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!
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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.