenness and pain. It is the knowledge of redemption that keeps us grounded, knowing that no person or situation is too far gone for God to do something beautiful and amazing with them. It is the source of our hope, and the hope of the world.
No one needs to hear our words of frustration; they need to hear God’s words of redemption. People do not need our expressions of anger and death; they need God’s gift of peace and life. The world needs hope and God chooses to use us to give it to them. It is easy to join the masses drowning in negativity, but there is such joy in being a prophet of hope; a messenger of life though Christ.
The Gospel really is “good news!” It is not just the story of Jesus, nor is it just the promise of heaven. Instead, it is the proclamation of hope, life and peace available to all who will receive it, even now. The good news is that God is present and powerful and nothing in heaven or on earth can separate us from his great love. Redemption is real, and it is available now.
The world needs good news. The world needs the Gospel, and we have the joy and privilege of being the means by which God shares this blessing. It is a great responsibility, but also the greatest honor we will receive. We can keep the complaint journals to ourselves, but let’s write the redemption journal on the lives of others and see the true power of the Gospel.