Matthew grew up thinking missions is “for other people, but not for me.” But God had a different idea.
I grew up in a Christian home, and I became a Christian in sixth grade. At our house, it was important to “be” a Christian, but going to church was not a priority. Thanks to a few classmates who reached out to me, I started to attend a youth group where I was captivated by my Savior, who He is, how I fall short, and how He saved me.
At Resolved Conference 2006, I heard John Piper mention that all Christians should have a heart for the lost, including those overseas. Up until then, I thought missions was for other people, but because I live in the US and am not gifted with people skills, I certainly would not be the right person. I can love the lost from afar, right?
Several years later, shortly after returning to the Bay Area post college, I started attending Maranatha Bible Church. For multiple years in a row, Vince invited me to WCC, but each year, I let the invitation pass. Missions is going overseas somewhere unfamiliar and uncomfortable. That’s not for me. But I can support others; I can give money.
Summer 2011, Joyce shared with me her passion for missions, and a few months later, Vince emailed asking for help with the children’s program at OMF’s Heart for Asia Conference. Why me? I work with youth, not kids. I teach math, or Sunday School, but I don’t know much about missions. How could I be useful? Vince insisted, so I decided to let God be my guide and show me how He wanted me to use my gifts, even if I couldn’t see it. I learned many things at the conference, and for some reason, the kids seemed to like me.
Once again, Vince and Bonnie urged me to attend WCC, but this time, I decided to let God show me His heart. It was so powerful and amazing to be surrounded by so many believers with the same goal: to glorify Him and bring the nations to Christ. Many wanted to go and serve, giving up years of their lives. I’m like a fish out of water. I don’t belong. I don’t feel called to go. My vision is to be a “missionary” here, serving my students. Thankfully, Vince corrected me. Being called to go is not the goal, but rather, to see your place in God’s global plan. Whether to be sent or to send, He has a place for each of us, and all are important; you don’t have to be the “sent” to have the heart of a missionary. Still, after being around so many missions minded people, I determined that if God wanted me to go just to see His heart for the lost, I would go. If I’ve never been on a missions trip, can I really say it’s not for me?
Everything fell into place. Maranatha had plans to go to Ensenada, Mexico with Francisco and Elva to work with young kids and several churches there. The plan was to fly into San Diego on July 21, and well, my annual trip to San Diego ended on July 21… I felt like God was telling me, “No more excuses. You have heard from friends. You have the heart. Your youth need someone to watch over them. Now go.”
Fourteen teammates came to pick me up, and from there we made the trek down to Ensenada. We went not knowing exactly what we would be doing, but as Pastor Jerry said, “Be flexible. Do whatever Francisco needs. And prepare your testimony.”
Each morning, we woke up early to buy pan, jamón, y queso (bread, ham, and cheese) to build 80 sandwiches to serve the kids in the poor part of Ensenada. We helped out with a five-part VBS: hang out and prep lunch, praise/worship, skit Bible story, a craft activity, and then lunch with the kids and moms. With no predetermined roles, we dove in.
Tuesday, we went to another church and showed the movie “Courageous” in Spanish. Many men were inspired by the movie and came to the front of the church to to receive prayer. There we met a pastor with an amazing story: he was saved while in jail for murder in the US, and after acting as chaplain, was released many years later. Now, he is a pastor in Mexico.
Wednesday we took the kids to a park and played with them all day. It was awesome to see that, despite the language barrier, we could communicate through fútbol (soccer) and seesaws. When we learned that one young girl’s mother had passed away the previous night from a drug overdose, we were acutely reminded of the fragility of life and deeply saddened by what these kids struggle through every day.
Thursday morning Pastor Jerry challenged us to each pick one child or group of children and, in pairs, walk them home. No matter how far, no matter what kind of house, go with them. If you get invited in, go in; if not, say bye and go back. I went with one of my youth, Sarah, walking three kids back home who lived on a giant hill. When we got there, the parents were so kind to welcome us in and they even wanted a picture of us.
Thursday evening we joined the worship service at Francisco’s home church. I recognized two of the songs, and sang them in English while everyone else sang in Spanish. We can sing in English. They can sing in Spanish. Together, we are worshiping a holy and good God. At that moment, I caught a glimpse of His global Church. There are believers all around the world, and it does not matter what language we speak. Then a US missionary to Congo spoke, urging the people to stand and minister to the kids that are poor and do not have much, as she did in Congo to many leaders there. I was reminded of my calling as a teacher, to minister to my students and help them grow closer to Christ.
Francisco asked for volunteers to share how prayer has impacted your life. Dead silence from the older people… but one youth volunteers, then another, and another, and finally the last youth. I was so proud of them! I was chosen as the last to share. Not knowing exactly what to say, I prayed that God would speak through me. I started in Spanish, but stopped after two sentences, and continued in English about praying and trusting God in my career as a teacher, losing job after job, but continually seeing God’s providence at each school, knowing He will place me where He wants me to serve.
Coming back from Mexico, I am very glad that I went and got to see the world outside. God took what small skills I had and used them in amazing ways. Hanging out with the kids, worshiping with them, walking them home, talking with them, it was great to see His love for these people, and how His kingdom stretches to places that we don’t see. I will not forget this trip; it gave me a glimpse of His global kingdom.
I am not sure what God has in store for me, but I know that God sent me to show me His heart. It is so great, I will never fully understand it. I don’t know whether I will go back, but I will let God lead. Either way, I know my calling as a teacher is to mentor and inspire youth. Whatever I have, here I am Lord. Use me.
Photo by Megan Mark