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FIRST-PERSON: ‘What made this missions trip different?’

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–Sipping on my complimentary soft drink and staring out of the airplane window, I found myself wondering, “What made this missions trip different?” Why was WMU’s FamilyFEST in San Diego and Tijuana unlike any other missions trip I have ever taken? I have had dirtier clothes, sorer feet and worse sunburns. I have served people in just as much need and faced challenges just as great. Why has this trip been more meaningful?

Often, key principles of the Christian faith cannot be grasped within the walls of churches or Sunday School rooms. The most valuable lessons of New Testament Christianity are learned far from the carpeted floors and stained glass windows of our local churches.

In 1 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul explains the theology of the “body of Christ.” I have read the chapter numerous times and heard countless sermons on the fundamental Christian principle. However, it was FamilyFEST, one of WMU’s Volunteer Connection missions opportunities, that brought the sermon home.

On Sunday, June 26, 123 volunteers poured in from 10 states to San Diego Christian College. As registration began, it was evident this was not a conventional missions trip. The volunteers were not just youth or just adults, but a combination of adults, families and church groups all eagerly anticipating what God had in store for the week.

FamilyFEST began with an opening orientation and welcome from the leaders of the San Diego Baptist Association, as well as the California and national Woman’s Missionary Union. Dwight Simpson, director of missions for the San Diego association, welcomed the group and explained how San Diego presents some of “the most challenging church work in the United States.”

Fernando Martinez, pastor and director of Centro Shalom in Tijuana, shared his passion for the impoverished of Tijuana and his desire to “stay and fight to make his country a better place.” He promised the volunteers that they would be “changed forever” after working with Tijuana’s poor.

When the orientation and welcomes were over, 40 of the volunteers loaded their belongings on a charter bus and continued their journey into Tijuana, where they would stay until Thursday, holding Vacation Bible Schools, delivering food and clean water and providing medical care in two different areas.

The San Diego volunteers, meanwhile, settled into the dorm rooms at the college. These volunteers looked forward to a week of construction, landscaping, prayerwalking and Vacation Bible School at seven different ministry sites around the city.

What happened in the next four days was not a missions trip; it was the work of the body of Christ. As I visited the mission sites in both Tijuana and San Diego, I realized how God brought so many different types of people together, uniquely combining their talents and skills to serve Him.

In San Diego, three adults from Hawaii led a Vacation Bible School alongside a Texas family working with children living at Set Free Ministries, a transitional housing and life skills ministry in San Diego. Two adult men from Littleton, Colo., did electric work at First Southern Baptist Church in San Diego, while their friends and family painted and cleaned outside. Teenagers and adults from California prayerwalked in the neighborhood preparing the way for an evangelism conference coming to the neighborhood in November.

At New Seasons Baptist Church, a group of women from Birmingham, Ala., cleaned and painted the church nursery while a husband and wife helped the church’s minister do light construction and landscaping.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, I crossed the border to visit the Tijuana ministry sites. FamilyFEST partnered with Centro Shalom Church, which serves the areas of Alamar and Miramar in Tijuana, to help further their outreach programs.

A pastor and 11 church members from Greenwood, Miss., led volunteers in Vacation Bible School for children in the two areas. Baptist Nursing Fellowship (BNF) and other medical volunteers conducted three medical sites. Tijuana volunteers also painted makeshift homes and delivered rice, sugar, beans and clean water to the residents. I was able to witness families serving Christ together as mothers and fathers delivered food beside their children, teaching them how the serve and give.

Four days later, the 123 gathered in San Diego again. They arrived at Encanto Baptist Church after serving in two countries and nine different ministry sites. Though weary, everyone had the energy to worship and share stories from the week.

Alwine Brown, a native of the African country of Ghana, shared how missionaries led her to Christ as an 8-year-old in her native country. She encouraged the volunteers, telling them, “These are just seeds you planted. It grows, so don’t give up.” She is now a nurse at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta and brought her own 15-year-old daughter to FamilyFEST.

“The part I liked the most was helping with the kids, just playing with them, just being their friend and smiling,” 12-year-old Zack Marlow from Lawrenceville, Ga., said.

Each person who shared had a unique story of why he or she came to FamilyFEST and how it changed his or her life. As I looked around the room at those who listened, I knew that although the FamilyFEST volunteers crossed all lines of age and geography, varying in profession, experience and talent, we all had one thing in common — God had prepared us to do a great work for Him, and it took all of us to accomplish it.

Flying home, the captain’s message broke into my thoughts of FamilyFEST, forcing me to focus on the fact the plane was about to land and the trip was officially over. However, instead of the twinges of sadness that normally mark a missions trip’s end, I am filled with comfort and joy. I know the body of Christ does not work together just on trips. 1 Corinthians 12:12 states, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.” As every man, woman, teenager and child returned home, I know God will continue to use us to glorify His Kingdom in our own homes and communities, just as we witnessed Him do in Tijuana and San Diego.
Kendra Buckles is serving as an intern at Woman’s Missionary Union. She is a senior at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala.

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  • Kendra Buckles