I spent ten days in 2009 and 2010 teaching Vacation Bible School, making home visits, training church laypeople, and sightseeing in a small town in Utah. When someone volunteers to go on a “mission trip” their motivation is to improve the lives of others. What really happens is that their own life is enriched, their faith grows, and they learn much more than they teach.
Culture changes your view of a shared experience.
When we rode into town, I was completely shocked to see mothers grabbing their children and running. It was like in movies, when the bombers are heard overhead, except it was my presence causing the fear. I wanted to roll down the window and shout, “We won’t harm you.”
We were told to expect girls and women in long dresses with long sleeves despite the temperature above 100 degrees. Males, regardless of age, would wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts.
About a dozen of us from Oklahoma had flown into Las Vegas. We were then transported by the church vans to the town where we would be working. While sightseeing, we had driven to a small town to picnic. This tree was in the park.
Even without seeing us dressed in shorts and t-shirts, the locals knew we didn’t belong. The cause for their panic was the church’s name on the vans. Not only were they afraid we would try to convert them, they were concerned we would try to take their children. We were their enemy, because of their previous experience with another group of Christians. To be clear, this was not the town with the church where we were working
Just because the kids in our culture do it all the time, doesn’t mean they do.
We brought all of our extra materials from our church’s Vacation Bible School one month earlier to the church in Utah. Children who had never attended any church came eagerly. They were curious about VBS and their parents felt safe sending them to a church for three hours a day for the week.
The host church and my team worked to create a wonderful experience of Bible stories, crafts, songs, recreation, and snacks for the children. The surprise for me was the enthusiasm the children showed for each activity. My church’s children had looked at some of the activities with bored expressions. There I overheard: “WOW!” and “This is the best day of my life!”
Music communicates in every culture.
We sang songs that taught biblical concepts several times each day, knowing the words could be remembered for the rest of the children’s lives. We also prepared a musical program for the parents to enjoy at the end of the week, knowing every parent loves to watch their child perform. We wanted to introduce the community to the church and its members.
There is a unity between all people who love and serve Jesus Christ that crosses all cultures.
We may laugh about other people’s accents, or how they prepare their food, but there was a sameness when we spoke of our love of Jesus. Our team slept in the homes of the church members, both to save money and to help us get to know one another better. Although our backgrounds were different, we felt a great closeness as we prayed for one another.
The obstacles that my church faced in evangelizing my community were not the same challenges they had, but we each had problems. Neither group wanted to trade places with the other.
We went back to Oklahoma, praying that their church would grow. We hoped the relationships started with the families would become close, that children would trust Jesus as their Savior, and the laypeople would become more dedicated to discipleship and evangelism.
We also went back to Oklahoma changed. We saw that some people fear us. We learned to appreciate our uniqueness, and to value the interdependence of the body of Christ. By getting out of our comfortable routine, traveling 1,300 miles, and trusting God to take care of us physically, financially, relationally, and spiritually, we had grown closer to God and one another.
- What did you learn when you left your comfort zone?
- Are there people of a different culture, faith, or values whom you need to reach out to?
(Author’s Note: I have not experienced a vacation that didn’t have either a ministry purpose or a plan to see family from out of state; therefore, I chose to write about these mission trips. I chose not to reveal the actual locations of my experiences out of respect for people that live in those communities.)
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- Utah Mission Trips Changed My Appreciation for the Power of Culture - July 6, 2016
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- Policing Your Thoughts Disarming Satan - April 8, 2016
- A Testimony: Spiritual Healing Replaced Fear With Love - April 4, 2016
- Mary’s View of THE CROSS - March 4, 2016
- Genuine Love Surpasses Superior Obedience - February 15, 2016