Since the beginning of time, and now as much as ever, travel has been idealised, even romanticised. Add to that an altruistic goal and you have yourself a recipe for complete fulfilment. More commonly known as mission trips, these kinds of journeys promise a revival experience, and last year, I went on two of them. It should then go without saying that I’m abuzz with a powerful new outlook on life, and have a miracle or two to add to my testimony. Well, yes, I do. But these miracles might not sound quite as you would expect. From my recent experiences, I’ve realised that the promised “mountaintop experiences” are often wrapped in simplicity, and that the small moments in mission are just as valid as the large ones.
Embedded in Adventist culture are a plethora of ministries that encourage acts of service for others, and for good reason. After all, we are to feed the hungry, befriend the stranger, clothe the naked, help the sick and visit the prisoner (Matthew 25:35). Here, Jesus is describing the gospel in action. For many of us, participating in STORMCos, big camps, church outreach events, ADRA appeals and mission trips of all types is intertwined with who we are as a denomination, of which I am proud to be a member. However, sometimes it’s easy to use these tools to divide and package the gospel into boxes, then value it based on numbers such as “contacts” or baptisms. But limiting ourselves to this perspective is not necessarily a healthy mentality. Often we fall into the mindset that mission equals overseas, that mission equals remote or foreign.
Sometimes, and myself included, we get so caught up in ticking lists of performed service and appealing to the religious status quo that it’s easy to fall into the mindset that today I am on a mission trip; and tomorrow when the plane lands back home, I am not.
For me, my introduction to God was simultaneous with my birth and integral to my upbringing. As soon as I could read I relished books containing prayer stories, angel stories and of course, mission stories. I knew about Desmond Doss way before Mel Gibson made him cool and Uncle Arthur really did feel like family. From all of this, I grew up with the sense that mission has to appear miraculous.
And I don’t deny it!
I am so grateful to have been exposed to many God-fuelled stories to found my younger years. They gave me something to look forward to in my own mission work for “when I grew up”.
And since then I have grown up, kind of.
But despite “doing mission” I haven’t quite fed the 5000 with my lunch. However, just as Jesus multiplied the young boy’s food, it’s important to realise that monumental experiences such as this can be the result of small moments of change, of step-by-step submission to Christ.
In preparation for my first mission trip in 2016, I was expecting an absolutely “life-changing” experience, so when I’m asked for a highlight from my most recent adventure, to Cambodia, I hesitate. It’s so simple, I think, will it be considered powerful enough? But, one of the most meaningful moments for me was most likely unnoticed by everyone else.
It was day two of project work and as co-leader for the first time I was using a lot of mental energy trying to ensure the smooth running of things. That particular morning presented more translation difficulties than usual and some other bits and pieces had to be sorted out. All I wanted was for everything to work smoothly. Finally, it came to a point in the day where it all seemed to be under control. The heavy lifting of the lavatory, water tank and wooden swing were complete, and we had begun some finishing touches such as brightly painting a shelter.
Busy in this job, I suddenly realised music was playing. It was a song from an old Heritage Singers CD: “I love the thrill that I feel when I get together with God’s wonderful people . . .”, a tune Dad often played on Friday nights at home. A wave of nostalgia hit me as the melody flowed from a portable speaker. I looked around.
There was our team working alongside the locals; talking, getting to know each other and making inside jokes, and the village children were colouring contentedly on a tarp nearby. I paused to realise that things were in fact running smoothly. My eyes began to water as I realised it was all worth it. We were where God wanted us to be. Despite all the effort I put in, it was He who had it under control and for a first-time leader a little out of my comfort zone, it was the assurance I needed. As simple as it was, it was my moment, my mustard seed moment. I didn’t baptise a multitude of people or have a Lazarus encounter but as the music played I took a second to appreciate God’s step-by-step miracles. We had planted a seed.
This experience made me realise that when we serve, Christ is developing our own characters and asking us to lean on Him. I had found myself adopting a Martha attitude in all my preparation and organisation, but that particular instance reminded me to bring myself back to the feet of Jesus. It is then that we can be a blessing to others with our unique God-given talents. Outwardly, our talents and experiences might not look like much, so it may be humbling to appreciate Christ’s more inconspicuous victories as the mustard seeds in His plan to move mountains. I believe this is because society constantly floods us with the big, the bold and the obvious and so for any experience to be validated it needs to be recognised by everyone. But should we expect the same when it comes to Christianity? After all, a meaningful connection with Christ is multi-dimensional, so isn’t it fair to value each individual layer we personally contribute to mission? It’s not only the “standout miracles” that reveal successful mission and once we realise that, it’s easier to appreciate the opportunities and experiences God has already given us.
And so I went overseas, expecting to be spiritually blown away by my “mountaintop” experience. Outwardly, I didn’t summit Everest but I had a calm assurance that I was where God needed me to be. I saw Him as I helped a child wash her hands, I heard Him addressed through prayer in the Khmer language, and I felt Him in the moments where I stood back and looked at the scene before me. A scene that showed two groups of people of different backgrounds, educations, religions, personalities; mingling as one group of new-found friends. That particular experience may have been mustard seed in size, but who knows what mountains God will move with it, for me or for them.
Sharna Kosmeier is undertaking her final year of a Bachelor of Arts degree at Avondale College.