Wednesday, April 20, 2011

15 People, 7 Days, and 3 Defining Points

15 people, 5 different ministries, and one week to serve. Just seeing it typed out is overwhelming. How in the world can so few people impact so many ministries in such a short amount of time? And did I mention that only 1 of the 15 even spoke the language of the people to whom they were ministering? This is clearly not a ministry plan anyone would devise and approve as a recipe for success. And yet, it is exactly what I, along with 14 others, sought to do a few weeks ago on a short-term trip to Ecuador. The team varied in age, stage of life, gender, marital status, gifting, vocation, and calling. It was a great team. Each and every individual contributed in accordance with his or her gifting and everyone was flexible and open to what God had for us as the week progressed.

We spent the mornings working in a school with children from elementary through high school age. Half of the team held two assemblies for large groups of students each morning while the other half of the team provided basketball clinics and visited various classrooms. Both groups shared the Gospel in each encounter as well as taught a discipleship lesson. The afternoons were spent with the women on the team teaching a Bible Study for a group of women from our partner church while those gifted in basketball (of whom I was not one!) held basketball clinics coupled with evangelistic presentations at the church. Then, each evening the men on the team taught an introductory Bible course for the school of ministry that the church launched with our team. In the course of the week we provided an overview of every book of the Bible. It was a marathon pace with 12-14 hour days, with much encouragement from the Lord to sustain us.

As with every team I’ve taken, certain themes stand out and tend to be the things that define the trip in the days and years to come. One defining point for this trip really was the team. All of the teams I have led have had the hand of the Lord on them and I am grateful for His sovereignty in forming the groups. However, this particular team was especially suited for this week of ministry and served with such faithfulness and humility. The substance of their service and the way in which they manifested it were all testimonies to the God who sent us.

A second defining point of this trip was ministering to people with such an earnest desire for the things of the Lord. We were ministering to a people who had so many spiritual needs. Most did not know the Gospel. Those who did had very little biblical knowledge beyond the most basic elements of the Gospel. They were often without hope which left them open to hear and spiritually needy. We were humbled by the commitment of the nationals who attended our teaching to hear our testimonies and learn more about the Bible. For instance, on the first night of the School of Ministry Panoramic Survey of the Bible, there was a heavy downpour of rain. A few minutes into the teaching on the Pentateuch, the power went out in the church. With several hours of teaching to go, candles were quickly found and team members with small flashlights hopped onto the platform to help illuminate the teacher’s notes so the teaching could continue. Several hours later, when the night’s teaching was complete, the power came on right in the middle of the closing prayer. All had sat faithfully seeking to know more of the Bible, despite the fact the night was stormy, they would have hours of travel to get back home, and there was no light. It was not only the church leaders seeking a biblical education who were engaged. Many children in the school were as well. In fact, one middle school age girl, confronted with the Gospel, asked a question we must all consider, “What does God see when He looks at us?” She listened intently as a team member shared about the sin that consumes us apart from Christ and the perfection of Christ that covers us when we trust in Him. And not only did she listen, but so did her ten friends who were gathered around asking questions and engaging with the elements of the Gospel.

Finally, I was struck on this trip with the significance of ministry partners. RTIM sent out this trip in partnership with multiple congregations in the United States. Once we were on the ground, we were able to partner with Ecuadorian missionary, Joselito Orellana who facilitated many of the ministry logistics that allowed us to maximize our time of service. The partnership also allowed us to minister throughout the week, being faithful to our specific tasks but with the assurance of the follow-up that would come through his ministry as well as that of Iglesia Bautista Universitaria.

Some question the validity of short-term missions, but I’m more convinced than ever in the Kingdom value of such ministries. One team member estimated that at least 60 Gospel presentations or Bible teaching presentations were made by the group in addition to one on one conversations throughout the week. I’m certain that hundreds were exposed to biblical teaching through the work of this team who would not have otherwise been so. And, I’m certain that 15 individuals were more closely conformed to the image of Christ as a result of serving Him for 7 days among the people of Ecuador. To Him be the glory.

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