Jesus took five loaves and two fish and fed thousands of people. On Wednesday we turned a side of beef into 65 hamburger patties and fed them to about 50 hikers. I am not a grill master. The good news is that people on a 2,000 mile hike on the Appalachain Trail (AT) will eat grilled lizard; and probably have.
The people at Georgia Mountain Resort Ministries have been doing this so long that the burgers are known as “Jesus Burgers” on the AT. Jesus burgers on the AT are like Windex in Helen. Its a way to show kindness, gain trust, and start conversations. It is a fascinating way to engage in missions to a global sub-culture. In about three hours we served burgers to a lady from Australia, a dude with dreadlocks from Florida, a guy named Pirate, two students from Israel, a guy hiking barefoot, a fellow by the name of Lumpy, a med student who graduated last week, a dad and his son on Spring Break, a 62 year old lady fulfilling her dream, a few vegetarians to whom we served “veggie Jesus burgers,” and lots of people who looked like they could skin a squirrel - spelunk a cave - and start a fire underwater if need be.
Trail people are a sub culture to which me and my family are complete foreigners. When we think of going to Maine, we can’t envision the trip without loads of luggage in the belly of a plane or at the very least the back of a van. When these people go to Maine, they walk it and live out of a bag. Yet as strange a world as this was to us, we loved serving burgers to the hikers on Wednesday. I would really like to do it again. We served Jesus burgers, met some fascinating people, and had some great gospel centered conversations. Jesus set the precedent. Meet needs, feed the hungry, show hospitality, then share the gospel. The Son of God invented the Jesus burger.
Mission trips challenge you to identify subcultures and engage worlds with the gospel that are strange and unfamiliar. The process serves to remind you that you are strange and unfamiliar. We are all a part of a sub-culture, a people group. If you read my first report from Helen this week, our sub culture/people is our water. Our people group is the tank in which we swim, the normalcy and sense of safety with which is insulate ourselves. Missions is like a guy in a fish store staring into an aquarium and the fish inside the aquarium staring back at him. Both worlds are weird, it is simply a matter of perspective. On the back of our Honda version of the swagger wagon is a magnet of a feminine stick type figure holding up a towel. Beneath the picture it reads, “Swim mom.” Pirate stood there studying our van and asked me, “What’s your sticker say?” For context, let me share with you that the entire morning Pirate had been wearing a pink sticker on his shirt that said, “Do not bend.” Repeatedly he would say, “That’s my name, middle name’s ‘not.’” Apparently on the AT everybody gets an alter ego, a trail name. In Florida, Pirate has a different name, but on the AT he is simply Pirate, or Not - who can tell? Every name has a story, you earn it, it defines you. On the trail your name says a lot about you. Apparently our sticker says a lot about us, “Swim mom.” When I explained to Pirate that our daughters are on a swim team he said, “I can’t get far doing that.” Here’s a guy who has hiked back and forth across America several times confessing that in our world he couldn’t get very far. Honestly, Pirate, I couldn’t get very far in yours. But we were there, Swim Mom and Pirate, having a conversation, two worlds colliding over Jesus burgers.
As we were driving down the mountain, my wife and I were talking about barefoot hikers, vegans, and other odd and unfamiliar aspects of the AT sub-culture we encountered. In the course of the conversation I reminded Shannon that John the Baptist was probably more like the people on the AT than us. The people on the AT travel in loose packs, informal nomadic communities. They emerge one by one from the wilderness with a strange name and a message. When you think of the gospel in that context, in the context from which it emerged you realize, I am a fish in a tank. I have no idea I breathe water. I take my daughters to the pool everyday as if its normal. I wake up every Sunday and go to church. I like Starbucks. I own a Dell, a MacBook, and an iPad. I listen to Jack Johnson. I tuck in my shirt when I go to work. We eat dinner at the same time almost every night. Pirate drifts. Tonight a guy named Caleb, that I met on Wednesday is deep in the Appalachian mountains alone, and by his own admission, “Journeying his thoughts.” Caleb is taking time to think. These guys live in a different tank than I do. But at some point in time the gospel made it from a locust eating, camel hair wearing, radical in the wilderness named John the Baptist to my tank. Somewhere along the way somebody took the time to study my tank and figure out how to swim in it. Somebody brought me a Jesus burger. That’s missions.