The Sunday morning routine…worship, sermon, communion…can quickly become monotonous in the absence of connection. How many self-identified Christians have left their churches because they never truly found God or meaning? In our most recent missionary trip to Guatemala, we became obvious that connection is at the heart of the Gospel. You cannot make disciples if you do not build relationships. Yes, it takes work, but you can’t be the church without it.
Be the Church Among the Sick
(Note: I have changed the names of the individuals in these stories to protect their privacy.)
During our first full day of missions, we met Oscar. Our original intent was only to check on the status of the stove the ministry had installed in his home several years ago. It was part of our assessment to plan out future projects. Upon arrival, a shadow of a man painstakingly came out to greet us. He could barely walk, but somehow, with the help of others, he made his way to a chair on his patio.
It was uncomfortable. A large group of us awkwardly stood outside listening to him talk. We were unprepared. We came to inspect his stove, but what he needed, we could not provide, or so I thought. Of course, I prayed with him, tried to reassure him, and listened to his story. He was diagnosed with diabetes, had failing kidneys, and had recently started losing the use of his legs. Emotionally, he felt he had lost his purpose as the provider of the house. I also sensed his relationship with God was failing. As we spoke, we learned his wife was out begging with his eldest daughter as a means of income. We never even looked at the stove. It just didn’t seem appropriate. I left feeling hopeless, useless, and I am sure I was not the only one.
But he obviously touched our hearts. Our fellow missionaries wanted to do something. We had that shared feeling that we couldn’t just walk away. That is when one of them came up with the idea of buying him a walker to help him get around. The next day while we worked in the community, our ministry team obtained the walker with the generous donations of our missionaries. During our last day in Santa Rosita, a group of us returned to present him with the walker. Pastor Luis, one of our ministry founders, and Pastor Fernando, the head pastor of the local New Vision church, joined us. Upon arriving, Pastor Luis realized he knew this man. He had seen him preach the Gospel on Facebook.
Of course, he was touched that we brought him a walker. More importantly, he was touched that we remembered him. Pastor Fernando led us in worship and prayer right there on Oscar’s patio. I could sense energy and hope return to this man as he realized we were God’s instruments. God was showing him through us that he was indeed not forgotten. Worship was electrifying and powerful and I believe it was partly because we were willing to make that connection with this ailing man. We went to him. He didn’t have to come to us. That is the church.
Be the Church Among the Cast Down
I have done several missions now in Guatemala and one way or another we always play soccer with the kids. But every time I have been there, it is the boys who play while the girls watch from the sidelines. There is one girl in particular, Marisol, who I know wanted to play. She always watched with such intense curiosity, but when I tried to coax her to join me on the soccer field, she was reluctant. A previous mission team had gotten her to throw a football with them (and that in itself was a small victory), but she always seemed reluctant to join the gang of boys in a soccer game. On this last mission trip, something changed.
This time there were four teen girls along with two missionary ladies, part of our missionary crew, who confidently walked onto the soccer field unafraid to play with the boys. I have played with those boys before and they are rough. They certainly don’t take it easy on anyone who walks on their turf. But neither the boys’ roughness nor the pouring rain dissuaded the girls nor the women. I was enjoying watching the fierce match back and forth when I saw little Marisol work her way onto the field. At twelve years old, she is a tiny little thing, but she joined the team that had the girls on it. Just seeing her finally do what I have always known she had wanted to do, filled me with joy.
At one point, after a big save on her part, she ran to one of the teens in excitement and gave her a big hug. The teen twirled her around and the World Cup could not rival her excitement. To further validate her efforts, she saved her team from a goal when the ball left the powerful right leg of one of the boys and shot straight into Marisol’s head. She took it like the tough cookie she is. The boys on her team came over to congratulate her for the big save punching her on the shoulder and patting her on the back while she rubbed her head with a huge grin.
A young girl who was once cast down was now being raised up. Yes, the boys were validating her efforts, but I believe it was a group of teen girls and women who gave her the courage to play. These young women were making a connection by simply being willing to play soccer on a muddy field, in the rain and show a little girl that you don’t always have to sit on the sidelines. That is the church.
Be the Church in Your Neighborhood
During the trip, I saw so many examples of our missionaries making connections and displaying the heart of Jesus. From helping kids pick shoes and clothes to hugging church members as they arrived at the mission house. They stepped away from the comforts of their homes to play cards with kids on the muddy ground, share a laugh with a woman cooking in a smokey kitchen, or walk up Calvary in the blazing heat. While they may be there only for a few days, the love the people of Santa Rosita feel shows them that New Vision cares and New Vision cares because Jesus cares. And that is the church.
In the early church, Christians set themselves apart by being willing to love those who were downtrodden. When Roman families would leave their unwanted babies to die in open fields, Christian families would take those babies in as their own. Through sacrifice and connection undergirded by God’s word, the early church grew. That is still how churches grow today.
You don’t have to travel thousands of miles away on a mission trip to be the church. I can guarantee you that no matter where you live, there is someone in your neighborhood who needs a meal cooked, a lawn mowed, or a shoulder to cry on. Make that connection because that is the church.
About the Writer:
Luisa Rodriguez is a military wife and a mom to two girls. She is the creator and writer of FruitfullyLiving.com, a website that helps women understand their God-given roles and purpose according to the scriptures. She is also the creator and writer of BiblicalWarfare.com where the reader can learn about the Bible’s battles and warriors.
Luisa authored A Royal Mission, a Christian fairytale that teaches young girls about identity and purpose, Preparing Our Daughters for Puberty, a mother-daughter Bible study, and soon-to-be-released Holy Boundaries, Sexuality Bible Study for Teens and Parents. She is also the creator and designer of numerous notebooks and journals.
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