The team at our ministry in Baja Mexico hosts a lot of short-term mission groups, around 300 groups last year alone. We’ve seen some inspiring groups, we’ve also seen the worst side of people. One of the things we pick up on is if the group is living out the Gospel, or just talking about it. We experience a lot of talk.
I saw the contrast of talk versus action once on a trip to Ghana. The team I was on had spent about ten days serving at a great orphanage on the outskirts of the capital. Generally, everyone on the team did a great job while on site at the orphanage. On our last night, we were scheduled to stay at a pretty nice hotel before our flight home. As we were unloading and waiting to check in, one lady in our group went all “I’d like to see the manager” on us. There weren’t enough hotel staff to unload her bags fast enough for her. It was embarrassing. One of the leaders and I looked at each other, and we just rolled our eyes. Her attitude had pretty much killed any chance of representing the Gospel well in that situation.
How we behave, whether on a mission trip or in life, is the most significant part of how we share the gospel. Are we showing a self-centered attitude? Or are we showing Christ’s example of gracious, humble service? The actions and attitudes people see in our lives are our only real testimony.
I’ve had pastors leading groups say to me, “How can we help? We’re just here to serve.” and then walk into our gift shop and try to grind us for a better price on the t-shirts we sell to raise money for the orphanage. We’ve had the local police chief call us to complain about youth groups taking rental vans four-wheeling in our town. (He now has me on speed dial) Sometimes it’s a little more subtle; maybe it’s a group being frustrated that we wouldn’t rearrange our children’s regular schedule to accommodate their vacation bible school plans. Each decision, comment, and action reflects a group’s grasp of the Gospel, and the servant’s heart that should be present in every aspect of our lives.
Our testimony on a mission trip cannot end when we walk away from our planned activities. How you treat the ministry hosting you says so much. How we treat the people when we are “offsite” is even more critical. Do we treat local vendors with respect? Are we kind to people on the street? Even the things we’re purchasing represent our grasp of the Gospel. You might be okay with ordering a beer or wine at home, but in many countries, Christians don’t do that, it’s considered grave sin. We’re representing the ministry hosting us, and Christ, at ALL times, not just during events or service projects.
If you’re a missions leader, the weeks before a trip are the perfect opportunity to instill in your team the importance of walking as Christ at all times. You need to encourage your team to watch for the opportunities all around us that God makes available to serve each day. The privilege of helping an elderly man with his luggage at the airport, the servant’s heart that helps entertain the irritating child on your flight rather than complaining, the Christlike example of sharing an encouraging word with a stranger who needs to know someone cares. If service has not been put into practice at all times of a mission trip, the skit, construction project, or VBS will come across as the hollow attempt it is.
This obviously applies to mission trips, but it also applies to our entire Christian walk and testimony. There is an old joke about people fighting in the parking lot right after worshiping together, but let’s take that a step further. How many people intentionally park on the outer edges of the parking lot to allow others the better spaces? Once we get out of the lot and make it to the local restaurant for lunch, are we patient understanding customers (who over-tip)? Or are we the ones the waiter is dreading? Does your behavior at the restaurant represent your church, and Christ well?
Don’t be a jerk 90% of the time and think you’re doing great on your mission trip, or in life. If you are a follower of Christ or a member of a church, people know. No one is perfect but try to walk, talk, and live in a way worthy of Christ. Don’t embarrass the Gospel.
“Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” St. Francis of Assisi
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