*Okay, this is another one of my sensationalistic titles. Trusting Christ is the best thing I’ve ever done. Getting married. Having kids. Having grandkids (WAY better than having kids). Walking my daughter down the aisle. My hyperbole is granted. I’m trying to make a point. And, I was successful because you are READING THIS!
I’ve taken mission trips all over the USA and all over the world.
- I’ve been to Taiwan twice (where I went to high school) and I think we did some good ministry there.
- I’ve been to Honduras twice back in my Florida and my Virginia days, doing construction work.
- In 1988 I travelled to Tanzania with a team from the Virginia convention (I think I was the token conservative?) to minister in the Bukoba region.
- We went the first three summers I was in Sioux City to help rebuild the Katrina ravaged Gulf Coast – I developed some drywall finishing skills I’ve put to good use around here!
- We went to Montana in 2009 – it’s a little different than Iowa!
- We used to go to Ocean City, Maryland, every summer back in the late 80s.
I’ve enjoyed each one and I don’t think any of them were wasted time. But something was gnawing at me. Ministry is relationship. It’s long-term. It’s not a week and gone. Mission trips are short-term. Quick. Over. I know God uses mission trips, but I think they are often more impactful for those on the trip than those being ministered to. I began to hear a term that really ate at me like acid.
Ever heard that one? It’s where you go on a fun trip and do just enough “missions” to have an excuse to raise funds so your church can pay your way. None of the trips we took were “missions tourism” though we had fun and did some sightseeing. We let people know that if they were coming it was to work – and they did.
But I’ve seen some mission trips that were pretty thin.
Now, before the comment stream gets out of whack, let me give my caveat – you do what you want, you go where you are lead. I’m not your Lord – follow him, not me. I’m just going to share an opinion. A strong opinion, but an opinion.
I’ve become a big fan of ministry to UPGs (Unreached People Groups) or even better, to UUPGs (Unengaged, Unreached People Groups). I would strongly encourage you to lead your church to consider such a partnership.
A week from today I will be headed to Senegal to work with a group of people called the Essings. Last January I responded to an invitation from some guy named Barber…Bart Barber. His church has been working with the Bayot people of southern Senegal and I can only tell you that I wish each of you could watch Bart in action among these people.
He is there right now and will be leaving just about the time I arrive (it’s coordinated – some girls from his church are staying on and working with us). I’ll be back just in time to get cleaned up, do laundry, and head to St. Louis.
Anyway, Bart’s Bayot people are cousins to this Essing group and no one was ministering the gospel to them. Let that sink in. No one. Out of the six or seven billion people on earth, exactly zero have chosen to go to the Essing people and tell them about Jesus.
I went with Bart for a week to minister among the Bayot, and we went over one day to visit in the Essing people’s main village. This January I took a man from my church and we went back and spent a week in the villages, meeting the chiefs and laying the groundwork for our witness. Now, I’m going back with my wife and another lady and we will spend a week sharing Christ in the villages we can get to (one we can’t, one possibly not, for political/military reasons). We are calling this our immersion trip. No, we may not baptize anyone – Bart’s been there years and only baptized 2 or 3. We want to get into many of the homes with the stories of the Bible, immersing ourselves in the work.
It is hard work. Hot. Expensive. You have to go back a couple of times a year for 5, 10 years before you really make a difference. But there’s nothing like it. In terms of ministry, it is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.
1. If not us…NO ONE!
The simple fact is that no one else is even attempting this. We strategize church-planting and sometimes we’ve got to decide if this church or that church is a “real church.” It’s not so in these villages. No one is telling these people the gospel. Well, the Samaritans Purse people came through once, but other than that, we are the only people in the world telling these villages about Jesus.
2. It’s how it’s being done.
We can argue strategy, but in these budget-cutting times, this is one of the new strategies. We are working with IMB missionaries and trying to coordinate worldwide missions. They have engagement teams that help facilitate this strategy, in addition to the other missionaries.
This is one of the key strategies and it’s a good one. Go to the IMB booth and adopt a UPG or UUPG and go to work.
3. It’s REAL ministry – Paul and Barnabas stuff.
Let’s face it, there’s nothing “real” about a mission trip. It’s 35 kids in a bus with sponsors, tight quarters, intense moments, but when people get back to real life the aura tends to fade.
But the hard work of UPGing or UUPGing over a 5 or 10 year stretch, or longer, is something different. You are walking in and introducing yourself and the gospel concept and you are starting from scratch.
4. It involves the church, long-term.
Mission trips are a experience. This kind of thing is more of an investment. People get involved in praying, giving, and over time more and more people go.
5. It injects missions DNA into the church.
I’m seeing this happen in my church. At first, there was little enthusiasm for this ministry other than to support me going from time to time. But slowly there are people getting hold of the vision, the desire, the joy of it all. The church is making the investment and buying in more an more and missions is becoming, I hope, less something we do and more something we are.
It is something totally different for me. I’ve always been more of the discipler, the Bible teacher; less the evangelist. But this is putting me out there walking in the villages of Senegal telling lost people about Jesus. I’ve always been more Apollos than Paul. This is a new experience and it’s been wonderful.
Again, it’s about following the Savior, not me, so just take this as one man’s advice. If you are looking to get your church involved in something powerful, real, life-changing and eternally significant, then I just can’t recommend a UPG ministry any more highly.
I would make this offer. If you are interested and want to see what it’s like, we are planning to go back in February of 2017 (maybe early March). If you are interested in coming along, let me know.