Weeks over, the group is home, our VBS experience with kids from neighborhoods like “the hood”, “the back hood”, “the projects”, and “the ghetto” (these are the names of the African-American neighborhoods in Charleston). We had a great church, and close to half of our people made it for all or part of the week. The week included roofing, a clothing drive, gardening, and lots of other work. The experience in Charleston is challenging, hard, and unbelievably joyous. The kids are difficult, but they are wonderful creations of God in His image and in need of God’s grace. Hopefully you have taken the opportunity to read the previous blogs, check out the pictures and see the stuff that happened. But without being there it is hard for us to explain all that took place and the ways that God moved in our lives.
I think I can sum up what this experience is like with a little story that happened to me on the last night. As I was walking around I passed a little guy, maybe five years old, wearing a white t-shirts, hair in dreadlocks, feet in an old beat-up pair of soccer sandals. This little dude was crying a bit, so I reached down and picked him up. He started crawling all over me, climbing my shoulders and letting me tickle him. I’d put him down, and he would come right back to me putting his hands up asking me to pick him up again. I’d grab him, hold on for a minute and then put him down only to start the routine again. During this time Terry Lancaster was on stage talking to the group sharing some thoughts about God. As she was talking the little guy looked up at me and asked, “Who is God?” I told him that God was the one who made everything including us, and that He was in control of the world. He then asked me, “Does God hate us?” “No,” I said, “God loves us.” The replied with this cute little look on his face, “I love God too.” (I can hear all of you replying, “awww, that is so cute). I was just starting to be drawn in to this sweet thought as I held the little guy, when the youngster behind me tapped me on the shoulder. As I turned around he was pointing to the little guy I was holding and said, “That kid just flipped me off.” Yep, that is what it is like here. Just when you think you are getting through, and they say that they love God, they turn to someone else and give them the bird.
So why do it? Why should we ask our people to give a week of their summer vacation and their own money so they can travel to Charleston, spend a week sleeping on the floor, and work with these kids who are so hard and so different. I want to share three key reasons we must continue this sort of experiences.
1. We must cross cultural boundaries if we are to understand the fullness of the Gospel. Something happens to us when we choose to get outside of our comfort zone and interact with people from different cultural, racial, and socio-economic backgrounds. We can get very comfortable with our understanding of the Gospel without thinking about how our own culture’s values and idols shape our view of the Gospel. But when we do mission with people who are different it can challenge our own ideas of how God works and what it means to understand the Gospel. For me, I tend to find it easy to identify all that is wrong with the other culture and what needs to happen to change it. But that brings me to the reality that my own culture and traditions are full of idolatry, sin, and brokenness.
2. Doing missions when it is hard will shape us deeply. If we planned a mission trip to the Caribbean or an adventure handing out tracts while snow skiing in Colorado it probably would not be difficult to get a group to join us. But a week in Charleston will stretch event the most seasoned veteran of mission trips. Hard work coupled with a hard culture makes the week a challenge. But these things, at least for me, cause a greater dependence on God and a deeper desire to see the people with whom we are working through Jesus’ eyes. If you have never been on a trip like this, you have to do it! Your life will never be the same, and you will keep giving a week of vacation year after year.
3. Great community is developed when people do mission together. Take any group of people, put them in a difficult situation and force them to work together and the outcome will be that they develop deep relationships. But for us, the added factor is that the work we are doing together has eternal implications and is done in the power of the Holy Spirit. Nothing will create deep community in a group of Christ-followers like missions together. We need these kinds of experiences because they bring a cross-generational group into community with one another, and that community will have deep implications on the entire church.
4. Finally, these people need Jesus, and who else will go. The story of the Gospel is that Jesus, who is God, left his throne in heaven and abandoned his comfort zone in order to provide the way of salvation to us. For those who have experienced the changing power of the Gospel, we now are on mission to go to people who have not heard about Jesus, and to proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light. It is one thing to do this proclamation with friends who hold the same beliefs. But we are most like Jesus when we abandon our comfort zone and go to places where few have responded to the Gospel, but masses need it. These kids need Jesus, as do their mamas and dads. But who will tell them? As Paul says in Romans 10, “How will they hear unless someone preaches?”
On the last night we were cleaning stuff up and talking to our five year old son Josiah. We explained that this was our last night on the mission trip, that we would be going home. He got a little teary eyed as he said, “I love this place.” We asked him why and he shared how much he loved the carnival and VBS, and that he had new friends. He also mentioned how much he enjoyed his church friends, “Not just the little ones, but even the grown-ups.” I believe all of us who spent some time down here echo his thoughts. And while I will be grateful to put this old body in my Select Comfort bed tonight, I am thankful to Jesus that He has allowed our church to be on mission and join Him in what He is doing. So next year, be sure to join the fun!