During the past ten years I have made nine trips overseas to work with our brethren in India and Africa. In the course of those years, I have had people ask me why I feel the need to travel overseas, when there are people all around us in the United States who are lost and need to hear the Gospel. That is a good question, and worthy of a thoughtful response.
It is true that there are many people close to our homes who are in need of the same Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ that we take overseas when we conduct visitations or Mission Helper trips. Mission work isn’t just going to a foreign country to tell people about Jesus, the Savior of sinners. Mission work includes reaching out to the person across the street, in the next cubicle at work, or the Facebook friend across the country. We should be doing that personally, and with members of our congregations at home. But we are confronted with a problem. Not everyone is interested in what Christ has entrusted to us. When someone comes to us and says “I want to know more, come and teach me” or “Come and help me reach others with the Gospel,” we should eagerly seize such an opportunity.
We go to places like East Africa, India, and Nepal on Mission Helper trips because we have been asked to come. We have been asked to come and teach, and to help believers in our fellow church bodies share the Gospel through child evangelism. Our Mission Helper Program is very similar to our Traveling Vacation Bible School Program in the United States. We are going to help sister churches in other countries put on a Vacation Bible School program and, Lord willing, give them the tools to be able to do this on their own in the future. This is our prayer.
Going overseas on a Mission Helper trip or as a part-time missionary doesn’t excuse us from our responsibility back home. Instead, it prepares those who participate to be ready to see and respond to the opportunities with which they may be confronted in the future—either next door, across the country, or on the other side of the world.
There is a second benefit that comes from serving the Lord overseas. It changes us. It changes our outlook on the physical blessings that the Lord has bountifully bestowed upon us in the United States. We tend to take these blessings for granted, but when we visit Nepal, India, or East Africa, we invariably leave with a greater appreciation for these blessings. We also come away with a greater appreciation for the sacrifices that our brethren overseas make for the sake of the Gospel. Working with our fellow believers overseas is rewarding, uplifting, and greatly encouraging. It is a joy to see how the Gospel works in their hearts and in their lives! It changes one’s perspective on what sacrifice really means.
Finally, relationships are built with our fellow believers overseas. This is beneficial to them and to us. I have personally seen the gifts and struggles of fellow believers. Knowing this, I have something to keep in my prayers during the years to come. This too, is a blessing for me and for them.
Paul writes: “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20 ESV).
May God bless our witness to all the world!
Nathanael Mayhew is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, and a member of the Board of Missions of the CLC.