Since my return to the States from two weeks of short-term missions, the most common question I’ve been getting is “How was it?”
It is a question that I find impossible to answer.
I could talk about how my experience this time differed from past trips; but this trip isn’t about me.
I could talk about how God was faithful to provide for our every need; but this trip isn’t strictly about the team.
I could talk about the kids who accepted Christ. Yes, that seems to strike closer to the heart of things. But how do I talk about those who were saved without also talking about who they are? Beyond saying x number of people received Christ, what can I do except tell their story? And to tell their story…where does one even begin?
Thus, for the time being, I’ve decided to refrain from talking about the specifics of the trip. Instead, I will offer the general reflections I’ve had as a result of these past two weeks.
During the trip, I read through several of the minor prophets. A major theme that cuts through most (all?) of them is the promised restoration of suffering Israel. But restoration to what? Restoration in order that God’s holiness and righteousness might be vindicated among the nations:
“It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” – Isaiah 2:2-3.
“Then the nations that are left all around you shall know that I am the LORD, I have rebuilt the ruined places and replanted that which was desolate. I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it.” – Ezekiel 36:36
“Then the nations will know that I am the LORD who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.” – Ezekiel 37:28
“So I will show my greatness and my holiness and make myself known in the eyes of many nations. Then they will know that I am the LORD.” – Ezekiel 38:23
“For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the LORD and serve him with one accord.” – Zephaniah 3:9
“Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the LORD” – Zechariah 8:22
These passages and many like them all talk about God’s promise to restore Israel and draw all the nations to Himself. That is His plan for the world. The crazy thing is that in 2 Corinthians 1:20, Paul writes, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him [Jesus].” That means that we are really living in the thick of things. For Jesus Messiah is the faithful Israelite; He is the recipient of God’s promise (see Gal 3:16). He is the one who suffered and died; He is the one whom God restored (resurrected). It is in Him that we are justified before God and our sins forgiven. It is in Him that the nations see the glory, “glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). And He is the guarantee, the assurance that God is faithful to carry out His Word to the very end.
The 15 or so students who received Christ during this trip are the first-fruits of a nation that God is drawing to Himself through Jesus Messiah. God is fulfilling His promise to a nation, to the entire world, and all of us are in the midst of it. We, everyone, are all caught up in the action. This is the big picture, the meta-narrative of what missions is all about.
For most of my life, I’ve subconsciously ignored the significance of missions. To me, it was something we’re supposed to do because Jesus said so in the Great Commission. Or we’re supposed to do it because we love people or we love Jesus, or something like that. I thought of missions as another thing to tack onto my Christian to-do list. During this trip, God humbled me in that respect, showing me that missions is about the great story of what He is doing. The bigger story is what God is doing in the world; the smaller story (far smaller) is what God is doing in me. If I think of missions as the cool summer project that God is doing in the life of Tim Ip, then in my mind, I’ve diminished it into a secondary issue, whereas I’ve made myself the primary issue.
But if missions is really the meta-narrative of what God is doing, then I ought to structure my life around missions, to find my place within the story. Not vice-versa. I should not be structuring missions around my agenda and desires. Once again, God is asserting His supremacy over and against what I’ve made my life about (namely, myself).
At the end of the day, to make our lives about missions (whether at home or abroad) is to live and breath the Gospel. This is not because of anything we do, but because missions, by its very nature, is participation in the work of God, and what is the Gospel except the good news of God’s saving work? In this sense, we didn’t bring the Gospel to a foreign land; rather, the Gospel brought us deeper into a place where God is working.
So, I apologize. In a way, I’ve told you nothing of what the trip was about. I left out many particulars; I didn’t even say where we went.* Maybe one day, I will find the words to do justice to what actually happened during these past two weeks. As of now, my best answer to the question “How was it?” is “It was good.” Horrible answer, I know, and I’m sorry.
In another way, though, I’ve tried, to the best of my ability, to tell you what the trip was actually about. I can’t say that it’s the most accurate retelling, or even that other members of the team will agree with me. All I can say is that God (once again) came crashing into the world like a wrecking ball, and this is what remains. This is what has moved me to make my life about missions.
As a final request, please pray for kids who received Christ, for their continued growth in Him, and for His guidance and protection in their lives.
*Part of this is intentional, since we were in a country that isn’t friendly to the Gospel. Given that the Internet is a place where anyone can find anything, I decided to leave out as many details as possible.