In the Spring of 2009, I led a Young Professionals group from my church on a mission trip to Costa Rica where we were hosted by 6:8 Ministries… And my life was completely changed.
No, this isn’t a story about “my first mission trip”, “how I was saved”, or “the poverty made me feel so guilty”. Instead, this is a story about learning how to be “on mission” for Christ regardless of where you are. 6:8 Ministries is a non-profit, non-denominational missions organization that exists to strengthen and expand the kingdom of God by offering affordable, life-changing, mission experiences to Costa Rica. At face value, I don’t think that this mission statement is that different from most any other mission organization. However, the experience completely is… So much so that after having spent a week with 6:8, my wife and decided to spend the entire summer of 2009 working with 6:8, hosting mission teams in Costa Rica. Through this experience I learned a lot about what “being a missionary” is really all about.
While most international mission organizations focus solely on attempting to help the local communities in poverty stricken third-world environments, 6:8 takes it a step further. Rather than simply focus on the locals, 6:8 also seeks to awaken the bus loads of American “Church-Goers” who embark on these evangelistic trips by providing both opportunities to serve and opportunities to reflect and truly seek the will of God in their lives. After having hosted approximately ten consecutive week-long team trips in a row that summer, it was fairly easy to recognize the pattern that the “missionaries” would go through… On Day One, 20 or so “gringos” would arrive at the team house wearing brightly colored shirts and talking pictures of all “the poverty”. They would all have plans about how they would “lead people to Christ” by handing out their bilingual tracks, their prayer beads and talking through the Romans Road. Often times they came prepared for the Costa Rica rainy season equipped with expensive new hiking shoes, camelbacks, and sunglasses. And they were all excited to go zip-lining through the rainforest on their free day, as this really was a vacation.
Yeah, that attitude lasted about an afternoon.
After the first walk through the shanti-hut village where every house had a dirt floor, a leaky roof, and no running water, the team usually got quiet as they realized they were in for more than they expected. But as the days wore on, the teams quickly adjusted to the environment and really got engaged with the people. Jumping rope and playing soccer with the kids, serving food at the homeless shelter, praying with any and everybody, building houses, painting walls, teaching english, and singing songs! It was always so cool to see people who were completely outside of their comfort zone adapt. But what was even wilder was to see the look on faces of each team half way through their trip when it was time to go zip-lining and to the beach on their free-day excursion… After 3 days of surrendering everything to God, being a stranger in a strange land, and selflessly serving people less fortunate than you from morning til night, going back to focusing on themselves just didn’t seem quite as fun. But, they did it anyway.
Upon returning from a day of fun, the emotions were always mixed. Most teams brought about $1000.00 worth of donations so that they could do service projects during their stay. But when they realize that they collectively spent $2000.00 on their free-day trip, they usually began to question whether it was worth it (especially since it only costs $3500.00 to build someone a new house). And that’s really when you started to see the wheels turn… “Why am I so financially blessed and these people have so little?” “How is it that these people praise and thank God for all their blessings and all I ever do is ask for more?” “I thought I was going to come here and witness to these people, but they already know and love God even more than I do?” “How can have lived so selfishly for so long?” “I want to change my ways, but how?”
Over the last couple of days, each member of the team would seem to get more and more engaged with the locals during the day and more and more reflective and introspective during the evenings. And on the last day, when it was time leave, it was usually unanimous that everyone wanted to simply stay. Because for an entire week, they had just done something they had never done – They turned off their cell phones, iPods, and blackberry’s. They surrendered their schedules and their agendas. They didn’t put themselves first. They prayed for others rather than for things. The walked in pouring rain, rode the bus everyone, and didn’t mind one bit. Last, but definitely not least, they heard God speak. And now it was time to go.
But before they left, Spencer (6:8 Founder) would explain how the week was really all about opening their eyes to loving their neighbor and serving one another as Jesus called us to do and that they didn’t have to come to Costa Rica to it. Though the temptations and distractions in our homes are abundant, showing Christ’s love to the world should be an unending activity, no matter where we are. We’re all called to be missionaries, but we don’t have to go to Costa Rica to do it… We can do it in our schools, our offices, our homes, our neighborhoods, everywhere.
Over the past 2.5 years, I have found it much harder to “be a missionary” in the U.S. than in Costa Rica as the distractions and temptations are great here. But, this is where I have been called to serve, and I know exactly how to do it, thanks to 6:8.