So, here I sit, in a Starbucks in Bali. I do feel the need to explain the ‘Starbucks’ part of that first–I have to wait three hours for someone to arrive. It is hot outside. I stick out here. There are many taxis wanting to take tourists places. There is free wifi in starbucks.
But the Bali part is, of course, the more interesting of the two locations. It’s origin actually starts, or, can be at least linked to, an In N Out Burger in Costa Mesa, California.
It was there, on 19th Street, back in 2004 I believe, that I remember, distinctly, having a cell phone conversation with my friend Kim, while I was sitting in the parking lot of In N Out. We were discussing what I would do with my life. At that point, in 2004, I both had no idea how long that would take to play out, or how crazy and amazingly that ‘playing out’ would actually go.
“I think what I’d love to do, or at least part of what I’d love to do, is to travel the world, visiting with ‘missionaries’ (it is not a word I like, as to me it sounds like catholic priests forcing indians to convert as the Spanish colonized the Americas, or the family from the Poisonwood Bible going to ‘save’ the ‘heathens’ of Africa–as if God were not already in Africa, and as if they could possibly ‘bring’ God with them…? But, then again, I’m ordained as a evangelist, which is also a word that has gotten a pretty bad rap, but which, perhaps like missionary, could use some ‘redeeming’ as a word too. But, since I don’t have another word to use in its place, ‘missionaries’ will have to do for now.) to both encourage them, but to also help tell their stories back to the rest of the world ‘at home’ so that their stories can be heard.” That’s what I said to Kim that afternoon from the parking lot.
And that, eight years later, is what I’m doing in Bali. And Vietnam.
Sure, I’ve done quite a bit of this in the intervening years, traveling, storytelling, sharing back through photos and words the people, the food, the experiences of ‘far off’ places. For me, it’s an inherent part of my calling, and why I pushed for the ordination as an ‘evangelist’ and not the more traditional path of minister.
An evangelist, I think, in its truest sense, is someone who tells the ‘good news’ of how God (or Spirit, or love…for those of you who can’t bring yourself to use the G word, but who still would like to acknowledge something that is more than my own individual self) is already at work in the world, long before we (whoever the ‘we’ happens to be) get there with our good intentions, desire to help, save, or otherwise impact the locals.
As an evangelist who also happens to be a photographer and a writer, I see these pieces as all intertwined.
So, what am I doing in Bali? I’m here with the PCUSA, to help tell the stories of those who are working in the region (they will be gathering at a conference/training here). From here we will travel to Vietnam, to meet with various folks there, see their lives, and hear their stories.
Bali is a long way from Baja. And 2012 is quite a ways from 2004. A lot of life has happened in between. But one piece that has remained constant, that has even increased, is this desire–a desire to help people see, to tell the story, and, in so doing, to cross-pollinate my many worlds in a way that will, I hope, bear fruit.