I have spent many years taking short term mission trips. For the past four plus years I have been going regularly to Cuba. My move to a new church a year and a half ago put my work training pastors there on hold, but I am planning to return to Havana this coming October.
The missionary who recruited me has a passion for the gospel of Jesus Christ and for mission. He also has a keen sense for how to go about mission work in other cultures. One of the things he most fears is recruiting someone who will go to Cuba with the "I am here to save and deliver you" attitude (a.k.a. "the ugly American").
Joel tells all the persons he recruits that we go into Cuba with two hands open-- one to give what we are able by God's grace, and the other to receive what the Christians in Cuba have to offer us by that very same grace. Every time I go to Cuba, I am told by the brothers and sisters there how much I bless them; but I am the one who returns home even more blessed in what I have received.
When willing and faithful service to God are combined with an attitude of humility, God can perform the miraculous and touch the lives of everyone involved. The work that God does in multiplying that work cannot be adequately measured nor humanly appraised in value. It transcends the brief time we are together in mission and it moves beyond the geography of the particular place where the gospel is presented and lived out. What we plant gets watered by others and God is the one who makes the work grow (1 Corinthians 3:5-7).
In the midst of such work we come to realize that "we" is the operative word when it comes to the human endeavor. No one individual is indispensable to the pursposes of God in this world, but we find that as we, the church, serve as one community of faith in the U.S. and in Cuba, God accomplishes more than we can possibly imagine as lone individuals. And in the end we must never forget that the work ultimately is God's and it is a privilege to be co-laborers with God in Jesus Christ in service to the Kingdom.