In 2004 I discovered Jesus. I discovered that Jesus was everything I had been desiring; I discovered that He met my every need. That truth has not changed, I just have to often remind myself of His sufficiency. That same summer of 2004, I prayed for a team of students who were spreading the gospel in Kazakhstan. When that team of students showed up at the end of the summer to share all that had happened in Kazakhstan, I was convinced that I needed to go to all of the nations and tell people about Jesus. If I had lived so long searching for Jesus while not knowing that I was searching for Jesus, surely there were other people in the world like me and they needed to know the truth about Jesus. I holy dreamed that summer about wearing loin clothes in some tribe that I would reach with the gospel. The loin cloth thing never happened, but the missions thing did.
In 2009 I moved to Naples, Italy as a short term missionary. Just 5 years after I holy dreamed of wearing loin cloths, I moved to a post-modern/traditional first world country as a missionary. Not exactly what I thought would become of my life, but I was confident that it was God’s will for my life then. A large part of what I did in Naples was to work with volunteer teams. I think our team all had mixed feelings about working with teams, and the work load was definitely a heavy one, but I always enjoyed teams. I still enjoy volunteer teams, even though technically I no longer do the hosting. I am here for the summer though and we just had a team this last week. The team served in Bologna, Italy and I was privileged to lead worship for them; as well as being a person on the ground that knows the language and culture. I had a wonderful week worshipping and serving with this team. I was reminded of several things this week when it comes to volunteer teams. I thought I might share a few reasons why I like volunteer missions teams.
1) First timers are a beautiful thing.
In 2006, I went on my first mission trip to Brazil. It was a last minute trip for me and I didn’t really know anyone. It was my first time out of the country and doing any kind of mission work. Needless to say, I was the emotional (well sort of, I didn’t have many emotions then) kid that was amazed by everything I had never experienced. Those two weeks rocked my world. I saw life outside of America for the first time and I wasn’t quite sure what to do about it. I came back to America with a nice attitude of hating America and wanting to be back in Brazil. All of what I am describing about myself are the very things that I watch people go through now and think… Oh gosh if you only knew what it was like to live here.
Even though it is easy for me to have a rotten attitude sometimes, I really love watching people come out on their first mission trip. In my opinion, every American needs to get out of America at some point. The world is nothing like America, and American Christians need to see and understand that. I love to watch people experience that for the first time, and realized that the life they live in America is much different that how the rest of the world lives. It is a great thing to watch God open the eyes of people in just one week. Some of those people go back to America with a new passion to go to the nations. That is what I pray for when I meet people on volunteer mission trips who have never been out of the country.
2) The world is much smaller than we think.
I mainly just think this point is funny. So far, with every volunteer team I have worked with, I have met someone that knows someone I know. Small world. I love this because I can simultaneously see how big and how small this world is. This is a big world when I consider how differently we all live and how many cultures, tongues, and nations there are. This is a small world when I consider how easy it is for believers to connect throughout the world.
Sometimes we do a really good job at connecting believers throughout the world. Sometimes we do not. We should, because the possibilities are unlimited.
3) Teams bring people, and people are fascinating.
By far my favorite thing about volunteer teams are the people. Sometimes a team consists of people that all come from one church. In that case, I get to meet and interact with them and learn about a church in America. Sometimes a team consists of people from several churches scattered throughout America. In these cases, I have a blast. I love getting to meet people and hear their stories. I love to learn about their churches and what ministries they have going on. People are so fascinating because they are all so different.
I will be the first to admit that I am not always quick to get along with people different than myself, but I surely do enjoy meeting them. Clearly it gives me more opportunity to let God work out some nasty sin in my heart.
In my years working with volunteer missions teams I have met some pretty neat people. People from all different backgrounds and professions; students from schools all over the country; moms and dads and children from all types of families. I love it. One week is short time but I can learn a lot of things about a lot of people in just that short time.
The team that just left us had some really great people. I got into some really great conversations about Jesus and life. I worshipped with them as they poured their hearts out. I walked alongside of them as they went to the university campus to talk to students about Jesus. I learned some of their backgrounds and life stories. I learned some of their joys in life and some of their struggles in life. I laughed with them. I joked with them. I ate a ton of pasta and gelato with them. Go figure.
Dear team that just came to Italy, thank you for coming. You blessed me. I hope that you were blessed on this trip. I pray that you have returned home with a renewed passion for Jesus; to seek Him and to share Him.