Kimberly Cornelius, Intercultural Studies Graduate Student
This article is also posted on her personal blog Journeys of Grace with the title "The Hands and Feet of Love"
For about a week last October, when going on this trip was just an exciting possibility, I couldn’t get enough of Southeast Asia. I was looking up pictures, reading about current events in that area, and asking my Korean roommate about that part of the world. It seemed so exotic, so fascinating. I pictured ancient temple ruins, sleepy rice fields, cities teeming with people and traffic, dusty country roads, and long, slow rivers. I could imagine our team passing out tracts, playing with the missionary kids, learning from the missionaries, worshiping with other believers in different languages, and helping with ESL opportunities. We would likely spend much of our time sitting around kitchen tables, sipping exotic tea, asking missionaries questions, and learning about how God led them to Southeast Asia and how they’ve learned to do ministry in a different context and culture than their own.
Now, looking back on our four weeks in Southeast Asia, I wouldn’t say that my concepts were entirely wrong. We did see and do those things. We toured the famed temple Angkor Wat in northern Cambodia. We did English camps in Vietnam. We rode in the back of a pickup truck down a bumpy country road in Laos. We navigated the swarms of people and traffic in Bangkok, Thailand. And all along the way we met with missionaries, learned from them, got to know their kids, and worshipped in their churches with believers who didn’t even know English.
I was expecting all those things. But what I wasn’t expecting was how normal everything felt.
As an Intercultural Studies masters’ degree student, I chose this team because I was interested in exploring areas that God might have me return to in the future, whether short or long term. But I wanted more than just a typical, mission trip experience; I really wanted an accurate picture of the life these missionaries lead. And, as it turns out, their lives aren’t made up of life-changing adventures and experiences.
In many ways, these missionaries’ lives look like mine. They make food, clean their homes, care for their family members, and do ministry in their local church. They share the gospel with those around them, but they don’t have evangelistic outreaches every day of the week. And even though they are living lives of sacrificial service to God, they still need to sit at Jesus’ feet every day in their personal pursuit of Christ-likeness.
At the beginning of the trip, all the team members had to journal about what they wanted to learn by the end of our four weeks. My main goal was broad; I just wanted to learn more about Christ-like love. Mission trips don’t automatically sanctify anyone, but I knew that I would have many opportunities to witness love in action, especially through my interactions with the missionaries we would meet.
In connection with my goal, I decided to read 1 John during the trip, and the first three verses of this book particularly struck me.
1 John 1:1-3 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
Much of the wonder of the gospel is that God came and dwelt with mankind. Jesus took on human flesh, and people could see Him, hear Him, and touch Him. He became flesh so that He could live among us and ultimately die in our place. As a result, we can have fellowship with God Himself! Something I’m realizing is that true love is close and tangible, not distant and abstract. God loved the world so much that He sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world, spanning the great barrier that stood between God and man.
Sometimes overcoming the barriers between two cultures and two countries seems insurmountable; but that is exactly what missionaries must do. In leaving their homelands and their families so that people of another nation might know the joy of fellowship with God, these missionaries are following directly in the footsteps of Jesus. As they live alongside a people who are not their people, sharing the truth of the gospel with them, missionaries experience the joy of welcoming new brothers and sisters into the one family of God.
In all honesty, this is exactly what every believer is called to do—to walk among unbelievers, to speak to them, to reach out and touch them, sharing the good news of the gospel as they go. Some believers do this in their hometown, while others move across the country. Still others move to the other side of the world. But ultimately, each place is just a normal place with normal people who are lost in their sins and desperately need to hear about the incarnate Savior from normal Christians.
I don’t want to paint an inaccurate picture of the trip at all—Southeast Asia was incredible, and visiting Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam was an amazing opportunity, one that I could never forget. I saw the crowds, I saw the apparent poverty (by American standards), I smelled the meat markets, I walked in the dusty streets, I ate the rice and the noodle soup (sometimes several times in one day!). I rode the river boats, the sky trains, the taxis, the tuk tuks, and a motorcycle (but no elephants, unfortunately . . . maybe next time). I felt the humidity, watched the pounding rain storms, and walked barefoot in the moist, clay dirt. I met with Filipino, Lao, Thai, Khmer, and Vietnamese brothers and sisters in Christ. I visited the Buddhist temples, saw the spirit houses, watched the monks worship idols, and smelled the incense, and my heart cried for these people who are so lost in darkness.
This is Southeast Asia. A very different place from America, and yet, in its own way, a very normal place. So much more than an exotic place to visit and tour and so much more than a life-changing experience waiting to be had, Southeast Asia is a place where normal people live out the Great Commission.
Southeast Asia doesn’t need adventurers who come for the experience; Southeast Asia needs faithful men and women who are willing to share the gospel in an undramatic, average place. Southeast Asia needs believers who are willing to commit years of their lives to meeting new people, learning a new language, and adapting to a new culture. Southeast Asia needs patient believers who may not see the fruit of souls saved until a decade or more into their ministry. And Southeast Asia needs weak Christians who must rely fully on God for the strength to be faithful day after day, year after year, and decade after decade.
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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.