Recently, I had the joy of going to South Asia to serve alongside some wonderful International Mission Board workers. I learned a lot on this trip as most do who go on international trips. One thing that I could not help but consider was that we would have a much different SBC if all of our leaders, pastors, and members took an international mission trip to a tough place. It seems as though the “challenges” section of the GCR Task Force Report went unnoticed since we focused more on other aspects of the Task Force Recommendations. However, they did challenge all Christians to “Participate in a North American or international mission trip sponsored by your church or association at least once every four years.” I would probably change that to at least one international trip every four years to a tough context. Here are some reasons why:
– Tough trips will help us keep the main things the main things: Once one goes to a tough context where there are other religions and people who not only dismiss Christianity, but also are potentially militant towards it, it is less likely that we will get bent out of shape about some of the silly things we get bent out of shape about. Once one sees Christians literally being beaten up for their faith in a place where there are no suits and organs present, it is less likely that we will go on twitter and complain about worship styles and dress codes for instance. These tough contexts can show us how enslaved we can be to our own cultural ways and desires to make them normative for others. These contexts will help us focus on the spread of the gospel and the love of brothers and sisters, even those with which we may have small disagreements. This is not to say that we should never disagree, but to say it really changes what are “hills to die on” and what are just molehills.
– Tough trips will make us better evangelists back home: We are all called to be missionaries and an intense week of just focusing on evangelism in a tough context will make us more missional back home in our jobs, neighborhoods, and places we hang out. This certainly has been the case in my life.
– Tough trips expose us to the vast reality of lostness in the world: I know some pastors who for a time had not led their church to engage the nations. Then they went on one tough trip and it changed the course of their life and their church. It is easy to hear stats about the unreached and the unengaged but it is another thing to look into their eyes and see them and their families and then dismiss these overwhelming realities. These stats represent real people, with real names and real lives and seeing this lostness up-close usually carries for us the same reaction Jesus had over Jerusalem, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36).
– Tough trips usually lead to more going to these tough contexts long term: Almost no one goes to unreached place long term without first being exposed to a tough place on a short term trip. There will be some who go on these trips who catch the “bug” and want to come back and plant their lives in places where there is little or no gospel access.
– Tough trips make us more grateful for God’s abundant grace which tends to make us more sacrificial in the giving of our resources: Seeing poverty, both physical and spiritual up close, compels in the true believer the desire to be more sacrificial in the giving of money, time, prayer, energy, and gifts so that the fame of Christ is spread to the ends of the Earth.
Being in South Asia a week before the SBC in Phoenix made me wonder what kind of convention we would have if every pastor went on a trip to a tough place every year. It also made me wonder how we would treat one another and what might change at our actual meeting if every messenger at the SBC had gone on a mission trip to a tough place the week prior to the convention. We probably would not make some of the silly motions/resolutions we do. We probably wouldn’t have hallway or twitter arguments about some of the things we do. It would probably help us take on a Philippians 2 mentality of considering others better than ourselves. But more than all that it would hopefully make us a more missional people who zealously desire that our King be worshipped, as He should be among all people groups. Our convention was started in 1845 for this purpose, the purpose of “propagating the gospel” to the ends of the Earth. I was thankful to see just a glimpse of this in South Asia as 7 Muslim men turned from Islam to Christ in the waters of Baptism. I cannot help but think we would have more laser focus on this goal if we all regularly spent time in tough international contexts.