COLUMBIA, S.C. (BP) — I never expected a trip to northern Europe to change me. Not like this, anyway. I had been on many mission trips, and this wasn’t my first vision trip. It was, however, my first mission trip to somewhere other than a Third World country.
Just prior to leaving, I panicked a little. My thoughts were, “We’re not going to build anything, we’re not doing a medical clinic or a Vacation Bible School, we’re not cleaning or repairing. How will we engage people? How will we share Jesus?”
Upon arrival, as we participated in surveys and mapping, as we watched our missionaries, I saw how they were sharing Jesus: through intentional engagement with the hope of developing relationships and living life alongside people who need to know Jesus.
During a lunchtime conversation, International Mission Board strategy leader David Moench asked me a question. I don’t remember the specific question, but I clearly remember the conversation that followed. It was about groups of people that we are a part of that give us opportunities to develop relationships and share Jesus. Examples included a running club (I don’t run!); neighbors in an apartment building (I live in a house in a neighborhood where people drive into their garages and you never see them); musicians (I sing in church or at home by myself).
That conversation stayed with me. Where were my groups — the people I spent time with? Well, there were people at work — but I work with a denominational organization. The people I hang out with outside work are friends from church. So the question I had to ask was, “Where were the lost people in my life?” And I didn’t like the answer very much. There weren’t many. I bowled in a league, and based on what I saw and heard, I would guess that many of them were living far from Jesus, but I only saw them on Thursday nights.
I began praying about where I could begin, what group I could join. It was important that it be a group with which I already had an affinity. And God brought to mind a group I had known about for many years but had never participated with. My university has an alumni chapter in the city where I live. They gather to watch athletic events, do service projects, and for social gatherings. I am an introvert, and I don’t know anyone in this group. The thought of walking in by myself is what has kept me from participating. But God was very clear. This was the group was I was to join.
With trembling knees I attended the first event — a game watching party. To my surprise (and a little amusement), the first couple I met were faithful followers of Jesus, active in missions. But in these last months, I’ve met many others who are not. As I’ve sat with new friends watching games, I’ve heard language that makes me uncomfortable; I’ve had beverages at my table that make me uncomfortable. But I’ve come to realize, more than ever, that to impact lostness, I have to touch lostness. It will be uncomfortable. And it has to be intentional. More than being ready to share the Gospel when the opportunity presents itself, I have to put myself in places where those opportunities are more likely to happen.
After having conversations with a shopkeeper in Sweden, I’ve tried to be more intentional about patronizing businesses in my neighborhood, eating at the same restaurants and so on. I knew I was on the right track when I entered a restaurant recently, and the waitress placed my order before I could! Obviously, I’m a creature of habit. The conversations we are having are the beginnings of a relationship.
Each time I have been privileged to go on a mission trip, my prayer has been that God would somehow use me to impact someone positively for Christ. And each time I have returned from a mission trip, I have realized how much I gained from my experiences. This was even more true when I went to Sweden. I had some meaningful conversations, and I pray that God will use those conversations to draw people one step closer to a relationship with Him. But having those conversations changed me.
I don’t know where this journey will lead, but I know I am not the same person who went to northern Europe. And that’s a good thing.
By the way, I have met my closest neighbor. And I am thinking about joining a running club. For beginners.