By Gene Strickland
Ever since my days at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, I've had a heart for missions. Likewise, I've found missions to be the heartbeat of most Christians, though that heart has to be resuscitated every once in a while.
Missions cannot be for someone else and not for us personally. William Carey, the father of modern missions once said, “Not everyone is called to be a missionary, but everyone is called to be mission-minded.” The Great Commission is directed to every born-again believer and is not a once-in-a-lifetime assignment. It is a lifelong obligation to our Redeemer and Master.
When I began publicizing a July mission trip to Anchorage, Alaska, I had no idea that the response would be so great. But it was! We made this trip open to any born-again Christian who wanted to be a part of planting seeds of the gospel, watering previously sown seeds and, hopefully, reaping a harvest.
Our team was made up of 30 missionaries from Baptist churches in Virginia and North Carolina, a non-denominational church member from Independence, Va., and a member of a Christian Church in North Carolina.
Our contact missionary in Alaska is my brother, Eugene, who works with a ministry called FROMM (Families Reaching Out in Missions & Ministry). FROMM is based in Anchorage but provides ministry as far away as Bethel (a village about 500 miles to the west of Anchorage).
The team of 30 was divided into smaller teams, each ministering according to the opportunities and needs. Some helped with Vacation Bible School; some did construction work in a local church; others visited and ministered in a nursing home and a native pre-maternal home. The opportunity for door-to-door evangelism and street evangelism, however, was one we all shared.
The native pre-maternal home was a very special ministry with great potential. Young women who are pregnant travel up to 1,000 miles to Anchorage so their babies can be born in one of the three modern hospitals located there. Some of our missionary women are beauticians and they put together beautiful gift bags for the mothers-to-be. During their visits they gave the moms a manicure and styled their hair.
Think of the possibilities. They got to share Jesus with a young mom-to-be who would then be able to carry that gospel message back to her village many, many miles away. One morning our pre-maternal team got to go to the hospital to visit one of the moms who had given birth just hours before. They had ministered to her in the days leading up to the blessed event and then were privileged to rejoice with her when the new baby arrived.
Mission trips are not all work and no play, however. We managed to schedule at least a partial day of sightseeing and souvenir shopping on each mission trip. Our folks had the opportunity to travel down to the fishing village of Seward where they saw the salmon in the rivers and streams as they struggled upstream. They witnessed the flight of bald eagles, mountain sheep clinging to rocky cliffs and, of course, plenty of moose. To the culinary delight of most every palate, they enjoyed fresh stuffed halibut and salmon fixed every way you can imagine. This may be the only mission trip in recent memory where workers actually gained weight!
An interesting aspect of our trip was dealing with the amount of daylight. We had plenty of ministry opportunities that took place at 10 or 11 at night. The sun was still up and folks were at the ball field or out walking in the neighborhoods. Even though your body pronounces that it is time to go to bed and get some rest, your mind attempts to rationalize that as long as the sun is shining you should be actively working. This fascinated us, but it really began to wear on us after a few days.
We promoted VBS and a special Wednesday night service by doing mass advertising on two local FM radio stations, the cable TV's community bulletin board and by placing a vinyl banner on the busy highway in front of the church. Many of the children who came to Vacation Bible School had never heard of Jesus. It was all new to them! Heaven only knows all of the decisions which were made over the week that we spent in Anchorage.
Tragically, many of the people of Alaska are very resistant to the gospel. Quite a few doors were shut in our faces as people exclaimed, “I want no part of your Savior!” or “If this is about God, I'm not interested!” But there were a few who were very receptive and were appreciative that someone had come to tell them about Jesus.
I remember one man who, with his younger brother, operated a shoe-shine business downtown. He tried to explain to me that “any god you believe in is the same” and “ultimately all roads lead to heaven.” I've heard those lines before, but sadly he was not receptive to the truth and had no desire to make sure of his eternal destiny. When we can actually put faces on the lost, it becomes even more critical that we must go and share Jesus with these people.
We try to do at least one mission trip each year. However, with the interest shown in the Alaska mission trip, I've re-thought my methods. Next year I'd like to do at least three mission trips, touch the lives of more people, reach out to more of the lost and allow more people to serve. Mission trips are not only ways to reach the lost, they are also a way to revitalize your own people. You're never the same after being an active participant in a mission endeavor. You think about evangelism with more passion, you dig a little deeper when the plate is passed around to support a missions offering, your prayers for those serving full-time on the mission field are intensified and your heart beats a little faster every time you hear that a mission trip is being planned.
From the beginning God began planning the mission. Don't let Christ's Great Commission be our Great Omission. Jesus issued an invitation for all believers to be participants (rather than couch potato Christians) in the mission. Be involved, keep giving, start moving, get going! Time is critical.
The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few.
Special to the Herald
Gene Strickland is pastor of First Baptist Church in Galax.