Stories from the Field: Lesvos, Greece (Part 2)

This summer a Mercy Hill City Project team traveled to Greece to work in a refugee camp alongside the Harter family. You can read a previous post from one student’s perspective on the trip here. In this post, read the Harters’ take on the trip.


You’ve seen them in the movies; the discovery of an alternate reality or another dimension, or some kind of time travel that causes a strange shift in the world as we know it; a shift for the worse. Our family experienced this firsthand.

We traveled to a place that was very similar to one of these dystopian realities. A place where wealth doesn’t determine your lot in life. A place where sharing a room with a dozen other people crammed wall-to-wall is the norm, even if it was designed for only 6 people. A place where eating nothing but rice, cheese, and beans prepared in various ways twice a day is considered nutritious. A place where one liter of water per person on a day topping out around 95-100 ˚F (35-38 ˚C) is “enough”. A place where dangerous riots and fires can and do happen at any time due to the high tensions of so many people in such a small place. A place that is surrounded and divided by high fences with razor wires. A place that cannot be completely comprehended until you are standing in the middle of it. This alternate reality was at the Moria immigrant camp on Lesvos Island in Greece. And this reality is duplicated in dozens, if not hundreds, of other locations around the world.

Our family and a small team from Mercy Hill Church in Greensboro, NC spent two weeks working in Moria camp in July. The Greek government relies on a private volunteer organization, which schedules 25+ volunteers a day to keep the camp running and organized. It is job that seemingly should be done by the Greek or EU government. We did things like general repairs, tent building, food distribution, gate monitoring, garbage collecting, housing coordination, census taking, guiding or carrying people to the doctor, and pretty much anything else that was needed. We also had the opportunity to talk to the people in the camp and listen to their struggles of leaving their war torn countries with the hopes of a better and safer life for their family. We also shared our own stories and the hope that we’ve found in Jesus.

The people coming to Moria are from all over the Middle East, Africa, and beyond. The last unofficial count in May showed that over 40 countries were represented by immigrants in Moria. They come by boat illegally from Turkey or are sent across by smugglers who charge around $1000 per person.

The people from Syria are clearly the ones that are being granted asylum and “refugee” status quicker than anyone else due to their ongoing civil war that has no clear or easy solution. The Syrians coming now are more and more women, children, and families as opposed to the prior influx of mainly single men. They arrive in shock, are taken to a temporary camp near the beach for dry clothes, food, and water, and are then taken by bus to the Moria camp. There they are put into a large tent that holds up to 100 people in bunks for a day or two in order to be processed and seen by a doctor. After that, the volunteer organization, EuroRelief, helps get them into housing where they’re added to already full iso-boxes (like shipping containers with doors and windows) or tents. They’re given a sleeping bag, a mat, a blanket, a bag of hygiene items and a set of clothes to get them started.

From there it is a long process of waiting and hoping and more waiting. Each immigrant individual or family group has an interview to determine if they qualify for asylum. This process for some can take months. And for many, they are rejected and told that they have to go back to their home country. This is especially true for some of the African countries that are considered “safe” and has been the cause of some of the riots: the apparent inequality of how people from different countries are treated. And it is true–some nationalities are given higher priority–but how else could it be done when there are such differences in why people are trying to immigrate to Europe? There really appears to be no perfect answer or way to handle the situation. Nonetheless, we were not there to provide answers, only to provide immediate love and support for people who have had their worlds turned upside down in a very short period.

What we saw in this alternate reality is that our daily struggles, concerns for well-being, health, and security are nothing in comparison to the daily lives of these people. It was a hard place to be. Just seeing the difficulty and despair and comparing that to our personal lives was overwhelming. However, we also witnessed great joy and happiness. We saw kids laughing and playing in relative safety. We observed mothers who were so thankful to be off a dangerous boat, escaping untold dangers, and who were just happy to have a place to sleep with their children.

Toward the end of our time there, we got to see a mother and two children, who had been hospitalized with scabies earlier in the week, move past their first major hurdle as they were transported to Athens to continue their journey to Sweden. We experienced something that was dangerous, beautiful, ugly, hard, and joyful all at the same time. Why? Because we believe that God called us to be at that place at that specific time. It wasn’t because we are special and more empathetic than other people. We did it out of obedience and love and because we can see the love that God has for us–and it is enough for us to share with others.

For more information on Gene & Melissa’s ministry in Europe and how to partner with them, click here

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)

Update on How God Is Changing Lives at Mercy Church

Mercy Hill family,

It is good to hear and reflect on the stories of what God has done and accomplished in people’s lives through empowering our efforts with spiritual significance. The following are short updates from Mercy Church in Charlotte’s pastor, Spence Shelton. We helped plant Mercy Church in 2015. These stories prove that your generosity helps fuel the mission and that the church is God’s plan A for the world. Take a moment this week to thank God for these incredible stories and pray for God’s continued movement through Mercy Church.

“Blake, who graduated NCSU in ’15 and moved with us to plant Mercy Church, got a job recently working for a plant nursery. He’s been faithful there and was quickly promoted to foreman of a team. The other day (maybe 1 month ago at most) he was sitting in a truck on a job site with a guy on his team. Blake took the time to share the gospel with him and the guy gave his life to Christ. Just a simple, everyday opportunity that Blake jumped on. That’s why he moved here!!”

“Debbie is a UNCC senior who took a huge leap of faith and decided to trust God with her summer by going on City Project. And yes, that means she’s there with you guys at MH! She went out sharing in NYC the other day and got to lead a complete stranger to faith in Christ! God honored Debbie’s leap of faith in a way that we know will change her forever and changed someone else’s eternity.”

“Last year, our church bought a gym membership for a missionary we partner with in the Middle East. It allowed him the platform to build some relationships. Last month, that gym officially agreed to a deal where our guy is now the General Manager and can hire others to come in and work there! This means a permanent gospel presence in a country that hasn’t had any in 30 years! Oh, and one of our members is likely moving there to be on his team.”

“In a month or so, we are sending our second couple for permanent relocation with a church plant to Germany! We sent a couple to Los Angeles in January to help D.A. Horton plant Reach Fellowship. Churches planting churches!” 

“It’s taken the better part of ten months, but we saw a truly broken marriage healed through, what I believe, was the active work of the Holy Spirit through their community group. I mean, they dug in, got real, and by God’s grace, they are back together.” 

We serve a God who loves to save, heal, and restore, and we’ve been seeing that in our own midst and through the church and ministries we partner with. This just goes to show that gospel ministry doesn’t add, it multiplies. The more we aid churches like Mercy Church, the more we will see God move all throughout the world.

— Alex Nolette (Community Groups/Equip Coordinator)

Taking the Gospel to the Nations of NYC

My name is Brett Bouldin and this summer I have the privilege of participating in City Project. I currently attend UNC Charlotte and am a member at Mercy Church in Matthews, NC.

On Saturday, June 3rd, the City Project team headed to New York City, a place that I had never been before. I was extremely excited to be visiting a place that I had seen so many times in movies. However, I was more nervous than anything because I knew the mission of our trip wasn’t to go and simply see the best tourist attractions; it was to go and proclaim the name of Jesus to one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world.

As we flew over New York, I remember being overwhelmed by the amount of huge buildings. I couldn’t begin to imagine the millions and millions of people who lived there. Doubt flooded my mind as I thought about sharing the Gospel with people on the streets. What difference could I possibly make in such a huge place?

The first day, while walking the streets of Manhattan, one of our leaders, Scott, said something that I’ll never forget. He looked at me and said, “If you can’t come to New York City and get on fire for the ministry of Jesus, then something is wrong with you.” He was so right. I looked around and saw a sea of God’s image-bearers all around me. Many of them were homeless. Many of them were of different religions and following false gods. All of them needed to know about the love of the Savior. Scott reminded me just how important our time in NYC really was. In a city that is filled with so much hopelessness, we were there to bring a message of hope.

Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday were the days that we spent sharing the Gospel with people around the city. There were different areas in New York to which each team was assigned, but my team would be in Richmond Hills, specifically on Jamaica Avenue. I remember on Tuesday feeling very discouraged and uneasy. I couldn’t see us having any impact on anyone. I was anxious and worried. As I sat in the pews of the old church for training, I grabbed one of the Bibles in front of me and flipped to Romans 4. It was Paul talking about Abraham and how he remained faithful to the Lord’s promise about creating a great nation from his offspring. The verses say,

“No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” Romans 4:20-21

I decided that even in my unbelief, I was going to remain faithful that my God is always good to fulfill His promises. Once His word goes out, it never returns void. I could rest in knowing that I was simply being obedient by sharing the Gospel.

Those days of sharing were some of the toughest days I’ve ever had to go through. I could feel the enemy constantly pressing in, telling me that what I was doing was foolish because of the amount of rejection that I was experiencing. Most people wouldn’t allow me to pray for them; many wouldn’t even acknowledge me when trying to get their attention. Talk about a humbling experience! During that time, the Lord taught me that my time in New York was not about me. I was sharing the Gospel with people ultimately because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross. He deserves my willingness to tell complete strangers about Him. It’s about His glory and His glory alone.

The second day of sharing, I met a man named Joel standing outside of a barber shop. My evangelism partner, Debbie, and I approached him and asked if we could pray for him, which started a conversation that eventually gave us the opportunity to share with him. We talked and reasoned with Joel for about 3 hours that day and he eventually decided that he wanted to surrender his life to Jesus Christ! He realized that he was a sinner and needed the perfect life and love of our savior to reconcile him back to God. He recognized that this meant surrendering his life to Jesus and trusting that He died in his place and was raised back to life, covering all of his sin; past, present, and future. Joel is now our brother in Christ! Praise God!

If this summer required me sitting in a box for the rest of my time with City Project, it would have been totally worth it. Our brother was bound for Hell and has now been saved for eternity! On top of that, there were many seeds planted throughout the city by the other teams. If the Lord can save Joel and can save me, surely He can save them too. That is why I am spending my summer doing this. This is what it’s all about! There is no telling how many people may come to Christ now through Joel being a disciple-maker.

Be encouraged today. Someone has come to Christ through the obedience of Mercy Hill Church to send people on mission. If I could sum up the one big takeaway that I had from going to New York, it would be that we truly need to share the Gospel with those around us who don’t know Jesus; there are people just waiting for us to tell them. The Bible tells us in 2 Corinthians that we are the ambassadors of the Message and the ministry of reconciliation. It’s time to start being obedient ambassadors and to boldly proclaim the Good News.

Brett Bouldin (City Project Student)

I Sponsored a Child! Now What? Part 4 of 4: 24 Things Every Sponsor Should Know

For the final blog of this series, we simply want to share a helpful resource from the Compassion staff and long-time sponsors. Here are 24 things to know about sponsoring a child: 

https://www.compassion.com/newsponsor/sponsoring-a-child.htm

-Bryan Miller (Connections & Missions Pastor)

City Life: Work Different

We all have work to do. Whether it’s the reading assignment for class, taking care of the family, or paving road, every single person on Earth works in some capacity. One of the primary things God created humanity to do was work. If you remember, one of the very first things God gave to humanity was a job; God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden and told him to work and keep it. And all of this transpired before sin entered the world. When God gave a satisfying declaration that everything was good, he included work in that declaration.

Work is good, but we have tremendous trouble with that truth because work is frustrated, distorted, and sometimes pointless because of the Fall of humanity. The entrance of sin into the world has left some with a bad taste in their mouth for work, as in the case of those who try to avoid it. And some have an unhealthy obsession with work and cannot seem to stop working.

The amazing thing is that the gospel changes everything including the way we work. Jesus came to work in our place, quite literally. He was a carpenter for a bit. Jesus worked a job perfectly; he did not loath work or worship it. Jesus honored his Father through his common, everyday job. Later on, Jesus made a vocational switch to ministry, a job that would lead him to poverty, but his needs were met. His new assignment led him to his death, but ended in his resurrection. Through his work in life, death, and resurrection, Jesus redeemed work itself. Now, work can be different than before.

In 1 Corinthians 10:31, Paul declares that whatever a person does, whether it be your job or enjoying a latte, do it in such a way to show God’s worth and importance. Because of what Jesus has done, we have the opportunity to work different.

Yet, working different may not always be an obvious difference. How does a Christian drink a latte different from a non-Christian? How does making bread honor and glorify God? Even further, why does my everyday job matter? Aren’t “spiritual tasks” better than secular tasks? Shouldn’t everyone just leave their jobs and do full-time vocational ministry? Questions like these and more are answered this summer through City Life.

City Life is an 8-week summer project for college students at Mercy Hill. City Life teaches college students to re-think the relationship between faith and work while they work a job or internship all summer long. All participants will have a small group to discuss and workout the things they are learning to live out. They will also hear from marketplace professionals on how the gospel changes their work every day. Lastly, participants will discover how their job can fit into the mission of God around the world. Apply today!

www.mercyhillgso.com/citylife

-Jon Sheets – College Ministry Director

A Peek Behind the Curtain: MH Staff Culture

Over the past 6 months, our team has slowly been putting on paper those values that shape us as the Mercy Hill staff team. For a church (or any organization), the values clarify those beliefs or traits that make the organization what it is. Values are not goals. When we talk about values, we are talking about who we are not what we want to do. This is obviously nothing new in organizational or church life, though it is a bit new to us. When we were planting Mercy Hill, we didn’t put a ton of stock in statements outlining our values. When it came to values, we generally kept silent. I think for most leadership gurus this is pretty much anathema! How can you fight to stick to your values if you haven’t written down what they are?

Five years ago, I had a ton of angst about endless lists of values being written before we launched. Looking back—now having the benefit of learning from a few key leaders—I understand why. I think the bottom line comes down to this: How could we write down values when we didn’t know who we were? Churches, like all organizations, have personalities. Staff teams, over time, come to realize their talents, the ways that they work best, and what dreams particularly resonate with them. These things are important to know before value statements can be written to reflect actual values. For a value statement to have any real meaning, it must reflect the team’s culture. The risk of rigidly writing out values on the front end is that who you were going to become wasn’t reflected in the values as they were written. Then later, because you know it’s not really who you are, the values become a nice piece of artwork in the office rather than a litmus test for hiring and evaluation.

To be clear, I am not saying that writing down goals of who you want to be on the front end of a church plant is wrong. Actually, I am sure it is quite helpful. But there is a big difference in writing down hopes of a future identity versus an actual value. I think my advice for a church plant or start up now would be to write down goals and values, but hold the values loosely. Again, I think in leadership circles that may sound crazy! The argument goes that without holding to your values in stone you will be in danger of becoming something you didn’t intend to. My only point is, when you write out your values before knowing who you are, you could end up trying desperately to become something that you aren’t. While there is danger in both, I think the latter has more potential for slowing down an organization.

This coming September, Mercy Hill Church will turn five. The church has grown and our staff has grown. In terms of our staff culture, I love it and I know it well. But with the amount of people that are on-boarding now we have seen the value in writing out some statements that will help new folks get their mind around our culture. The only way to learn a culture is to live inside it, but value statements can certainly give new team members a head start. Over this series of blogs, I want to lay out the six tensions that describe the values of Mercy Hill’s staff culture. Again, these are not goals. Rather they are a reflection of who we are. Obviously, no one on Mercy Hill’s staff will live these things out perfectly! All of us more innately do better with some and have to work on others. But, generally speaking, these statements describe our staff team and what type of person could expect to flourish should they join us. If you are a Mercy Hill member, I hope you will find it interesting and encouraging to peek behind the curtain and see some of the inner workings of the church staff. And if you are a potential planter or entrepreneur, maybe these posts will give you something to think about in terms of your own values and goals. In the next post I will define our values. For us, values aren’t defined in a singular trait but in holding the tension between two competing traits.

-Andrew Hopper (Lead Pastor)

Read more from A Peek Behind the Curtain

Part 2: Finding the Right Balance

Part 3: Excellent and Dependent

Part 4: Hungry Yet Satisfied

Part 5: Self Starting and Team Oriented

Part 6: Focused and Approachable  

City Project: In a Nutshell…But Mostly India

When I applied for City Project, I had no idea. I had no idea the unspeakable joy I would find, the mind-boggling things I would learn, the heartache I would face, and the lasting friendships I would build. City Project opened my eyes to so many things, unraveled a lot of fears, exposed a ton of sin, and challenged me to be who I was created to be. I came in not knowing a single person with an excessive amount of fear and too many worst case scenario scenes planned out in my head. I came out of City Project with incredible new friends, a newfound confidence in the magnificence of our God, and a heart set on fire for the nations.

 

Going to India, I already was aware that the Lord was calling me to international missions. What I didn’t know was just how strong and urgent that calling is. Arriving in a country full of so many people, the majority of whom have legitimately never heard the name of Jesus Christ, my heart was broken in a way I can’t even begin to effectively put into words. Growing up in the United States, I have been fortunate enough to never know anything apart from Jesus, but in India, it’s a whole different ball game. Imagine devoting your entire life to something only to find out that is not all-powerful—it is not the one true God. Oh, wait. I do that all the time. As my heart continued to break for our new Indian friends and their Hindu faith, I realized that we aren’t all that different. They worship tangible idols, and I worship conceptual idols. Whether it be a statue of their god Shiva or the approval of others, an idol is an idol. The difference between our Indian friends and us is that by God’s grace we are able to recognize our idolatry and surrender our false gods to the King of Kings. I want so badly for them to know that Jesus overpowers all 330 million Hindu gods and goddesses who are so devoutly worshipped in India.

 

Knowing that so many people in this world live to serve gods who will never satisfy the deepest longings of their hearts, never love them with a perfect love that casts out fear, or never die so that they might live not only physically pains me, but it also encourages me. It encourages me to GO. It encourages me to know Jesus and to make His name known among every tribe, tongue, and nation. To those who have never heard the Gospel, hearing it for the first time is exciting, and it changes EVERYTHING. Seeing the way that former Hindus or Muslims live to serve Jesus and to make disciples is so beautiful, and it makes me question the way I live my own life. Why do I not share the Gospel every chance I get? How can I be so passive with the one thing that determines eternal salvation? The Gospel needs to be shared everywhere, but there are so many places where it has not yet gone. How can we deny the love and grace of Jesus that we will never deserve, but are so freely given, to those who have not yet heard?

 

I don’t know when, but I do know that I will be back to India. It is such a beautiful nation full of even more beautiful people. Seeing the image of God reflected in the way the people of India serve, love, and care for one another—people who do not yet know Him—testifies to the greatness of our God that even in our rebellion, God’s intention for the world can be seen in those that are lost and unreached. What an awesome, powerful God we are loved by and have the privilege of serving!

 

-City Project Student – India

Clifton Road Campus is Finally Ready! (well, almost)

This is what we’ll be joyfully proclaiming on the day of the launch, but for now, much more work is needed. This is important work.

The church is the demonstration community of the Gospel. And seeing as the Gospel changes everything, it will surely change the neighborhood around Clifton Rd. That is why we are so excited about the launch of our Clifton Rd. campus. God has chosen to move so mightily through what our church has done at our Regional campus that we want to make the Clifton Rd. campus as close to the same experience as we’ve always had and humbly pray that God will continue to use our efforts to expand His kingdom. This is why the service we were doing at the Clifton Rd. campus during Serve Saturday mattered.

We want to see the Clifton Rd. campus ready to receive our launch team and the new attendees from the surrounding neighborhood. We want the campus to be at a point where our minds can be focused on worship and the presentation and celebration of the Gospel rather than the details of the look and functionality of the campus. This is how Jesus brings healing and reconciliation to the neighborhoods (and the nations). He supplies us the gifts and opportunities to share His glorious good news to those that surround us, and we want to steward those things well right out of the gate.

This is why we are hosting another Clifton Road Campus Serve Day THIS Saturday. We will be having two shifts that you can sign up for: 9am – Noon and Noon – 3pm. We need people who are willing to help paint, clean, landscape, organize, and much more. This is an opportunity to show the community that we care about what we are doing, and we are committed to doing things well. Will you steward the time that God has given you well and help us bring the Gospel more effectively to the Clifton Rd. neighborhood?

Sign up here: https://mercyhills.infellowship.com/Forms/330835

-Alex Nolette (Equip Associate)

Kids Week Recap

Though we are now a few weeks removed from the end of Kids Week, I am still so grateful for what the Lord did. There is so much to celebrate that it is hard to narrow down the list. This year, we saw tons of kids, a lot of new families, in-house programming, and a safe environment. All those things were awesome! But, what I want to do here is highlight a few things I was grateful for that were a little “out of the box.”

First, I was so encouraged by the sheer amount of volunteers we had at Kids Week. It seemed like everywhere I looked there were loving adults and teenagers committed to making the event all that it could be. Tons of volunteers meant smaller kids teams, plenty of rotations, and a safe atmosphere. Along these same lines, the diversity within our volunteer group was substantial. It was a powerful picture of the coming kingdom.

Second, one of the rotations for the kids was called the “vip guest.” During this time, children heard from people in our church about how Christianity applies to real life. Some talked about how the Lord guided them through a difficult or scary time. Others talked about how trusting the Lord helped them make decisions in life. All of these were geared towards our kids learning that trusting Jesus doesn’t just happen on Sundays but is an orientation that affects all of life.

Finally, my kids couldn’t get enough of Kids Week! Anna and I always have before us the weight of discipling our own children. Before I am a pastor, I am a dad. As just another dad trying to lead his family, I thank God for Mercy Hill Kids. This is a ministry that helps us accomplish our goal of raising children who love Jesus from an early age and walk with Him throughout the days of their life. It isn’t the church’s job to disciple our kids, it is our job as parents. But things like Kids Week are helpful tools to that end.

-Andrew Hopper (Lead Pastor)