Last week Todd and I participated in a mission trip opportunity to Pennsylvania. If you compare the physical characteristics of the two states of NC and PA, there are lots of similarities. There are 12.8 million people in the state of PA, compared with 10.2 million in NC. The state of PA covers 46,055 square miles; NC covers 53,819 square miles. The physical landscape and characteristics of the state are similar: beautiful mountains, rolling farmland, busy cities.
Spiritually, however, there are significant differences between our two states. Because our trip was sponsored by the WMU (Southern Baptist’s Women’s Missionary Union), we worked with other Southern Baptist churches and new church plants. There are around 400 Southern Baptist churches in PA in 8 associations; in contrast, in NC there are 77 associations and 4400 Southern Baptist churches. That’s a huge difference, and while Southern Baptists are certainly not the only Christian churches in PA, it does give you some idea of how unique it is to live in the “Bible belt” compared to other places. We are saturated with the availability of the gospel here in NC, and we have no excuse not to be vibrant, growing, passionate followers of Christ. If we are not being fed spiritually, if we are not growing to love Christ more, if we are not part of a local body of believers, we seriously need to examine our hearts and ask ourselves why?
One of the main reasons for our trip was to provide support staff to host a state-wide overnight retreat for women. There were around 175 women attending, including pastor’s wives, church planter wives, and church members. The theme was “Gather For His Glory” and it was truly a time to share and experience the glory of God. Our little team of ten (seven ladies and three men), joined by a few other hard-working people, set up tables and chairs, decorated, cooked and served two meals, cleaned up after meals, hosted fun events like a movie and popcorn, mini-spa, and a tea room. There was a mission fair (we hosted an ATCM table), and workshop sessions on lots of great ministry resources and spiritual growth topics (we also taught two ATCM workshops). We enjoyed great teaching and worship along with the women who attended. We arrived at the location on Friday morning at 8:30 am and we literally worked non-stop until 5:00 pm on Saturday. We were exhausted, but it was good and rewarding “wow, God did that!” kind of exhaustion.
On Sunday morning, our team split into two groups and worshipped with two new church plants. Our group (four of us) attended a very small Korean congregation, where we were to meet the church planter and his wife and have lunch with them afterward. When we arrived, we learned that we were not expected, that the church planter and his wife were in Europe for a conference. But we were still made to feel as welcome as if they had planned for our visit. The man who preached spoke very little English (enough to say, “Please sit down” and “I not speak so good English”), but one of the members sat near us and translated the message for us. All the songs were sung in Korean, but a sweet lady moved to sit close and find the right song for us in their Korean-English hymnbook, so we could follow along and join in. And of course, they invited us to stay for lunch anyway. We enjoyed a true Korean meal (complete with kimchi and the hottest Instant coffee I’ve ever held in my hand!). I couldn’t help but think of the verse in Revelation as we were singing, our quiet words in English, and their enthusiastic (and beautiful) Korean voices blending into ours and leading us in worship to our Savior together:
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9-10)
On Monday and Tuesday, our team was involved in several different service projects to encourage and support several churches. We prayer walked (and walked and walked) neighborhoods, we passed out flyers for a Fall Festival event, we sat with older adults in an assisted living facility and did crafts, we put together gift bags for children, and we assembled snack bags for a local college football team, where one pastor has been given the opportunity to lead a Bible study for the athletic department. We laughed a lot, played a lot of Uno in the evenings (I lost every time), ate leftovers from the women’s banquet (vegetable soup just gets better), ate way too many doughnuts and too much trail mix, and shared our thoughts, our prayers, and our hearts in devotions.
What did I learn from this trip? Was it worth the time and money and energy? How do we know if it was a success? Here are my takeaways.
Serving one another in the body of Christ is important. We worked hard to encourage men and women who are laboring for the kingdom of God in a very hard field. There’s not a church on every corner. There are lots of communities of different nationalities and languages throughout the state which brings unique challenges. There are many physical needs that a small congregation may struggle to meet to carry out their purposes, and a visiting team can accomplish a lot in a short amount of time, and provide much-needed help, whether it’s a building project, preparing for, or hosting an event, or sharing in the community so the church gains visibility and influence. A mission trip always focuses on sharing the gospel, but it also includes equipping the saints to continue to share.
We are kind of spoiled in our home state of NC. There is an urgency, a passion, and a hunger to share the gospel in PA that we often don’t see here at home. Here, we have a church on every corner, and we move from one congregation to another without much thought. I was so impressed with the commitment to build churches by sharing the gospel and leading people to Christ, not just create another “option” for believers in an area where there were already many churches.
I actually enjoyed teaching the workshop. I say that with fear and trepidation because once you admit something, you’re responsible for it! The ladies in the two classes I taught were amazing. They participated well, offered great insights, and demonstrated a heart to be bold in sharing their faith. It was exciting and rewarding to be a small part of encouraging them in their faith. I learned and gained so much more than I gave. Ministry is like that, you know!
It takes all of us together. This trip is essentially a “WMU” mission event, and our team should have been made up of only women. We did plan originally for Todd and another gentleman to come, but they were coming to do ministry with church planters. Circumstances dictated by Hurricane Florence caused four people to drop out, and we picked up another husband to drive. But we could not have done the retreat without the men. They moved chairs and tables, set up classrooms, served tables, even folded napkins and silverware! We were so thankful to have them on the team and could not have accomplished what we did without them. As always, God uses each person’s giftedness to make the whole team work. And we were so grateful!
America needs the gospel. I love foreign missions, and there are billions of people who have never heard about Jesus. We need to go, and we need to go far. But we also need to go next door. In the last two generations, God has been excluded and abandoned, and there are many people living right next to us who have never heard the gospel explained in a way they can understand. They’ve seen professing believers live lives that are no different than the world; they’ve been brain-washed to believe that faith is simply a matter of preference and that truth is relative; they’ve been taught that we evolved from a tadpole; they’ve been made to believe that if we change the definition of sin, it simply isn’t wrong anymore. America needs the gospel, and we need to live it and speak it and share it more than ever.
If you’ve never gone on a mission trip, GO.
No matter how old you are or how little you think you have to offer, God can you use in His kingdom work. Join in. It’s worth it because Jesus is worthy.