Last week I joined a group from our church and travelled half way around the world on what we call a mission trip. We call it that because the purpose is the same as that of missionaries down through the years—to take the message of Jesus into distant areas. Areas where people haven’t heard of Jesus or where the opposition to his message is so extreme that few people have had a real chance to respond.
Our congregation has for many years been engaged with mission trips to Central Asia, the strange, desolate land that lies at the juncture of with Russia, the Middle East and Europe. Full of mountains, deserts, sprawling cities and a wide variety of ethnic groups, the region also includes the remnants of the old Soviet Union. On a more practical level—at least for mission trips—Central Asia also contains the highest concentration of Muslims in the world with over 95% of the population embracing Islam.
If you’re a church looking for a place to travel, there are easier places in the world to go. But something about the spiritual need of the place has so impressed our congregation’s heart that we make several trips a year there.
The trip last week was the most unusual one I’ve made. Four of our dads and their teen-age sons met up with three Central Asian dads and their teen-age sons, along with a couple of our mission partners in the region. We spent several days camping, rock climbing, studying the Bible together and in general, getting to know one another and helping the Central Asian dads and their sons learn how better to function in a Christian family setting as opposed to the Muslim setting they had come out of. The Central Asians had all grown up Muslim and had come to Christ in a country where they’re no longer safe. Now, they’re all religious refugees, trying to figure out not only how to live outside their homeland but also how their Christian faith charts a new direction for them. Our purpose in the trip was to show and teach what the Bible says about fathers and sons and families, and how the gospel makes such a deep impact in life that it affects even our most intimate family relations.
The trip started out awkwardly. The language barrier was pretty severe, and much of what we said to one another had to be translated. But then the manly games began and the barriers started to come down. Basketball was first. Then soccer. Darts. A vicious Corn Hole tournament followed. Rock climbing came later. Finally, some bizarre game from our friends’ homeland called “Zoooo.” I never did figure out the purpose of that game except to run around inside a perimeter trying to knock, drag and otherwise jump on the other team, until only one person was standing. You had to make the sound, “Zoooo” while all this was going on. The point was for all the guys—sons as well as their dads—to get to know each other. Later, during the joint Bible studies, we were able to leapfrog off the shared enjoyment of competition into the deeper spiritual truths we had come to share.
It’s hard to predict the lasting impact of the trip. Our men and their sons invested a week of their time as well as a good bit of money. Our congregation supplemented the cost. Our new friends also sacrificed to come. And our mission partners put in uncounted hours making the whole trip possible. But mission work in general, and especially in this part of the world, doesn’t work out in the way you see in other, less hostile regions. Here, everything revolves around relationships, and as you touch lives one by one with friendship, love and the gospel, something happens. A life changed here, a family there. Pretty soon a fledgling church springs up. Then another. A community starts to get a glimpse of spiritual freedom and light outside of what they’ve been taught all their lives. Great spiritual movements happen from beginnings as small as this.