Mission Trip

Our group just returned from our mission trip to New York City. The trip was both challenging and overwhelming. It also afforded the opportunity to relationally and conversationally share the love and grace of Christ. There was a fairly heavy weight that hung over the trip, considering we were in New York over the weekend of 9/11, and it certainly did not help that a now infamous pastor from Florida was acting very foolishly and irresponsibly in regards to cultural relations. However, we never once felt threatened or alarmed, and thankfully did not hear of any security threats.

Our goal for the trip was to build and further relationships within a community of West African people, many of whom are Muslim. The trip was organized around the goal of introducing people to the hope and grace we find in Christ, while authentically and genuinely investing in their lives and respecting and learning about their culture. We also had the opportunity to meet, pray with, and encourage several Christ followers from Ghana. Through the myriad of conversations and encounters, I learned probably more than I can share but a few things in particular stand out.

The first is in regards to humility. On the trip, one major element is showing respect to the culture we visit with. This can be accomplished in many ways, and one of these ways is to wear an article of African style clothing. African clothing is beautiful and also very comfortable, but I’ve never worn clothing similar, and it is a tad out of my usual style. I felt a bit awkward in it, and I probably stood out a bit. Let’s be honest, it’s not every day you see an Irish looking dude in traditional African garb. I could only wish I looked as regal and elegant as the West Africans do. But the point is not to be comfortable. The point is to show a willingness to embrace something different than your normal habits, to show that the Gospel is not defined by Western or American culture, but it is for all people all over the world. Stepping into that humility reminds one that the point of sharing Christ is not fitting people into your system and norms, but it is respecting the diversity of God’s creativity and expressing a humility stemming from the fact that you are as dependent upon God’s love as anyone else in the world. Also, it was only right to be humble, as the vast majority of people we met would outdo us in hospitality any day of the week.

The second major thing impressed upon me was the power of the Gospel. People need to hear about hope. People need to hear about God’s creative power, and His willingness to personally invest in the redemption of the people who broke and break His creative desire. The truth of the matter is that most people, regardless of where they are from or what system of faith they live within, recognize that the world is not as it should be, and even they themselves fall short of the ideal that a perfect God would hold for His people. So, the idea that God initiates grace, and then the change of heart happens is a relieving idea, especially to a person who feels burdened to prove to God that they are worthy of Him and good enough to pass judgment. Actually, many people within the Christian church feel the weight of this pressure, and it is reflected in a pitiful self-righteousness that reflects a judgmental “your problems are worse than mine” attitude. This kind of mindset lends itself to exclusivity and shallow theological thinking. The good news of the Gospel is that God initiates the freedom of grace, and a life of righteousness is a life of thankfulness and reflection of what God has already done. It’s not a pressurized point system. This is good news to most, because you and I and anyone else couldn’t possibly be good enough to measure up to the glory of God. This goes along with the humility section above.

Thirdly, the importance of follow up and building authentic relationships was evident. It takes a certain amount of arrogance to think one can swing through a different culture, convert a bunch of people, and then jet off never to return and feeling like the job is done. The scripture from 2 Corinthians 2.17 bounced around in my brain over the course of the trip:

For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the
sight of God we speak in Christ.

To authentically share the love of Christ and not be a peddler means an effort to truly know people and their backgrounds and burdens. A person peddling something uses the same technique with the same lines and kitschy catch phrases with no regard to the uniqueness of who passes by. They want the conversation to be short, shallow, and sanitized, and once the sell has been pitched, there is no need for further relationship or investment. Obviously, not all conversations lead to long relationships, but in representing Christ Jesus, one needs to be always open to that possibly and hopeful for a chance to live along side of people.

Humanism is a term often rejected by Christ followers. It’s seen as something synonymous with secularism and absolute relativism. But really, separated from the baggage of other philosophies, humanism merely refers to an outlook desiring to support the well being and advances of the human
population. God is the ultimate practitioner of humanism. God revealed Himself in Christ, who took on life as a person and showed God’s glory to us. He did this for the benefit and redemption of the world which struggles and suffers in brokenness and death. To truly share this God is to truly share the Gospel with the actual person in mind. To truly share the Gospel is to have care and concern for people, which is different from peddling.

Thank you for your prayers in regards to our trip. It was a blessing to spend a few days sharing life with the wonderful people in New York from Senegal, Ivory Coast, Togo, Ghana, Guinea, and many other places. We hope to return.

Guiding real people to embrace a life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ