I've had missions on my mind a lot this week, and I've been praying for people from Africa to Arizona, and thinking about people who speak Swahili, Spanish, English and Navajo.
I'm planning to lead a group of about 20 people from my church on a home missions trip to minister to children from the Navajo, Hopi and Apache tribes in Arizona. We will be going in June to help out at Native American Outreach Ministries, Inc. (NAOMI) in Jackrabbit, Ariz. Preparations for that trip are on all of our minds.
Over the weekend, I read a book by my friend, John Carney, called "Soapstone." The book is a novel based on John's short term mission trips to Kenya in East Africa.
It's a book that I would recommend to anyone who has ever thought about going on a mission trip, overseas or here at home.
We go on these trips because we want to share the good news of Jesus Christ with people in other cultures, and minister to them in practical and tangible ways as well. We go on these trips to minister to others, but we are impacted in so many ways ourselves. We come home changed, and we come home with a burden and a love for those we met and encountered on our journey.
It was back in the 70s when I went on my first short term missions trip. I was a student at Pacific Christian College in Fullerton, Calif. at the time, and I went with a group of students from the school down into Mexico to minister to children at an orphanage.
It was truly an eye opening experience for all of us, a bunch of white middle-class Christian kids from all over the U.S.
For most of us, it was the first time that we had been exposed to the level of poverty that we encountered in the slums of that large city.
We saw children and adults digging through massive piles of garbage trying to find something that they could salvage and sell to buy food for their families.
We saw thousands of makeshift shelters or shacks filling valleys and covering hillsides where people were forced to live and raise their families. And we saw children, lots of children, who craved attention and a little bit of love from someone who would care.
The missionaries we worked with were wonderful Christian people, with hearts of gold, who loved God and loved the children in the home.
Ever since that first exposure to cross-cultural ministry, I've tried to be a part of missions, and share my heart for missions with others.
For a number of years I served as a nationally appointed home missionary with the denomination I belonged to at the time. My wife and I served in inner-city ministry throughout the Midwest.
Since the early 90s, I've served on the board of directors of NAOMI in Jackrabbit, and have had the privilege of leading a number of short term mission teams to Arizona to minister on the Indian reservations out there.
John points out in his book the importance of ministry team members trying to be culturally sensitive when we go to minister in a new environment to a new people.
The main character in his book had a hard time eating some of the food that was served to him in Kenya, and he tried to not hurt anyone's feelings by telling them he wouldn't eat what they had prepared. He wanted to be considerate of his hosts.
When we as Christians share our faith with others, many times we share the love of God best when we don't say a word, but we just live life before them. Kindness, gentleness, and peace are sure signs of God's spirit in our lives.
Here in Bedford County, we are seeing an ever increasing population of people from other cultures move into our community. People from different countries with different faiths and practices, who speak different languages, are around us in our neighborhoods, in our schools, on the job site, and when we shop.
I see opportunities for cross cultural ministry right here in Shelbyville all the time.
We can be missionaries right here, right now, in our own community. We can live life before others every day and make Christ known by being who God wants us to be.
-- Doug Dezotell is the newsroom clerk at the Times-Gazette, and serves as the pastor of Mt. Lebanon United Methodist Church. He can be reached at 684-1200, ext. 217, or firstname.lastname@example.org.