A blog post I made for Renovate about a month ago:
Last July, I boarded a plane with 12 other twenty and thirty-somethings bound for Belize with one goal in mind: share the gospel of Jesus. I hadn’t been on a plane in three years, and hadn’t been out of the country in 13 years. My passport had arrived two weeks prior after a whirlwind application process that involved a 5:30am alarm and a five hour wait at a post office in north Fort Worth, partly due to my procrastination, and partly due to the recent SCOTUS decision regarding gay marriage. I had no idea what to expect on that trip, and I wasn’t even exactly certain of why I was going. I had wanted to go the year prior, but a series of life circumstances made this near impossible. As the 2015 mission trip approached, however, I found myself not feeling very soft toward it, and it baffled me, considering how differently I’d felt a year ago.
The day I was supposed to go to the first trip meeting was on a Sunday. That day, our wonderful head pastor, Ted Kitchens, preached a sermon on what it means to love Christ and His church. He broke down the Greek meaning of “phileo” and “agape,” referencing John 21 where Jesus was talking to Peter and asked him,
“Peter, do you love me?”
And Peter replied, “Yes, Lord, I love [phileo] you.”
And Jesus had to ask him again, “No, Peter, do you love [agape] me?”
In typical fashion, Peter eventually understood what Jesus was getting at, and I couldn’t help but feel a bit like Peter also. I loved the church for what the church had done to love me and care for me in one of the worst years of my life, but how was I showing the church unconditional love? How was I showing Christ unconditional love? I ached to better serve God, but had no idea how to go about it. Ted never read the ending of that story in John 21 that day. He just asked us, with conviction, “Do you love our Lord?”
Pastor Tyler had told us that if we went on this trip, we’d never be the same. To be honest, this completely terrified me. I had just gone through a year of moving, heartache, loss, buried my mother and grandmother in the same day, and I did not always recognize the woman I saw in the mirror. The last thing I wanted was to have yet another unrecognizable version of myself looking back at me. But the desire to know what it means to love like Christ loved me wouldn’t leave me be. I recounted all of this to my friend Wendy, who is the daughter of missionaries, over dinner that evening and she smiled and replied, “Well, a mission trip is a good place to start with learning how to agape-love Christ.” And so with that, I was going. It is still one of the best decisions I’ve made in my walk as a believer, and I don’t suspect it would ever be a bad decision for any other follower of Christ also. But in case you need reasons to go, I have compiled a short, but meaningful list to hopefully convince anyone to go on a mission trip.
Reasons to go on a mission trip:
- Go because we’re called to go and make disciples. Matthew 28:19 doesn’t leave much wiggle room for interpretation. Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” There are three verbs in that sentence: go, make, baptize. And he was clear in saying, “of all nations,” meaning he knew this world 2,000 years later would still be divided into different governments, kingdoms and nations, but all needed his grace and salvation.
This is the only reason to go on a mission trip, truly. Jesus commanded it for the salvation of others, and so we should go. Often times, we show him our love in our obedience. It’s that simple. But our God is a good God, who loves us dearly and wants good things for us. So, as a gift, He often ensures blessings upon us while we are missionaries. Which brings me to my second point.
- Go because you will grow in your walk with God. Our God is jealous for our love, and He will make the trip so we cleave to Him in ways we’ve never done before. When I left to go on the trip, I thought God would use me as a teacher to help develop lesson plans for the youth we would minister to in Belize. But others felt very called to that endeavor, and I felt the Holy Spirit commanding me not to get in the way of that. I thought I might be used to do laborious work. But the food and humidity affected me negatively, making me physically weak most days. I was able to paint and do light work, but I was limited. I kept saying to God, “Why did you send me here?” But when there was a chance to pray, a chance to listen to others, a chance to encourage, the Lord put those things on my heart, and I spoke up. I have never been one to solve problems by praying over them. (Why would I do that when I can pull myself up by my bootstraps?) In my years as a believer, I always knew that God knew my needs, so why should I pray over them? But He wanted to dwell with me, to commune with me, to know me intimately. It was in Belize that God and I began an intimacy of which I never imagined when I accepted Christ nearly seven years ago. He will do the same with you and your mission trip.
- Go because you should worship God’s creations in places you’ve never seen before, and to know your brothers and sisters you might otherwise would never meet on this Earth. This one is simple. God has created a glorious, beautiful Earth. We created the Eiffel Tower and The Golden Gate Bridge, all fine feats of engineering, but God created Yosemite’s El Capitan, The Grand Canyon, rivers that flow through caves, and the Belizean Keys. Go see his creations as a way to worship Him. And go meet his children in those places because they are our adopted brothers and sisters. Acts 2 talks about how all the believers came together, shared their lives and possessions together, and even though they were culturally different, they suddenly had everything in common because of the grace of Jesus. Go find and meet those brothers and sisters, for the tie that binds us together is stronger than our differences.
Feed my sheep.
It wasn’t until after I returned from the trip that I sat down and read the ending of John 21, and the story with Peter and Jesus. Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him, and on the third time, Peter was very upset because he said he loved Jesus. You see, Peter didn’t quite understand Jesus the first two times when Jesus replied, “Then feed my sheep.” But Peter eventually heard Jesus the third time.