SOUTHEAST ASIA (BP)–The Greyhound bus hisses to a stop and the door flaps open. Ethan Gillmore positions himself at the foot of the stairs so he can watch everyone file off. He’s looking for someone.
The shy 10-year-old glances down at the ground, embarrassed by the fact that his brown hair and fair skin makes him stand out in this crowd of Chinese. He tries to make himself smaller than his 4-foot, 9-inch frame. When someone looks his way, he tentatively holds up a red packet written in Mandarin.
A Chinese man smiles, points to his heart and then at the red packet. Ethan stares in disbelief and then gives it to him. This is the person Ethan’s been waiting all night on — someone who wants a Bible.
“Mom! Mom! I gave a Bible to that man,” Ethan shouts, running three steps to his mother, Carianne Gillmore, for a high-five. “This is the BEST mission trip ever! Quick, I need more Bibles. People need to read God’s Word.”
Ethan returns to his station next to the bus stop loaded down with Chinese Bible packets and a new sense of confidence. This time, he throws out a few Mandarin phrases he learned just for this volunteer mission trip to Southeast Asia with Church at Canyon Creek from Austin, Texas.
“Free Gift. Free Bible,” he says to everyone walking past. “Jesus loves you.”
Carianne Gillmore watches her 10-year-old, amazed at the transformation from quiet and shy to boldly sharing his faith. This is the exact reason she signed them up for a family mission trip with three other families from their church — to watch him grow in his walk with the Lord while experiencing a different culture.
The Texas families took advantage of a partnership their church has with the Southern Cross Project, a Bible distribution program in Asia. Due to Chinese government regulations, Bibles are difficult to legally obtain in China. However, the Chinese are allowed to bring one Bible home with them from a trip abroad. Church at Canyon Creek normally sends two volunteer teams a year to hand out Bibles to Chinese tourists on vacation. This is the first time for the church to send families with children under the age of 15.
No one planned for it to be a “family only” trip, it just turned out that the only people signed up for the annual summer mission trip happened to be all families.
James Rinn says he and his wife, Kristen, started praying about taking a family mission trip instead of a normal family vacation a couple years ago. His son, Josh, turns 13 soon and they wanted something they could do together to mark his approaching “manhood.”
“Part of discipling our kids is putting God first in our own lives. When we go on a mission trip like this, it gives our children a chance to see Mom and Dad caring about others beyond our little community,” James Rinn says. “Mission trips can be a fun part of a parent’s discipleship with their kids as they work side-by-side.
“The kids will learn and grow, as well as the parents,” James Rinn says. “Or at least, that’s what happened with me. God used Josh to teach me a lot this week.”
Josh just shrugs and smiles. He never knew handing out Bibles could be so much fun. To be honest, it sounded boring when his parents first told him about it. But once Josh hands out his first Bible, he’s hooked. He and his best friend, Colin Rasmussen, 12, work as a team to distribute more than 200 of the 750 Bibles given out by the Texas volunteers.
The young Texan even gave away his personal Bible to a homeless German man on the side of the road. Just mentioning it brings tears to his father’s eyes, but for Josh, it’s no big deal — after all, that’s why they took this mission trip.
“I’ve had that Bible since I was a little kid,” Josh says nonchalantly about the Bible the “Easter Bunny” left him years ago. “We probably have 10 or so Bibles at our house and there are people in the world who don’t even have one. You should see people’s faces and how excited they get the first time they open it. You’d give your Bible away, too.”
MORE THAN DISTRIBUTION
This “family-friendly” mission trip not only includes handing out Bibles to Chinese tourists at night but also working with local ministries during the day. The team hands out food at jails and slum areas. The highlight of one afternoon is playing on the colorful playground at an orphanage.
At each site, the team takes time to pray and share about God’s love. The parents try desperately to get one of the children to give their testimony. Ethan is the best bet with his new, bolder personality. The translator asks him to speak or pray with the gathered crowd but he reverts back to shyly ducking behind his mom. However, when the food comes out for distribution, the 10-year-old forgets about hiding and is the first to give a helping hand. The other children quickly follow suit, while fathers carry heavy packages and mothers fan out to pray.
Elbow deep in dry rice, Ethan chats with a man working next to him. It doesn’t matter if the man knows English or not. Ethan is set on making sure he knows that Jesus loves him — the exact thing the adults tried to get him to do just moments earlier.
“I can’t believe this is called ‘ministry.’ It’s so much fun,” Ethan says, his voice raspy and tired.
The 10-year-old grabs his throat and makes a funny face. He looks at his mother for an explanation. She gives him an affectionate “you’ve got to be kidding me” look.
Of course her normally quiet son is losing his voice. He spends four hours every night yelling, “free Bibles” to Chinese tourists. Yesterday he played at the orphanage for two hours — screaming at the top of his lungs with 70 other children on the playground. He’s literally talked nonstop since getting off the plane.
“I hope it comes back by tonight,” he croaks.
Carianne Gillmore studies her son for a moment. Ethan’s definitely not the same little boy she brought to Southeast Asia. Nor is she the same. They’ve both grown in their love for missions.
“Me, too,” the Texas mother answers. “It’s our last night and we need to tell the Chinese that Jesus loves them.”
Susie Rain is a writer for the International Mission Board living in Southeast Asia.