Witness to the Ends of the Earth :: One Group's Story
by Kristopher Whitby
Just before His ascension, Jesus said to His disciples; "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Our Lord brings salvation through His life, death on the cross, and His glorious resurrection, He now sends His Church throughout the world to share the Gospel so that all might believe in Him and receive that gift of salvation.
Two thousand years later, a Lutheran congregation in suburban Chicago may seem like an unlikely place from which our Lord would send His followers "to the ends of the earth," but, through our partnership with Lutheran Hour Ministries, our Lord has given the members of Saint Paul Lutheran Church in Mt. Prospect, IL wonderful chances to reach out with the touch of His message of grace through their International Volunteer Trips program. This program offers unique, short-term volunteer team opportunities to work alongside Lutheran Hour Ministries staff and volunteers in projects such as outreach events, care for children, healthcare training, and construction.
Come get your passport stamped and journey with our Saint Paul team as we take a quick look at how our Lord Jesus has blessed us to reach out with His Gospel, going "to the ends of the earth."
Destination-Cairo, EgyptIn the spring of 2008 our team journeyed to Cairo to serve as a construction team, working on the Fagella Girls' Orphanage. Like any trip to a far-away place, our team experienced culture shock. Spending time in a land where English was not commonly spoken, eating foods that, for us, seemed exotic, and simply the experience of spending time in a place where so few people know Jesus as their Savior was certainly a new encounter for many of our team. However, we also had the chance to receive the warmth and hospitality of our LHM and orphanage hosts.
Our goal over the two weeks we were there was to repair a portion of the roof in the school wing of the orphanage that had been damaged in the last rainy season. However, our deeper goal was to simply be used by our LHM hosts and the orphanage in whatever they felt would best bless their work. Many days were filled with repairing the roof, fixing broken cabinets in the school's library, and doing whatever other minor repairs were needed. One of our team members became an "orphanage hero" as he was able to fix several circular fans by salvaging parts from other fans. We learned well how air movement is a valuable thing in the Egyptian heat.
We also had the opportunity to work with our Lutheran Hour Ministries hosts for a day, helping to prepare and assemble Bible studies and outreach materials that deliver the good news of Jesus to many in Egypt. We learned that our LHM hosts would actually hand deliver the outreach materials to the homes of those who requested them, sometimes at very real risk to themselves. Our LHM hosts shared with us that we were able to prepare in one day what it would have taken their small team two months to get ready. It was our prayer that our Lord would use the materials to bring many to know Christ as Savior.
Each evening was spent seeking ways to share Christ's love with the children of the orphanage. This often translated into our tired team playing a rousing game of soccer with the children on the concrete inner courtyard of the orphanage. However, sharing the love of Christ was not a one-way street. At the end of our visit, the orphans shared through their head mistress that they wanted to put on a play for their American friends. They said that while we would not understand the language, we would still get the point to the play. That evening, dressed in the best costumes they could pull together, the orphans gave us their dramatic version of the story of King Solomon ruling between two mothers' dispute over a child in I Kings 4. As we watched the play, it dawned on us why this portion of Scripture would be so meaningful to a group of orphans, many of whom had no mother who would plead for their lives. With hearts touched, we gave thanks to our Lord for these faithful little sisters in Christ and for the opportunity to show them their Savior's love in such a practical way.
Destination-Vinh Long, Vietnam
It was not long before our Saint Paul short-term mission team found another blessed opportunity to work with LHM. This time, it was in the jungles of Southeast Asia along the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. Vietnam is the most populous country among the nations of Southeast Asia, yet only about eight percent of the country's population knows Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Yet, through the work of the Holy Spirit, there is a witnessing Christian church that is emerging from years of persecution.
In the late winter of 2011, with hearts poised to serve in whatever way the Lord might use us, our team made the nearly 29 hour flight to Ho Chi Minh City. Our mission goal was to build four homes for some of the poorest families in province of Vihh Long in south Vietnam. While many on our team are experienced builders, this would be a unique experience as we would be constructing huts made out of coconut leaves and bamboo.
The homes, however, provided more than just housing for the families we served. They also afford LHM mission workers further inroads to bring the Gospel of Christ to the neighborhoods in which the homes were built. We learned from our LHM host that before our arrival to build the homes, the government would not allow LHM into those communities. However, now that LHM was able to provide teams that build the much-needed housing, local government officials would now allow LHM to return to those neighborhoods to provide follow-up care for those who received the homes. Along with these visits LHM would be able to share why we had come to build these homes with the friends and neighbors who may be curious. LHM would be able to tell these communities that our team came in response to Jesus' love in our lives that had given us salvation which is His gift to them as well.
For many on our team, the most exciting part of this trip was the way by which we reached the work sites. When the LHM van that transported our team could go no further because the roads had become too narrow, representatives of the People's Republic of Vietnam would meet us on motor scooters. We'd hop on the back of their scooters, and they would drive us deeper into the jungle to our work sites. However, the highlight of this trip came for our team on the final day we were in Vinh Long. That day, we were invited to a house blessing for the homes we had built where the governor for the region invited me to offer a prayer of blessing for the homes with his own news cameras rolling. It was an honor to pray to our Savior and ask that the good news of His death and resurrection would come to be known in each of the homes we had been blessed to build.
In the end, more homes were built than expected and relationships that stretched across language and culture were built as well as open doors to share Christ's love with those who do not know Him.
Destination-Beong Nimol, Cambodia
Again, in the late winter of 2013, our Saint Paul team made ready to return with LHM to Southeast Asia. This time, our International Volunteer team would journey to Cambodia, seeking to construct two classrooms on a partner church's property in the Prich village. While Cambodia had suffered much during the days of Pol Pot's dictatorship [the effects of which are still greatly felt by the people], this country is currently not under the influence of Communism, so reaching out with the Gospel is an easier endeavor.
While there, our team learned that, as in Vietnam, LHM often reaches people with the Good News of Jesus through puppetry. Puppetry is considered a form of art here, and children and adults alike will come to enjoy the show LHM puts on where the puppets help to tell the stories of God's Word. We were able to witness such outreach and even help in setting up the stage so that many children could hear the message of the Gospel during a birthday party for one of the village children.
As often happens, our Lord used our team to share His compassion in an unexpected way during our mission. While there, a woman, who had just recently come to know Jesus as her Savior, died. Her daughter was also a Christian and had been a faithful witness to her mother, which the Spirit used in bringing this woman to faith. However, the rest of her family, not being believers, had shunned this woman and her mother and refused to come to the funeral. Our LHM host requested that our team come and share the comfort of our presence as fellow believers in Christ's victory over sin and death. This woman may not have had biological family there that day, but her family in Christ was there to celebrate Christ's gift of eternal life.
Like so many of our journeys, our Lord had accomplished far more than we could have hoped for in our mission plans.
Destination-Saint Paul, Mt. Prospect, IL
For me, as Senior Pastor, one of the added blessings of serving with a congregation who rejoices when our Lord gives us the chance to go to "the ends of the earth" with His Gospel is that it has helped develop in our congregation a desire to see how we might reach out with His message of forgiving grace in the shadow of our own steeple. Local community outreach projects and simply having "open eyes" for how a church event might draw someone new to our ministry has in part found inspiration from our distance mission trips.
How might our Lord use you? Or a team from your church? The opportunities are numerous, to share His Good News locally, nationally, or "to the ends of the earth." As you do, may you and those you serve be blessed with Christ's grace.
The Rev. Kristopher Whitby is senior pastor of Saint Paul Lutheran Church and School in Mt. Prospect, Illinois, and is supportive of LHM.