Lessons From The Field: Peru

My name is Kirk Needham, and I have been attending Mercy Hill Church for a little over a year now. Last February I was talking to some friends about my interest in going international to do mission work. After talking with them, they referred me to a thing called “City Project.” City Project is an 8-week mission trip through Mercy Hill where you get to spend a week in New York City, 4 weeks in Greensboro, and then 2 weeks internationally.

Peru

For the international part of City Project, I got to go to Peru. Going into this trip, myself and the five others that were going with me did not know what to expect. The only thing we had were the stories from a few people that went before us in past years. However, it seemed like everyone’s stories about Peru were different. We didn’t know what part of Peru we would be staying in, what we would be doing while we were there, what the weather would be like, or what we needed to take with us. We found out four days before we left that we were going to be teaching English and abstinence at schools in the mountainous jungles to a people group called the Yanesha. Still, there were so many things we did not know about the trip so we really had to have faith in the Lord and know that He would provide.

Once we landed in Peru, we took a ten-hour bus ride through the Andes Mountains. The landscape and scenery was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. Being able to see God’s creation and how he had strategically placed things was really cool. We saw animals and birds that you only get to see in movies. We were able to stay in the jungle for ten days visiting schools in three different villages.

Each day we would teach classes from 8-1:30, go get lunch, and then come back to the school and play games with the students in the area.

My Biggest Takeaway

One of the biggest takeaways for me was being able to see how people in a third world country went about their daily lives. I now feel so blessed to have the life that I do. It is a blessing to have food on the table every night, clean and safe water to drink, and electricity among many other things. The first Sunday we were there, we spent the entire day traveling; but on the second Sunday, we actually got to visit a church in the area. Being able to go to that service was amazing. It lasted over four hours because the people there did not want us to leave. People from miles away walked just to be there with us that day. Being able to see what God has done with that small church and the pastors leading the church was very encouraging.

The World is Hungry for the Word

On the ten-hour bus ride back down the mountains, we all looked back and felt comfort in the visible work that the Lord has been doing in Peru and the experience we were able to go through. In just two weeks, we were able to see multiple people come to Christ and surrender everything to the Lord. Many people in Peru believe in spirits and other forms of magic, which oftentimes leaves people living in fear. Because of this, it was exciting for them to hear the gospel because  that meant they wouldn’t have to live in fear and could have comfort in the Lord. Looking back, I am able to see how open people are to the gospel and how badly they want to hear the Word–they just need people like us to come and share. That opportunity is the only thing stopping them from becoming Christians, so the responsibility falls on those of us who are already Christians to go spread the Word and bear fruit. I would encourage anyone who is thinking about doing something like this—whether going to Peru or another country—to just do it. Even starting here in the United States is significant! There are people all around the world that need to hear the gospel.

Kirk Needham (City Project Student)

Introducing Our New Student Director: Ronald Redmond

People are very important to the success of any organization. That much is obvious.  However, leadership is not about simply putting any person in charge; it’s about identifying the right person for the right job and then letting them run with their passion and skill. Jim Collins, in his legendary work Good to Great says, “Great vision without great people won’t come to fruition.”

At Mercy Hill, people are the mission. And to see the mission fulfilled, we know we need great people. That is why I could not be more excited about one of our newest staff additions. Back in July we welcomed Ronald Redmond to the Mercy Hill staff team.  Ronald has stepped into our Mercy Hill Student Director position. I had the chance to sit down with Ronald and ask him a few questions about life and about student ministry.


 

Tell us a little bit about yourself…

I am a proud husband and proud poppa. My wife Anali and I are married with four kids.  Our kids names go I, J, K, L (Ilana, Josiah, Karina, Lydia), and we don’t plan on making it to Z. I grew up in Greenville, NCMercy Hill Church - Staff - Ronald Redmond and went to Chapel Hill for undergrad. Once I graduated from Chapel Hill, I moved to Greensboro.

What are some of your hobbies and passions?

I’m hugely passionate about music. I’ve been told several times that when I’m talking it sounds like I’m rapping. I do rap. When I was a schoolteacher I would take popular songs of the day and make them about math.  

There’s a rumor that you’re pretty good at PS4…

I haven’t played since I took the position at Mercy Hill. I went cold turkey. But I would challenge any student to a game of NBA2k. Anyone who would want to challenge me . . . let’s do it.

What did you do before MH?

For the last seven years I taught in the public school. I taught five years of 6th grade math  at Jackson Middle. I taught 2 years at Cornerstone Charter Academy.

How has your teaching experience prepared you for ministry?

Teaching has given me a passion for partnering with parents. At Jackson Middle there was no parental support; while at Cornerstone there was a lot. It showed me how powerful it was for a student’s success to have the parents involved. As a teacher, I couldn’t overcompensate for what a student lacked at home; so, it made it vital to partner with families to have the greatest impact on students.

Why do you love student ministry?

I avoided any involvement in student ministry prior to taking this role because I taught students Monday through Friday and then went home to my kids. Two years ago I went on a missions trip to the Dominican Republic, and I got to lead a Kids Week. While I was there I was teaching the Bible to students, and I absolutely loved it. Fast forward to the launch of our Clifton Road Campus. I started teaching at the Clifton Campus in the kids ministry, and it became a highlight of my week. This created a passion for students.   Student ministry for me has bridged a lot of my passions—a passion for students, a passion for teaching, and a love for Jesus.

What are you hoping to see this year in MH Students?

I have a desire to partner with families. As a church and as a student ministry, we want to come alongside of parents, connect with them, and build meaningful relationships with them. I desire to see a parent partnership where Mercy Hill student ministry is providing opportunities to apply the gospel with students but also include parents to equip them on how to engage their student on issues of the day and how the gospel speaks to those.

I also desire to see more students connected. There’s a lot more students at Mercy Hill who are not currently connected to our student ministry. I have a desire to see more students plug-in because what we’re trying to do in student ministry here at Mercy Hill is help students to see how the gospel applies to their life right now.

One of my dreams is to see students come through our student ministry and plug directly into college ministry as growing disciples of Jesus. I’ve talked to our college director about this, and we want to train students as they come through our student ministry to understand what it means to leverage their college experience for the gospel. We want to see students who are shaped and molded by the gospel and understand how to live on mission as they transition into college.

Why should a student be a part of MH students?

We don’t see student ministry as a replacement for church. What we want to do is take what students are learning in the sermon each week and help them apply it to their context right now. “What does this mean for me as an athlete on my sports team,” or “What does this mean for whatever extracurricular activities?” We want to take the truths of what they’re learning and directly apply it to their lives and to live on mission.

We’re also going to have a ton of fun in the process. The student ministry team and I put a ton of effort into preparing a fun experience for our students. The most exciting life a student can live is a life lived for Jesus. We want our weekly gathering and all the events we do to reflect this reality.


If you’re a student and have not yet connected to MH Students, come join us for our Fall launch on Sunday night, August 27th. For more information about our student ministry please visit our MH Student page. And to contact Ronald you can email him at rredmond@mercyhillgso.com

Can Short-term Teams Really Maximize Long-term Ministry?

When it comes to short-term mission trips, a driving conviction we hold is to do short-term trips with the long-term in view. When it comes to short-term mission trips, a driving conviction we hold   is to do short-term trips with the long-term in view. 

“Can short-term teams really maximize long-term ministry?” was a question recently raised by Carlos and Meredith Block, our long-term field partners who live in Peru. This year, Mercy Hill has sent two short-term teams, one short-term intern, and will send another team in September to work with them. Read how the Block’s answer their own question in their most recent newsletter:


Our answer is YES, but ministry effectiveness is directly related to several factors:

Pre-trip preparation: Communication with team on site, praying together, getting to know one another, preparing to teach, and planning outreach events sets teams up for effective ministry. 

Attitude: An attitude of service and flexibility focused on long term relationships and goals is the “being” behind the “doing.”

Ministry: Trusting the Lord and giving Him the glory in all things (even scary and uncomfortable situations) can yield fruit that will last. 

Three teams have joined us since we wrote two months ago, and two more are on the way! These friends demonstrated the above qualities, and as the Lord worked, great things happened.

Mercy Hill Church

Mercy Hill (NC) team visited an indigenous school. Casey, John, Caroline and Jack came well prepared to teach in K-12 for four days. Students heard the Genesis-Jesus story, as well as learning their colors in English. The week ended with a pinning ceremony for class officers, a special school supplies gift for each student, and a trip to the river.

Northeast Bible Church

Part of the Northeast Bible team (TX) built the second floor on the first training center building, while others shared in schools, with local women’s groups, and kids’ clubs. They had a special opportunity to visit a community affected by recent flooding. The team was overwhelmed by their hospitality and encouraged them in their rebuilding process.

Mercy Hill – City Project

Mercy Hill’s City Project College Team served for ten days in three high schools, sharing about Biblical Sexuality and using English to build bridges. They had the unique opportunity to be a part of Achievement Day as indigenous students shared what they’d learned this semester. This was yet another opportunity to plant more seeds and pray for future fruit.

How have teams helped us?

In Numbers: There are only two of us at the moment! Teams bring new faces, energy, and opportunities to introduce our indigenous friends to believers both from the US and other parts of Peru giving a broader picture of the body of Christ.

Reaching Children: Teams who work with youth show their love by spending time with them, having fun and sharing truth.

Encouragement: The indigenous often feel isolated and invisible, but when visitors come, they feel encouraged and affirmed, and their hospitality shines.

Reaching High schoolers: “You attract what you are.” Younger testimonies of salvation and life with Christ have a unique impact in school settings. Women connect with women, as do the men on the construction site.

Mobilizing Prayer: As the Brooke Fraser song says, “now that I have seen, I am responsible.”

Strengthening the Indigenous Church: All of this outreach is planting seeds to mobilize the indigenous church to extend His Kingdom. 


Are you next? 

Mercy Hill is committed to sending teams and individuals to partner with the Blocks to make disciples among the indigenous people of Peru. It’s not too late for women of Mercy Hill to go with us as we train and encourage the indigenous natives this September. 

Bryan Miller (Connections/Missions Director)

Lessons From The Field: India

To close out our summer doing City Project–an 8-week long internship and training series designed to teach college students how to share the gospel and make disciples–we headed out on our international trips and my team was headed for India!

After over a full day of travel, we finally arrived and began embracing the culture we were going to be a part of for two weeks. Lots of things were new and different: the food was spicier (so spicy one of our team members got 4 nosebleeds while we were there), the cows roamed free all through the street, and there seemed to be no rules when it came to driving. Even though we were thousands of miles away from home, two things were the same, and always will be the same no matter where we go: God’s desire to seek and save the lost and His power to do so.

I had never been a part of any kind of international missions trip before and when I think about my perspective before going to India, I see now that I didn’t fully understand God’s global mission. Until we went to India I unconsciously viewed God as the “God of the United States,” not as the God of the universe. But the truth is there is no difference in God’s power when it comes to saving me or saving an Indian woman. We are both just as dead in our sins and in equally desperate need of a savior.

We explored the city on our first full day, which brought us to the largest Muslim mosque in Asia. We joined a group of about 15 Hindu girls and our leader, Greta, quickly moved the conversation in a spiritual direction. Before I knew it, she said, “Madison, do you want to share with them what we believe?” I was totally thrown off guard but this is what the entire summer had prepared me for, so I shared the gospel with them. Being our first day and first encounter, it really gave me the confidence I needed to share with any woman I came into contact with over the next two weeks. We would later visit museums, temples, malls, and parks–seeking out people to talk to and share with.

Each morning we took turns leading devotions for our team and when it was my turn, I shared Psalm 40, which is probably my favorite passage in the Bible. I really harped on verse 10 which says “I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart; I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.” I said that when we get on the plane to go home, when our two weeks there were finished, I wanted us to be able to look back and confidently declare this verse over our time in India–that we held nothing back and shared the gospel every chance we got. This verse became our marching orders and spurred us on to do just that. By the grace of God, our team shared with over 100 people, most of whom had never heard the gospel before. Praise God!

Before this trip, my view of God wasn’t big enough. After hearing of the miracles He is doing in India, I know now that my prayers weren’t big enough either. We claim to believe in a God who is all-powerful, but if we don’t pray or act as if He is, we aren’t viewing Him rightly and we’re robbing Him of glory He deserves. Not only is God moving in mighty ways in India, but He was also moving through the other City Project teams in Peru, Greece, Thailand, and Spain.

God desires to make disciples of all nations, and we’re called in Matthew 28 to go and join Him on this mission. I can do that on my college campus and I can do that in another country. The stories we have from our time abroad are endless, but the common theme between them all is simply this: God is the faithful, loving, all powerful Creator of the universe and He is moving. 

— Madison Yates (City Project Student)

There is No Shame in Celebrating

In our church stream, there is a sentiment that exists that we should praise God for every success we see and consider ourselves to be worthless specimens who are of no use. This is true, but it is also not the full biblical picture.

Paul Only Boasts in the Cross; but also . . .

There was no Christian (outside of Jesus) who balanced the joy of the work of his own hands with a true understanding that it is God who empowered it all like Paul. What is his key to striking the proper balance? Grace. It is true that Paul said things like this: “But as for me, I will never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14a). This tends to be our default position, and although we know it shouldn’t, it can stifle the celebration of accomplishments that churches like Mercy Hill have seen. “Am I celebrating with the right heart and intentions?” “I won’t celebrate too hard just in case I might be celebrating my part in it.” There is some truth and commendation to thinking like that but, the true picture can set us free to celebrate.

Paul said this about the church in Thessalonica who was extremely receptive to the truth of the gospel that he preached: “For who is our hope or joy or crown of boasting in the presence of our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? Indeed you are our glory and joy!” (1 Thess. 2:19-20). Wait. I thought he said that he wouldn’t boast about anything except the cross of Christ? But if we look carefully, we will see the distinction. He says that the Thessalonian Christians are his crown of boasting. A crown is something that is received from Jesus. He can boast in his work among the faithful Thessalonian church because God, through his grace, gave to Paul, as a gift, the fruitfulness of his ministry. “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of [the other apostles], yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me” (1 Cor. 15:10). Woah, Paul. It sounds like he’s boasting about himself against the other apostles, but Paul is saying this, “Every measure of grace the Lord gave me, I’ve been faithful with (by his grace).” Every bit of the success of his ministry was chalked up to God’s grace, but he considered it a gift from God that he could take joy in and celebrate his work, even in the presence of Christ . . . because God.

Celebrating like Paul

As we come to our 5-year anniversary and consider the success Mercy Hill has had in ministry, know that God has given us the gift of being able to celebrate what his grace has brought through our hands. The early Christians were not afraid of celebrating numbers: “So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand people were added to them” (Acts 2:41). It was God who added the three thousand to their number, but he did it through Peter’s preaching.

Consider the things we’ve seen. I remember coming to the very first Mercy Hill meeting in Greensboro held in Pastor Andrew’s backyard. There were about 50 people there. Now, we see well over 2,000 people attend our services every week. We met our goal of seeing 500 people baptized before the 5-year mark, and we are very close to seeing our goals of 100 Community Groups launched and 1500 people come through the Weekender. These numbers represent stories. The 500 baptisms represent 500 people whose saving faith in Jesus and his gospel led them to choose following him over the world. The 100 Community Groups launched will represent 100 small groups in which a large portion of our weekly attendance are learning how to be disciples and training others to be disciples. The 1500 people coming through the Weekender represent people who are understanding the importance of the local church and God’s plan for it.

Think about everything we’ve seen happen in missions. We’ve developed strategic partnerships with ministries in the Triad (Hannah’s Haven, Backpack Beginnings, Hope Academy, Greensboro Pregnancy Care Center, Jackson Middle School). These ministries have their finger on the pulse of the needs of our community and know best how to serve them. Our partnership with them aid these ministries tremendously in providing a consistent presence of service in our community.

Think about the churches we’ve helped plant in Orlando (Grace Alive), Charlotte (Mercy Church), LA (Reach Fellowship), The Bridge (Wilmington), and Jesus Our Redeemer (Baltimore); and also, the churches and missionaries we’ve partnered with internationally. These countries include South Asia and Peru. Because of the grace given to us by God, we can celebrate that these cities and countries now have more of a consistent gospel presence, and some that have a gospel presence for the first time. God is saving people through these partnerships.

I could go on and on talking about our short-term trips to the DR and the excellent work our middle school, high school, and college ministries have done in getting teens and young adults into the mission fields and leveraging this important time in their lives for Jesus. The list goes on.

Mercy Hill, the point is these things happen because God, through his grace, has gifted us with people who want to serve, want to live their lives on mission, and who want to be radically generous. We can take joy in and celebrate what God is doing through our hands. It is all him, but he gives us the ability to celebrate our work. We’re not ashamed to celebrate our 5-year anniversary; rather, like Pastor Andrew says, “We praise God and ask for more.”

Alex Nolette (Community Groups/Equip Coordinator)

Putting “Y’all” Back in the Bible

We live in a very individualistic culture. This puts us at somewhat of a disadvantage when reading the Bible because the Bible was written to a collectivist culture. A society defined as collectivistic is a society who thinks in terms of the whole. Where in America we often think about what we can do to further our own prosperity or that of our closest family, a collectivist culture is more inclined to think about how their actions will affect the whole community. “We” is more often the default mindset than “I.”

We aren’t making things very easy on ourselves when English speakers translate the Bible. You see, Hebrew and Greek have a plural form of the word “you.” In Greek, for example, the singular form of you is σύ (su) and the plural is ὑμεῖς (humeis). You don’t need to be a Greek scholar to see that these are completely different words. Do you know what the two are in English? You. We have the same word for both singular and plural. Therefore, particularly in America, different regions have developed different slang terms for the plural you. Where I’m from up north, it’s “you guys.” In the Pittsburgh area, it’s “yinz.” And we all know what it is here in the South: “Y’all.”

Making a Mess of the Situation

So, what happens when an American, who was brought up in America’s individualistic culture, reads the Bible in English? They tend to read the plural you in a singular way, and this is why many in the West think they don’t need to be a part of a local church. They think they can have their own private Christianity; a personal “agreement” with God. This is absolutely foreign to the New Testament. Most of Paul’s letters were written to specific local churches (e.g. 1 Corinthians is written to the church in Corinth and Philippians is written to the church in Philippi) or a group of local churches in a certain region (e.g. Galatians is written to the churches in Galatia). But even when a letter is written to a person like Philemon, Timothy, or Titus, participation in the local church is assumed: “To Philemon our dear friend and coworker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church that meets in your home . . . I have great joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother” (Philemon 1:1,7). We need to get back to reading our “you” as “y’all”. We need to remember that the local church is designed by God to be how the body of Christ (i.e. all Christians) grows.

The Local Church as God’s Means of Christian Growth

Paul in Ephesians says, “And he himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, equipping the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness” (vs. 11-13). If you are not in a continual relationship with your brothers and sisters in the local church and submitting to the pastors and teachers, then you are cutting yourself off from God’s number one tool for increased faith and holiness of life. Not to mention that God gives gifts by the Holy Spirit specifically for the common good of the local church (1 Cor. 12:7). A gift given that’s used outside the church is a distorted and polluted gift. And finally, with all the “one another” statements in Scripture (e.g. love one another, pray for one another, admonish one another, serve one another, build one another up), to not be involved in the local church means disobedience. The author of Hebrews puts it plainly: “And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Become a part of “Y’all” at Mercy Hill

We make learning how to get meaningfully involved in Mercy Hill very easy. We invite you to come to the Weekender, where you’ll learn about the church (our story, values, goals, theology) and you’ll learn the opportunities we have for you to participate in the body of Christ at Mercy Hill. You’ll even get the opportunity to shadow a serve team that weekend and get your feet wet. The Weekender is where those who are connected to the crowd get committed to the family. If you have never been to the Weekender, then it is for you! Learn more and sign-up for our August 18-20 Weekender today at mercyhillgso.com/weekender

— Alex Nolette (Community Groups/Equip Coordinator)

Stories from the Field: Lesvos, Greece

At first, when we got the assignment for Greece, we were a little bummed. Our initial thoughts were “Oh great, a trip to Europe. I thought missions was supposed to be hard?” The ego of a 20-something is a beautiful thing, is it not? But when we were told that we’d be working in a refugee camp on the island of Lesvos, it felt like we would be doing real missions. We were educated on the refugee crisis as much as possible by the partnering missionaries there and told to be flexible, seeing as how we had little to no expectations of what we would experience on arrival.

We partnered with Greater European Mission, which operates under the umbrella of Euro Relief, to serve in the camp. Euro Relief is one of the only Christian organizations left working in the overpopulated prison-turned-refugee-camp that has not lost funding. To understand the overall climate inside, imagine a place surrounded by tall fences with barbed wire, guarded gates, exhausted living space, limited funds, volunteer laborers, and desperate people. And amidst this difficult environment exist people who represent every race/ethnicity, political belief, status of wealth, and religion all squeezed onto an island recovering from economic collapse and slow asylum processes. Regardless, this is where Christ had called us to go as his hands and feet.                                                                                                          

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’” “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” Matthew25: 35-36& 40

Our days were broken up into 8-hour shifts where we would pass out basic needs like food, clothing, and means of shelter. Much of our time was also spent monitoring the different section gates to make sure the right people got to the right places, but the language barriers made it difficult to communicate, so we did our best to learn what we could of Arabic, Farsi, French, and Kurdish. Seeing the desperation in a mother’s eyes in need of formula for her child, families sleeping on top of each other in a tent, a man in need of a blanket on a chilly night, or the clever bartering of children to get more food didn’t require a common language to be understood. But even with all of this, it was there at the gates that we built relationships and had spiritual/gospel conversations.

Carefully we began talking about Christ and the message of reconciliation in this majority-Muslim, male population. There could be no record of our conversations or the Greek military could remove Euro Relief from serving the people, which would leave the people without any long-term missions organizations. In two conversations with two different men, we could see the work God was doing in Lesvos. One man who had landed on the conclusion that his labor for Allah would be enough to guarantee his paradise still conversed with us for an hour over the holes in his eternal hopes. The other man openly prayed in the wee hours of the morning with one of the City Project interns asking to learn more about Jesus. Praise God! Lastly, on our second Sunday, we prayed for God to move in Greece and got the chance to worship among the people in an off-site church. We sang in French and Arabic, which was such a taste of heaven.

These explicit glimpses of how God is in control of the refugee crisis sustained us in moments where it felt hopeless. On a day when we were not in the camp, we visited what is known as the “life jacket graveyard” in the neighboring town of Molyvos. In this landfill lay thousands of life jackets, boats, rubber boats, and tires refugees had used to make the dangerous cross by night from Turkey. Suddenly we could see a visual representation of all the heartbrokenness and depravity that had come from this war; how the side effects of sin had brought so much pain; and how our own sin was no better than the sin that had led to this crisis. Looking at those piles of rubble was like staring in our own hearts. In that moment I was grateful for a Savior who has the power to save those who had caused a lifejacket graveyard to exist in the same way that He can save me.

“But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” Hebrews 11:16

Psalm 46 was the scripture we held onto in the many moments of grief. Through ethnic riots, evacuations, fires, ambulance rides, and other difficult moments, we were reminded that our God is sovereign and we were encouraged to see Euro Relief so strategically placed, acting as the hands and feet of Jesus.

Was it safe? No! But it is where we were called to go and I hope we will continue to go to hard places so that Christ may be glorified.

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress (10-11).”

Lessons From the Field – Camp L’Arcada, Spain

Typically, the best stories have a hero—someone who has risen to the top and is now at the center of all the action—and let’s face it, that is most often the fairy tale we like to live in or, at the very least, imagine when thinking about the life we want to live. But the greatest thing we learned as a team this summer is that a mission trip is not about our story. Instead, our story fits into a much greater story of redemption, one that is worth traveling over 5,000 miles to tell.

My team and I served at Camp L’Arcada, also known as Indian camp, in Spain for the past two weeks alongside counselors and 95 kids ages 3 to 12 years old. No one on our team was completely fluent in Spanish, so the language barrier propelled us into an incredible opportunity—to love without sharing eloquent sentences and the challenge to encourage without speaking powerful words. We didn’t have much of a common language—the one thing you usually need in order to build relationships—but in that, we learned there are some things that are universal and don’t need to be translated: laughter, tears, high fives, hugs & serving. Indian camp in Spain may seem like a weird concept at first, especially in the middle of the Pyrenees mountains, but it offers a unique way to share life in the form of stories. The country of Spain is hardened to the gospel, however, when told in the form of a story, barriers are broken and lives can be transformed.

The greatest definition of humility is this– not thinking less of yourself, but thinking about yourself less. In two words, that is what my team and I learned over the past two weeks: humble servanthood. Because let me be the first to tell you that cleaning one bathroom for over 130 people is not glamorous, drying the 400th cup can get pretty old, and scraping food off of 130 plates does not smell great. In those moments, we had to think about ourselves less and focus on the ones we were serving and the One we serve. We were intentionally paving a smoother path for the gospel to be shared. We had the opportunity to pray for and over those that would be sharing the gospel throughout the week, to love the 95 campers well, and create the picture of a body of Christ—one body with many parts. We were the hands and feet while others were the mouth. We were the backbone of support, and at the end of the day, a group of 20 Spaniards became family.

The gospel was shared through words and, for our team, through actions. L’Arcada is reaching Spain one child at a time through camps and gathering them around to tell the greatest story ever told—that the Son of God would leave His place in Heaven to come down and die for me and you; that He would dare to enter into this broken world for my heart which is even dirtier than that camp bathroom on a good day; that He looked beyond himself to his children and stayed on a cross until he could cry “it is finished”. Because the One who knew no wrong took the penalty for us, we can rise from the ashes of defeat to victory. Now there’s a shocking story worth telling.

That is the reason we cleaned, swept, lead activities, and loved Spanish children—because it wasn’t about us, and it never will be. It is about the One who knew we couldn’t reach relationship with God on our own so He emptied himself and became a servant—the best model of humble servanthood we could ever know—to become the greatest story we could ever be a part of, and most definitely tell.

— Kristen Schleich (College Team)

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature with God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Phillipians 2:4-8

 

The Power of Persistent Presence

The summer is almost over. This sad reality may evoke a sigh from deep within you. At the time of this writing it is 75 degrees outside, the sky is blue, and there is a light breeze blowing. Days like these are an absolute gift. But, I fully recognize that with the imminent changing of the seasons there will also be a change in the ebb and flow of everyday life. The kids will be back in school, the pace will pick up a bit at work, Community Groups are about to kick off again, and things will generally move more quickly all around. With these things approaching, it is good to decide where to get the most return on the investment of your time. My aim in writing this is to convince you that Community Group should be one of your top priorities going into this Fall. You see, I believe that there is power in persistent presence at Community Group.

Things that Prevent Presence

There are many things that can prevent us from being present. I think sheer exhaustion is one of the major culprits. I cannot tell you how many people have told me that there are weeks when they feel too exhausted or too busy for Community Group, but they go anyway. They admit that it ends up being the best thing for them. I have felt the same way many times.

We host a group at our house so it’s hard to duck out when we are tired. But it seems that our persistence in attending group has done nothing but bring us closer to God and closer to our brothers and sisters in Christ. For that very reason, we fight to be at Community Group every week. It means saying “no” to a ton of things, but there is power in persistent presence at Community Group.

Mental busyness is another thing that can keep you from being “present” at Community Group. You may be physically there, but mentally you are 100 different places at once. Preventing this mental busyness is increasingly difficult in our modern world but is not at all impossible. I would urge you to fight to be mentally present at Community Group as well. 

The Payoff of Presence

God’s Word is powerful. Believers cannot encounter it and engage with it and still remain unphased. At Community Group, you encounter the Word of God, you discuss the Word of God, you pray in light of the Word of God. That is a life-giving pattern that helps grow us as believers. The payoff of presence is a payoff of growth in our Christian lives.  

So, as you begin to plan for this season, make a plan for growth. God works in his people through his Word taught and life caught. Community Group is the perfect place to hear the word taught and see life caught. If you are already in a group…dig in deeply. If you are not in a group, join one right away. We have Grouplink this Friday and you can jump into a group right away here.

Randy Titus (Clifton Campus Director/Community Groups Director)

Stories from the Field: Mikel

(Names have been changed to protect identities)

After walking in the heat of the Southeast Asian sun, listening to the echoing adhan from the mosque calling the people of the city to prayer, we sat down in a local mamak for a refreshing lime drink along with some roti canai – a flat bread filled with sweetened condensed milk.

 

I sat across the table from Mikel – a young man with a radiant smile across his face – and I asked him to tell me his story. He began by talking of his father. As a boy, his admiration for his dad was unsurpassed. Mikel tried to imitate his dad in every way. He wanted to sit like his dad, eat like his dad, and talk like his dad. Mikel’s greatest ambition was to be like his dad.

Mikel had not seen his father for several months because he had moved to another country to further his education. Mikel had also come under the influence of his aunt, Amme. She too had left their home country but for different reasons. Both the authorities and their family had threatened Amme’s life when she converted from Islam to Christianity. Amme shared her faith with Mikel and it drove him to begin reading Scripture for himself. Mikel learned that Amme’s pastor in their home country had been captured and tortured, yet the only words he would speak before his persecutors were: “Father, forgive them.” Those words were staggering, but not original. They had been uttered by Jesus on the cross as well as Stephen at his death in Acts 7. Such forgiveness and love convinced Mikel that Jesus is the one true God.

But what would Mikel’s father think of him now? It took months for Mikel to have the courage to tell his father he is now a Christian. When he did, his father said, “If you have decided to be a Christian, then you are no longer my son.” Mikel was rejected by the man he had admired his entire life.

As we finish the last few pieces of roti canai, Mikel’s countenance becomes solemn. He shares that in a few weeks he must return to his home country. He is certain he will face ridicule and persecution, but uncertain to what degree. Nevertheless he is committed to share with his fellow countrymen the good news of Jesus’ love and forgiveness.

A few days later as our team gathered with believers from multiple nations, we sang the following words:

     I have decided to follow Jesus
     No turning back
     No turning back

     The cross before me
     The world behind me
     No turning back
     No turning back

For Mikel, there is a certain cross before him. With a sound mind, he has said ‘no’ to comforts and securities of this world in order to follow Jesus. Why? Because Mikel’s testimony is echoed in the following words of the song:

     Christ is enough for me
     Christ is enough for me
     Everything I need is in You
     Everything I need[1]

7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— Philippians 3:7-9 (ESV)

Bryan Miller (Connections/Missions Director)

 

[1] Christ is Enough by Hillsong Worship