Rosie Zakes, Seminary Student
This year, I met some of my family whom I’d never known before.
I met my brothers and sisters in Christ who have been persecuted out of their own country in the Southeast Asia and have settled in Bangkok, Thailand. I think we all know that persecution exists. We’ve all heard of Christians whose homes have been burned to the ground or whose family members have been killed because of what they believe and told others about Jesus who saves.
But this summer I got to know them personally. Their stories changed me. I met a family of five who live in a one-room apartment that’s smaller than my own bedroom. They fled their own country in fear for their lives and arrived in Bangkok trying to get refugee status, but never actually attained it. Their visas and passports have now expired, and they earn next to nothing. Getting out of Thailand and into a country that will accept them as refugees has become extremely difficult.
These brothers and sisters asked my hosts and I to visit one of their friends who did the same thing as them. Robert (name changed) and his family went to Thailand trying to get help and ended up overstaying their visas, too. Robert got caught for being in Bangkok illegally, and now he lives in an immigrant detention center (read, prison). He’s separated from his family, doesn’t get enough food in the detention center, and lives in a cell so crowded that the detainees must take turns sleeping. I went to visit him there, and I think it will be a long time before I forget what he told me.
"Thank you for coming. You’re obeying Jesus’ command to visit those who are sick and in prison…Your assignment from God is to be in Thailand, mine is to be in prison here… God has big plans for you, so keep serving him and doing what He wants… Give him your life."
When I asked Robert how I could pray for him, I expected him to request prayer that the UN would resettle him soon, or that he would be reunited with his family, or that God would provide for his family’s material needs. Instead, he said something that shook me.
"Pray for me to be able to share the Gospel. Pray for my people to understand the Gospel and turn to Christ."
God has allowed people to take away nearly everything Robert has ever owned because of his commitment to the Gospel, but he is one of the most joyful people I’ve ever met (Actually he and another man who’d been imprisoned as a Christian in the Middle East are the two at the top of my list). His commitment to Christ and his passion for telling people about Jesus regardless of his circumstances is overwhelming.
This summer, I came away from my time with my newfound family members with a renewed sense of the urgency of the Gospel. The Gospel is so important to these refugees I met that they are willing to give up everything to be able to share it. The Gospel is worth it.
1 Peter 1:14-18 says, “Do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct … Conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers.”
Christians live in exile. None of us get to live in our home country of heaven yet, but some Christians are reminded of their exile in a much more tangible way than others. Robert is one of them. But God has called all of us to renounce “passions of our former ignorance” and the “futile ways inherited from our forefathers” while we live in exile. We’re supposed to renounce sin. This summer I learned from my brothers and sisters in exile that the Gospel is worth renouncing sin for. The Gospel is worth giving everything for.
Daniel Smitley, Senior Cross-Cultural Major
I'm sitting in a very small apartment living room, jam-packed with about 25 people for a Sunday evening service in the city of Manila, Philippines. I've never been to this church before, and I am enjoying being able to meet and worship with them. Then the missionary hands me his phone with these words written, “Can you preach?" In less than five minutes, with basically no time to prepare, I was up preaching. I wish I could say this experience was the exception to the rule, but I learned to always be prepared for anything. In fact, when people usually think of missions or internships, these kinds of experiences are the reason they go. The purpose is to minister to others and to gain the experience of teaching, preaching, and jumping into any ministry you can. While I enjoyed many of these kinds of experiences, the greatest blessing I received was not the ministry I was able to have, but the ministry that I saw and personally experienced from those on the field.
While interning in the Philippines this summer, I was able to experience an up-close look into the life of a missionary. I was privileged to learn from and be mentored by a man deeply devoted to his ministry. But to me, what might have been the most influential part of his ministry was his personal life. His walk with the Lord and love for His Word was evident and personally convicting. It was also clear that his “ministry” was not separate from other areas of his life. A major part of his ministry is teaching Bible classes at a Bible college. He himself practiced what he taught in the classroom. The truths he was teaching were clearly being played out in various areas of his life. It’s so easy to act one way while you’re ministering in church or at a Bible club but live differently at home or around family. The missionary I was with exemplified what it looks like to live the same way both in ministry and in family/personal life. Sure, I went as an intern seeking to be able to minister and be a blessing, but I believe it was me who received the greater blessing!
During my internship I was also able to spend some time with local pastors, both in the Philippines and in Singapore. During my time with them I was able to preach in their churches, sing special music, work around the church buildings, and lead Bible studies. But by far the most memorable experience I had with them was observing their ministry and not my own. With one particular pastor in the Philippines, his love for people was obvious. Ministry was not just on Sunday for this man—it was every day! One evening, he traveled out to another city to meet with two separate groups and lead Bible studies, and he even made another stop just to pray with a church member whose relative had cancer. This made for a very late night, but if there was an opportunity for the Gospel and ministry, he took it. He was always looking for a chance to share the Good News, even while in the local hospital waiting room or on a dirt road on the side of a mountain buying fruits. Another big influence was a pastor in Singapore. The church he was pastoring was a joy to worship with. It was neat being able to see how this body of believers applied the biblical role of the church into their specific context and culture. But his ministry wasn’t just limited to a couple days of the week either. I was thrilled to be able to see other aspects of his ministry, whether that was visiting with church members who had recently lost a loved one or taking a day off to bring the teens to a Bible seminar. Being able to talk about ministry and gain wisdom from a faithful man of God was great in shaping my own philosophy of ministry! Too often I see ministry as an event, such as singing in the choir or leading a Bible club. But what these men displayed was that ministry is people, and that should be happening all the time, not just at church. Again, I got the better end of this deal—the encouragement I received far outweighed anything I could have given!
Lastly, I had the awesome opportunity to live in the dorms of a Bible college for most of the summer. This meant I was able get to know and build good relationships with many of the students. As I grew to know them more, their testimonies and desire for ministry were inspiring and rebuking to my own life. As college students, it’s easy to focus on training now, ministry later. Maybe you’ve caught yourself saying, “I’ll start ministering after I graduate!” This is folly, and I was shown this by many of the students who were not waiting to minister. A number of the guys would travel for hours each weekend in order to preach in various churches. Other students would travel eight hours every other week in order to help with the music at their home church. But the weekend is to rest and get recharged! No, not for many of them. They had a chance to minister, and they took it. It was an encouragement to see many who were really on fire for the Lord’s work. This is something I hope I brought home with me!
Traveling and doing missions overseas is an awesome opportunity. The need for the Gospel is great, and many still need to hear it! The ministry possibilities in these places are almost endless as well. There will always be a Bible study to lead, a sermon to preach, or a kid’s club to help with. When we go on such a trip, we should most definitely jump into ministry and service. But the next time you get the opportunity to go minister overseas, don’t get so caught up in what you’re doing and miss the blessing and wisdom around you. Take a step back and learn from those who are there, and you may be surprised at the wisdom and help you will receive. But don’t take my word for it, go experience it for yourself!
Kaitlin DalPorto, BJU alumnus
During the summer of 2017, I had the opportunity to travel on the Southeast Asia (SEA) mission team. This team was very unique in that we only carried a backpack to five different countries, during our six-week trip. It was an amazing experience! I learned so much, not only from the missionaries and church leaders, but also from the people that we ministered to.
You might be skeptical about going on mission trips because of the expense, I was too; but little by little money comes in. Churches who aren’t able to go may still be passionate about missions and would love to help send you! I’m sure you’ve heard stories about how God has provided money in amazing ways for mission team members. God will give what is needed to do what He has called you to do!
So why should you “give up” a summer to go on a short-term mission trip? Not only are we called to go, but going on a mission trip will also open your eyes to the world, the gospel, and the body of Christ in a way you never thought possible. Mission trips grow your understanding of culture and challenge your ability to share the gospel with those who surround you every day.
There are many reasons for going on a short-term mission trip. One of the main reasons is to learn what your role is, in missions. Missions, the Great Commission, is not an option. It is something that God has commanded us to do. It does not matter where you are, you should be working to further the gospel. It is important to know how to pray for, send/give, help, and encourage our brothers and sisters on or off the field. It’s difficult to effectively and sincerely do that without seeing the ministry first-hand.
One of my favorite memories from the SEA mission trip was talking with ladies from the church in Kachin State, Myanmar. While there, the mission team helped with the sessions at a pastor’s conference. We had been there for a few days before we were able to really connect with the people. Although there was a significant language barrier, we were still able to have special fellowship with these dear sisters in Christ!
Another highlight of the trip took place in Thailand, where we were able to be part of the Southeast Asia Missionary Kid Camp! Our team members were “counselors” for the week. I loved how the missionary kids enjoyed being together, learned about God, and had fun (regardless of what others thought). Being at this camp helped me to realize how often MK’s are overlooked, whether on the field or on deputation. Missionary kids have a major role in their parent’s ministry.
In Bangkok we got to help one of the churches with their English class outreach. There I realized the usefulness of teaching English as a tool to build relationships and share the gospel.
I think the most eye opening and convicting experience happened in Indonesia. The religion there is predominantly Muslim. One day we went to an island a couple hours away. We had to take several different water taxis and ferries and basically island hopped to get there. It was not an easy journey. Once there, we noticed that everything was closed and there seemed to be no one around. We were told that the island was 100% Muslim and today was a special holy day spent at the mosque. After the service time ended, we were able to talk to the man with whom our friend has been building a relationship with for several years. We only spent a couple hours there before our long trip back. To see the dedication and effort put into simply building a friendship, not even sharing the gospel yet, was so convicting. How much do I go out of my way on a daily basis to share the gospel?
One of the biggest things that God taught me was the unity that we have in Christ. I was able to see it all throughout the trip. There were countless times when we were with people who ate different food, wore different clothes, sang different songs, lived a different way, enjoyed and gave value to different things, and even spoke a different language. We had literally nothing in common it seemed. But you know what? We did. Christ. And we could worship and praise Him together! Attempt to share with one another what He has done for us! Pray for one another in our own tongues, because we serve an awesome God who can hear prayers in any and all languages. Our Creator made both me and the sweet older lady in the mountains of Myanmar to each play a specific role in the Body of Christ. To see and meet my brothers and sisters in Christ literally around the world is an experience like no other! Knowing that we serve the same God and will spend eternity together praising Him is an incredible thought.
One of the conversations we had with a missionary in Thailand opened my eyes to a valuable reality. The most critical part in missions, and really in life, is to have a gospel minded focus. Geography does not define missions. We have a single goal in life: to glorify God and share Him with those around us. While it will be carried out and implemented differently based on the place or situation, that doesn’t change what God has called us to do, nor does it make serving in your own neighborhood inferior in any way to that of one serving in the heart of Africa.
God used this trip in many ways. Yes, I was able to learn much about the world, different cultures, believers in various contexts, and a better understanding of the body of Christ. And that alone is incredible and life changing! But, through this trip, I met a family with whom I’m now serving on the field. It is a story I love to tell because God’s hand and leading in it are so clear.
My church in the US supports the Wagner family, currently serving in Myanmar as they help to translate the Bible. Every week we pray for a different supported missionary. Over Christmas break the Wagners were the missionary family of the week. Because I was with them the previous spring I decided to message them that we were praying for them. Several messages later they asked if I had plans for the fall because they needed someone to come and homeschool their three oldest kids. I was shocked but so excited about the possibility. My major was International Studies, so think history, politics, culture, language. I had never seen myself teaching nor did I learn anything about it in college. But I did have a desire to spend more time with a missionary to learn if God might have me serve in that way eventually. This was a perfect opportunity!
I have been in Myanmar since the end of August last year. Collectively, my time here will soon be almost exactly nine months. I have definitely done and seen some incredible things! No, it hasn’t been easy or the “glorious life abroad” that some might envision. I am just living my day to day life here. I go through the same (if not more) sin issues, struggles, and heartaches (albeit with less ice cream). I’ve had the joy of seeing the work and fruit of Bible translation here. I’ve visited villages, made friends with local people, and grown to love it here!
It all happened because I went on that SEA mission trip almost 2 years ago. This opportunity wouldn't have come up had I not been on that trip. Just because you go on one of these short term trips doesn’t mean you’re signing up to move across the world. God may call you to do that. But no matter what, through a trip like that you will be better able to serve the church and the body of Christ as a whole, all while accomplishing the great commission.
How are you working to carry out Matthew 28? What steps are you taking to “go”? If this is something that you have struggled to do, a short term trip is a perfect way to open your eyes to your role in God's mission around the world and in your own neighborhood.
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.