[SEA 2017] Alex's Trip Summary Part II
Continued from Part I of my Trip Summary...
Q4: What was one of the most memorable parts for you from Southeast Asia missions?
My preaching experience was definitely a memory for the books… In general, all the churches we visited were sound in doctrine and in practice. Hallelujah for that. Except… one church was a bit of an outlier. One of the churches we were planning to visit had been infiltrated with false doctrines. Consequently, church leaders were giving themselves to sexual immorality, gambling, and other shady practices. Amazingly, they asked us to minister to them. The night before we visited this church, my team leader comes up to me and casually tells me that I’m preaching at this church tomorrow morning. You can imagine my reaction. Umm…I’m preaching at the shady church? What do I even say to them! Oh Lord, what if I say something stupid or wrong? I remember retreating back to my room that night and feeling the utter weight of the work that lay ahead of me—I am about to preach the Word of God in a very dark place. But as daunting of a task as this was, in that moment I realized that this is indeed what I came to Southeast Asia to do—to faithfully preach Christ to a people that do not know Him. So with a heavy heart, I sat down into the wee hours of the night reading the Word, meditating upon it, and absolutely pouring my heart out in prayer before the LORD.
I recall being awake at 3am that night feeling absolutely exhausted, inadequate, and nervous—like, hugging-the-toilet-bowl kind of nervous. But in my broken and desperate state, the LORD truly met me. Ironically, as I prepared to minister to the people of Southeast Asia the following day, I found myself being ministered to by the LORD that night. As I ruminated on the sermon passage (Philippians 3:7-8), a rush of overwhelming thankfulness swept over me. The passage speaks of counting all things as a loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus. See, in the past year or so, I saw the LORD take away so many good things away from me. Considering the trajectory of my life, there were so many chances to grow bitter towards God. There were so many chances to fall away and to just give up. But somehow, by His gracious care, He has given me a sweeter, more profound affection for Jesus Christ--the reason which I can count all those good things as loss. And now, I couldn’t help but weep over how grateful I was to be able to share the very same gospel that has saved me. And so I preached the next day, and guess what? It went great. Now, I probably stuttered a lot, but the LORD still moved through it. He used all the performances, testimonies, and sermons to make His true self known in that church. They were so hungry for more of the Word of God. The pastor there even wanted us to visit again in the future. From this whole episode, I learned that effective gospel ministry does not flow from my eloquence, charm, or intelligence, for I certainly had none of those things to offer. It flows from a life that knows Christ and has been with Christ (Acts 4:13-14).
Q5: Besides medicine and ministry, what else did you do in Southeast Asia?
We pretty much just ate and went sight-seeing. The cool thing about being in the rural countryside is that you stumble upon incredible views everywhere you go. You don’t even need to visit any official landmarks to see some of the most awe-inspiring views you’ll ever see. The $2 pho was certainly a highlight from the trip too, along with all the other cheap food we got to eat on the streets. Was I ever concerned about the cleanliness of the food we ate? Absolutely. But hey, when in Rome.
Funny story: we also loved walking around and exploring the surrounding shops. In one of the cities, we stumbled upon this modern café owned by an English-speaking local. Turns out she actually studied at San Diego State and hung out at all the places I used to hang out at! What are the chances…
Q6: Overall, what are your takeaways from the trip? And what now? What does all this mean for the future ahead?
More than anything, this trip (plus all that has transpired in the past year) affirmed that missions is inevitably going to be the underlying responsibility throughout my life. Right now, I’m a twenty-three year old Berkeley graduate pursuing a career in medicine. By society’s metric, I’m young, bright, and full of promise. So why not leverage all this potential for my own sake and cruise towards money, security, and prestige? And yet—in the past year leading up to this trip, the LORD has been showing me just how hollow life is with me at the center. He has sternly reminded me that my life is not about me. Even as a Christian, the goal of my faith is not personal self-growth. Rather, it is the Great Commandment—to love the LORD my God with all my heart, mind, and strength and to love others. And surely the Great Commandment put into practice is the Great Commission. Therefore, in whatever season of my life, with whatever opportunities I have, and despite whatever I don’t have— I want to be faithfully committed to reaching the world for Christ. The heart of the Great Commission is the Great Commandment.
But that’s all big-picture. What does this look like on the ground? This trip affirmed my underlying responsibility as a gospel missionary, but it also confirmed that I really do see myself in medicine. Moreover, I see myself functioning in primary care—namely for how well it could be coupled with missions work. Access to primary care has been studied and evidenced to foster social trust, which in turn generates social capital in communities. All of this to say that where there is access to primary care, broken communities are put into a better place to flourish—physically and socially. Now, to be clear, physical and social reform should not be our ultimate goal; spiritual transformation for Jesus Christ is. But I heartily believe that demonstrating care for people's physical and social condition can produce fertile soil for believing hearts. In Southeast Asia, our medical services attracted Christians and non-Christians alike to hear about who Jesus is. Don’t mark my words—this is not some binding commitment to pursue primary care. But as for how this trip has influenced my vision for the future, it certainly brought more clarity and direction.
Right now, I’m penning this in the wake of the horrendous Route 91 mass shooting in Las Vegas. Among all the feelings I’m experiencing, heartbrokenness is the best way to summarize it all. And among all the different thoughts that cross my mind, perhaps the most prominent is this—that everyday, everywhere, the world around us is hurting. It is perishing, like Paul says in his epistles. And the truth is that no one is immune to it. It does not matter if you live in Southeast Asia or America. No one can shelter from hurricanes, mass shootings, and tragic circumstances.
And when we think about all that is wrong with the world, I believe most of our responses are that we want to help others. This isn't even specific to Christians. Regardless of religion, race, or social status—there are many well-meaning people in the world who want to live their lives helping others. And that’s comforting, but only to a certain extent. Ultimately, philanthropy cannot fix our sin issue. Community service cannot rid the world of violence. Not even medicine can save lives; it only prolongs them. The only person who can save a life is Jesus Christ. Therefore, sharing Jesus Christ with the world is not some form of ideological colonization. It is philanthropy, service, and healing in its purest form. Why? Because Jesus is the only true means of salvation in a perishing world. All else falls short.
Therefore, this is a call to all my brothers and sisters in Christ to seriously consider how we might live our lives to this end. How are we making disciples right here, right now? Ultimately—how are we living our lives for God’s glory? Or are we living self-interested lives? Do we think we can quietly pass through this life indulging in comfort and ignorant bliss? Far be it from us! May we never soon forget that our Savior has called us to be fishers of men. It does not matter if you are a teacher, software engineer, sales rep, or frontier missionary. If you are Christian, you are a fisher of men. And listen—we’re going to fail at this sometimes. We’re not going to be good at disciple-making at all! But I believe the LORD will honor our feeble attempts to live for His glory. And surely He will do much in our simple faithful obedience, just as He has throughout history.
If anyone can justify from the Bible that there is an easier way to live, then please tell me. But until then, may our lives be poured out like a fragrant offering for the glory of God. Yes, the cost of a lifetime of following Jesus is great. But I am thoroughly convinced that the cost of a comfortable, Christ-less, selfish life is much greater.
*Final Note: Thank you all for reading my updates! I thoroughly enjoyed the entire mission trip, along with all the blog posts that I had to write for it. For those of you who supported me in finance and prayer, thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for sending me to SEA. There are still dozens of ways to support 4 Christ Mission and the missionaries it sends out. Please refer to their website (https://4christmission.org/) for opportunities to donate or even serve alongside them! Maybe I'll see you in Southeast Asia 2018..!