Since we’re launching our GoConnect trips to Europe in a big way right now, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how mission trips have played an enormous role in my life. To be fair, I guess I’d have to say I was always theoretically, maybe theologically interested in missions. It’s hard to read the Bible without that happening, you know? But my ministry path led me first to youth ministry in a new church in Arizona. (Some time I’ll have to write about how working in a new, dynamic church plant made church planting so important in my life, but I digress.)
So it happened like this… As a youth minister, I was always looking for ways to increase the passion level of the kids in the group, and always on the lookout for something interesting and fun to do with them. Since we were in Arizona, this led pretty easily to some work trips to Ensenada, Mexico, where we built houses for some of the economic refugees who had come from all over Central America to the border region just south of San Diego, CA. We went with two or three different organizations over the course of a few years. We didn’t do any evangelism, but it definitely got us out of our comfort zones and right into a completely different culture. And it was also so important for us as Americans to experience the extreme poverty of these people close-up. I still think every American really needs to experience something like this, for various reasons.
These trips got everyone in our group talking about missions in general, at least the more spiritually-minded ones among the teenagers and adult helpers. And it challenged me to think more intensely about missions. I found a brochure for one trip designed for youth ministers, to Costa Rica and Panama, and after sneaking looks at it for a few days and dreaming, I took this huge leap and CALLED about it. This was a big moment for me. That night, I told my wife about it. That was a big moment for her. Probably should have talked to her BEFORE calling…
When I look back now at all the things that led me into this life in missions – first serving as church-planting missionary in Germany, then starting Kontaktmission USA a few years ago – and what created this passion that never lets go of me for even a second, I have to confess that this trip with the other youth ministers was the real beginning of all that. I realized during and after that trip how passionate I was about taking Jesus cross-culturally, and discovered that I loved being out of my comfort zone like that. I’m sure I didn’t realize that before. I mean, I was the kid who was uncomfortable going to church camp as a teenager. Anyway, after the trip was over, I couldn’t stop talking about Costa Rica and Panama and the churches there. Seems like everything I said for the next 6 months started out with “In this one church in Panama…” or “At the house where we stayed in Costa Rica…” It was probably pretty annoying for my wife and everyone else around me. The fact is, I was actually changed again. I’d become truly crazy about and committed to Jesus a few years before, one gigantic change, but now it was happening all over again.
I think a life with Jesus should be full of passion, full of surprises, full of the joy of discovery, full of that feeling of falling and then being caught by God’s strong hand. I can not understand those who want a Christian life just because they’ve understood it’s a superior way to live and raise a family or something… It is, of course, but don’t they realize what they’re missing, what He offers, what He has actually called us to? I also think for those of us who know we love Jesus, missions is just a natural part of what we do. It’s one of our defining characteristics: Christ-followers do mission work, they just do. It makes complete sense to me that the experience of missions is going to be full of the best joys and surprises, and my experience has certainly borne that out for me.
It all started with a mission trip. I keep thinking about Kontaktmission’s GoConnect trips (Europe) that are forming now for the coming months. I hope everyone who reads this will get on one and get changed.