Thousands of Baptists will travel this summer to a distant location to share the gospel. For some it will be a trip across their state, others will travel to another part of our nation, and still others will make a mission trip to another nation.
Most will travel as part of a group. Most will connect with a host missionary or pastor. Some will participate in a construction project to expand or repair church facilities. Some will provide healthcare clinics. Most will conduct a vacation Bible school or some related special event.
While many will have some of their expenses subsidized, almost all will bear some financial costs and will give a week or more of their time to participate. It seems that the primary motivation of most is to be both Great Commission and Great Commandment Christians.
During Fourth of July week I traveled with a team of 23 persons from a rural Alabama association to the state of Vermont, a trip of nearly 1,500 miles. Ten churches of the association contributed members of the team. Several others provided funding. Our goals were to demonstrate and share the gospel and to strengthen a village church.
Very intentionally we had selected to work in the village of Plainfield. As small town folk we believed that we could readily connect with other small town folk in spite of our regional and religious differences. This proved to be the case.
On Sunday morning the team worshiped with the host church. Our group swelled the worship attendance to nearly 70. We found the pastor, Bob Butler, to be a delightful and talented man. He serves the church bivocationally. He works at the Wal-Mart store in Berlin. His wife, Margie, and the boys, Daniel and Byran, joined right in with our team and supported our projects.
Several of the local church members joined us for lunch where the plans for the week were discussed and volunteers were recruited. Our mission involved four components a block party on Monday, a day camp for children during the week, community witnessing, and Southern Gospel concerts in area churches on five evenings.
The block part was scheduled for Monday at 11 a.m. at the community recreation field. It had been well advertised in the schools and in the community. We had rented 20 different games.
We set up a stage for our clown troop, magician and quartet to perform upon. Our cooks had prepared big tubs of potato salad, baked beans and banana pudding. A total 250 chicken breasts
were prepared for the grill.
The sky was overcast. It threatened rain. Later, we learned that it rained all around the area. But no rain came to the site of the block party until after the event. We registered 189 persons. We fed nearly 250. Seven people prayed to receive Christ as their savior and lord. We thanked God.
The day camp was not attended by as many children as we had hoped. Only 15 registered. But they were all older children. Relations with them were built. The clowns and the magician were particularly effective in this. We observed that some of the children seemed to be starved for attention and affection. Three prayed to receive Jesus.
On Thursday evenings all through the year the church provides a free pasta dinner for anyone in the community. Normally 70 attended. In the prayer meeting that followed one man thanked the church for its prayers. He had been very depressed and recently had attempted suicide.
Another reported that he was recovering well from surgery to remove a bullet from his foot. We learned later that it was self-inflicted. He has a drug problem. One teen was troubled during the service. His abusive stepfather had just gotten out of jail and was looking for him.
As the week progressed our appreciation of Bob and Margie deepened. They are working with people who are not very attractive to world and with deeply troubled families. It is hard, time-consuming ministry. There is little time for relaxation and renewal.
The next evening, the final one on the mission, our team reflected on the experience. The consensus was that it had been a good trip. We had helped a church. A pastor and his family had been affirmed. We had seen some people saved. We had made some new Christian friends. Most of us had seen another, beautiful part of God’s creation.
One person declared that we have lots of folk, troubled folk, back in our home county. We will be more committed to ministering and sharing the gospel with them. Several observed that God seemed to have put us together, a team with the gifts and graces needed for this mission, even those which we had not anticipated needing. And I was amazed that we were able to live and work together for eight days with no quarrels and no one getting out of sort.
We concluded by wondering what God might have in store for our team next summer.
Gary Farley is partner in the Center for Rural Church leadership, Carrollton, Ala.