It was 1981. I was two years out of seminary and on a church staff as a minister of youth and education. I loaded a dozen teenagers and four adults into a church van and a pickup truck and left the comfort of our home church in Missouri for a mission trip to the farm land west of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We taught Vacation Bible School to a small congregation that met in a Grange Hall. We stayed at an old CCC Camp from the Depression era. We had few conveniences and little luxury. That was my first mission trip, my first faith travel adventure.
Since that time, I have involved several church groups (both youth and adult) in trips that revolve around our faith. Through it all, whether a big mission trip to Pennsylvania, Georgia and Massachusetts or a small trip to the local nursing home, food pantry or soup line, the lessons are ultimately the same. Faith travel grows a congregation. Members are blessed with the opportunity to take a lifetime of Bible study lessons and sermons and put those words into practice.
Imagine a person who has sat in a church pew and heard the story of the Good Samaritan or the teachings about feeding the hungry and visiting the lonely. Sadly, for too many church members these are truly just words. They hear them, they digest them, they would nod their heads in agreement with them, but they never put them into practice. But a faith journey changes that. It forces our hand. It puts us into the world of need and allows us to use what we have heard and know. A lifetime of knowledge begins to resonate within our hearts and allows us to open up our lives and use what we know.
On that first trip to Pennsylvania, I saw my 16- and 17-year-olds talk to small children who had never been in church, never sung a song, rarely played an organized game and came to the meetings hungry. My teenagers came to me heartbroken with stories of both physical and spiritual poverty. All the sermons in a lifetime couldn’t teach my kids what they were learning first hand through these kids. The Bible stories that they took for granted now resonated in their hearts as they began to minister.
In addition to Bible lessons coming alive, these teens began to have revealed in their lives opportunities to use strengths they were unaware of. Some could easily speak of their faith. Others began to teach lessons and lead in music or craft projects, while some wanted to take on the physical responsibilities of securing some needed clothing or food or toys for some of the children.
As we encountered the families and the community, each of my faith travelers found new insights into who they were and what they could do. Even my adults had new revelations as to how they could use their abilities to touch the lives of the people we were visiting with. But that didn’t end on the journey.
When the traveling was over and we had said our good-byes and gone back home, the lessons continued. These faith travelers, to this day, remember the trips, recall the work and still apply the lessons to their lives. Though I have moved many miles from them and many years have passed, when I have had contact with them, the mission trips always come up in conversation. The lessons are still alive. And the conversation is the same. “What I learned on the trip, I still put into practice today.”
After the suitcases are unpacked and the teaching supplies are back in the storage room, even when life gets back to the routine of school, church, family and friends…the faces of the mission children, the needs of their families and the privilege of helping them stays with a person. And by its presence in our memories, we discover that we now respond to people and needs where we live. Ministry isn’t just for the far off. There are needs at home, in our neighborhoods, maybe with our neighbors.
Sometimes the journeys are shorter. My current congregation ministers monthly in local rescue and food missions. But the lessons are the same. The needs resonate the sermons. The opportunities reveal our strengths. The lives continue to respond wherever we go. And my church today, with their local work, is talking about distance work. They want to travel to other places and minister away from our church…a faith journey. It is a trip I look forward to leading.
By Richard Krieg
Pastor of Red Land Baptist Church,
New Cumberland, Pennsylvania