We’re on the sixth slideshow when my roommate, Emily, leads her team to the front of the auditorium. The mostly-female team are all wearing the shapeless, colorful dresses that they wore for their week in a Central Asian village. This, along with covering their hair and serving the three men who accompanied them, was their homage to their hosts, most of whom had never met a Christian before.
It’s M-Trip Sunday today at Black Forest Christian Fellowship, the day on which the 70 students and 15 leaders from the spring break mission trips give reports in the service of their weeks around the world. By the time the Central Asia team takes the stage, I’ve already stood in front, wearing my orange Habitat for Humanity t-shirt and stucco-speckled jeans as our students shared about the provision of safety and fellowship during our week in Romania.
As I listen to the students today, I’m struck by both the variety and the similarity of our weeks in six different countries. Some went with boldly evangelical missions, preparing dramas and Bible studies to share with children in Italy and Belarus. Others went to “closed countries,” where to speak the name of Jesus at all was forbidden. Some were teaching, others building. We went to three continents–Europe, Africa and Asia–and took with us 85 different sets of expectations for what the weeks would hold.
Yet this morning I’m struck more with the similarities of the trips than their unique differences. As slideshows reveal that kids in every country like to jump rope and blow bubbles, I hear the students say, again and again, that what was most meaningful and important each week was the relationships they were able to build with one another and with those they’d come to serve. No matter what the “project” that had brought them to Tanzania or Slovenia, Romania or Belarus, the students were impacted by this opportunity to share the love of Christ the best way they know how, by loving His people.
I was sixteen the first time a short-term mission trip took me to a foreign country. Bethany Community Church sent twelve people to San Jose, Costa Rica, where we spent the week building relationships with a community of believers there and, most of the time, doing the backbreaking labor of building a church from concrete, rebar and cinder blocks. I remember the Costa Rican pastor, during our last meal together, sharing that with the money we’d raised to fly twelve people from Seattle to San Jose, we probably could have hired people to finish the project. Discouraging thought to my sixteen-year-old self. But he continued, saying that in the end, this was better, this fellowship of believers coming together to know one another, reflecting the love of Christ that knows no language or cultural barriers.
This is what I hear from our students as they return for the last six busy weeks of school. It was amazing, they say, so see the God is everywhere, working in grander ways than we could ever have imagined. Even though many of our students have grown up away from what we call their “passport countries,” most of them come back impressed by the international nature of the body of Christ, delighted to see that whatever the differences of language and culture, they are joined by a more important bond of shared love for their savior, Jesus.
Thank you to all of you who make this ministry possible, for your prayers and support that enable our students to take these journeys of faith as they grow towards maturity.