I hadn’t been out of the country before, but here I was in November 2011 at 25 years old, headed to a communist country with Monacrest Free Methodist Church of Monaca, Pennsylvania. I’d been on plenty of mission trips with the church I grew up in, but those had been to the small town of Salt Lick, Kentucky — never as far as this and especially never in a culture that spoke a completely different language.
I grew up in Ohio but attended Geneva College in Pennsylvania, ultimately graduating in 2008. In my final year at Geneva, I was connected to the Free Methodist Church through a pastor’s son and soon found myself employed by Monacrest as the director of student ministries. As I connected to the people and the local church, I began to become more aware of the endless global mission opportunities in which Monacrest had decided to become involved.
Three years later, I had the chance to get involved with one of these global missions and I signed up to head to this communist country, which is labeled a “creative access country” by mission organizations. In my mind, this mission trip would be similar to the ones I had gotten involved in as a youth in Kentucky — not in culture but in purpose. I figured we would arrive, complete a few projects (from building to speaking at churches) and then head home to tell everyone the good news about what we had completed in the lives of those in an area less fortunate than ours.
I was prepared to face the culture shock of a world suffering from communism and lesser freedoms — a land stripped of fast-food restaurants and easy access to Internet and media, a country that needed our help. I quickly learned, however, that there was little about the country that was a culture shock. The shock was returning to the United States. I started to realize that words meant something different here, and that their definition changed everything.
In the communist country’s church, fellowship is a way of life. Without fast access to the Internet, people were brought together face to face to interact with each other. People who spoke completely different languages laughed together, sang together and ultimately loved each other.
One of our translators brought us to his house and told us: “Welcome home.” A church member who took the time to carve us personalized souvenirs out of wood told me to “always remember that you have a family in (the country).” Love was not some far-off ideal to shoot for to be like Jesus; it was a living, breathing, unstoppable force that raced through the streets in the name of Christ.
As I left that trip, I realized that I had learned far more from the people than I had taught them through the seminars I had given. The church of Christ was always meant for so much more than we sometimes make it into. It has the potential to change the world. As my friend Emilee remarked, “The best thing about (the country) is the people. They literally have nothing, but they’re willing to give you whatever they do have. Essentially, they have every right to feel like God has turned His back on them, but it’s so humbling to see just how strong their faith in God actually is.”
As Monacrest has continued to partner and take trips across the world to invest in the lives of others, most individuals find out that in their mission to change someone else’s life, their lives have been touched in an even greater way. Kathy Rabe, wife of Pastor Doug Rabe, has found this to be true in her ongoing mission trip to the jungles of Thailand. Children and families are fleeing from their lives in what is considered “ethnic cleansing” to eliminate a specific group of people, the Karen tribe.
When the group from Monacrest arrives into the refugee camps deep in the jungles, Kathy is often touched by how “some walk for miles to meet us. The best part of the entire trip is meeting with the children, being able to play with them, and loving them in every way we can.” The smiling faces of those children last in her mind long after the trip has ended and the day-to-day work in the United States has begun again. The impact the people made on her life will last a lifetime.
Wherever you are, just love people. There are 66 books in the Bible full of words to give you the inspiration you need, and you don’t need to have a big idea to change the world. Simply start investing right where you are in real fellowship, in changing the world of every person you meet through love.
Global missions begin when we simply look at who’s at the end of our fingertips and start right there — when we see the hurting, the disenfranchised and the broken, and we look them in the eye and say, “You don’t embarrass me.” Global missions begin when we set down our prejudices and invest time, money or energy in those around us. In the process, we’ll often find that our lives are changed in a much bigger way than we had expected.
Josh Avery is the youth pastor of Monacrest Free Methodist Church in Monaca, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh.
DISCUSSION: Have you been on a mission trip? If so, how did the trip change your outlook?  What prejudices or fears hinder some Christians from engaging the church outside the United States? 0