[SEA 2017] Alex's Trip Summary Part I
I’ll be honest. When people ask me how the mission trip was, I never know where to begin. Should I talk about what we did for the people there? Should I talk about what the people did for me? Or should I share the dozens of different thoughts and convictions that entered my mind? To remain faithful to my promise of providing an adequate trip summary, I will attempt to address all these things and more. Yet there are so many topics to cover that writing this entry in prose would be too confusing and stream-of-consciousness. So to make this entry more readable, I’ll format this post in Q&A fashion so that it’s always clear what aspect of the trip I'm talking about. But before I begin, I will say this: the unifying theme across everything I saw was that God is so sovereign and gracious in Southeast Asia, just like He is in America. He is truly working all things together for His glory and the good of ALL OF THOSE who love Him. And so that will be the theme of this post. That is what every answer of this post will attempt to describe and magnify. My hope is that you would read this post (or two posts because one post is too long) and leave with a renewed joy and confidence in the gospel—so much so that this would motivate you to love and obey Christ more fiercely and faithfully wherever you are.
Q1: What did you do on the mission trip?
A1: In general, our goal on this mission trip was to visit as many churches as possible to strengthen and encourage the local believers to grow in a knowledge and love of Jesus Christ and share the gospel with their fellow countrymen. We did this through the teaching and preaching of God’s Word, sharing of personal testimonies, presentation of gospel-themed skits and performances, and the healing of the sick and poor via medical treatment. A typical day consisted of visiting 2-3 churches, which easily took up the whole day. When we were finished with our church visitations, we would stay up into the late hours of the night to prepare for our performances, testimonies, or sermons (yes, we all had to preach sermons). This is what we spent the bulk of our time doing. You can imagine how exhausted we were each day.
Q2: What did you see from the people/churches you visited?
A2: In Southeast Asia, most countries are under communist control. Therefore, anything that goes against the grain of their communist tradition is largely discouraged—especially Christianity. You would think that because of these strict limitations, the Church in Southeast Asia is weak, small, and powerless. With much joy and awe, I am here to tell you that such is not the case. These churches are thriving and growing to an unbelievable degree. Churches are persecuted here, but faithful men and women of God still decided to plant churches. There is a shortage of pastors, but the pastors there are faithful, fierce ministers of the gospel. The congregation may be small in number, but I am convinced that the professing Christians there are indeed Christian. They were poor, but they did not ask for money or extravagant signs and wonders. Nearly all the churches we visited requested one thing and one thing only—that they may sit under our teaching for hours listening to the true, pure Word of God being preached. Wow.
This got me thinking—why is this so different from the American Church? I think the answer lies in the relative safety of Christians in America. Instead of leveraging our freedom of religion to faithfully preach the true gospel and make disciples, we are more interested in decorating Christianity to make it seem popular, social, and lovable. Such a Christianity is no Christianity at all. This brand of Christianity reduces the gospel to be what Matt Chandler calls “therapeutic moralistic deism”, where all that matters is that we love each other and realize our own self worth. Truly, the weak, small, powerless Christianity belongs to the Americans—not the Southeast Asians. For the people of Southeast Asia, such a brand of Christianity does not exist. There is no such thing as being a popular, lovable Christian, for to be Christian is to be despised. In these countries, if you claim to be Christian, you disqualify yourself from getting a job or admission into school. There is therefore absolutely no reason to profess that you are a Christian…unless you truly do believe. Unless you have tasted and seen that the LORD is good. Unless you have heard and clung onto the words of Jesus Christ and are willing to lose your life for the sake of the gospel. This is biblical Christianity. And if I want to summarize what I saw out of the people/churches I visited, I would say that I saw biblical Christianity in practice. And even right now I feel like repenting for ever being attracted to the watered-down, American brand of Christianity. LORD, help us all to reject this false American gospel and cling onto biblical Christianity.
Q3: How was the medical portion of the trip?
A3: Truthfully, as foreigners visiting for the first time, we weren’t expecting to be able to do much, medically speaking. We did not have an existing relationship with local governments going into the trip, so it was imperative that we take a conservative approach. Therefore, the best we could do was to offer routine check-ups, listen to their chief complaints, and prescribe any medicine we had at our disposal. Nonetheless, this trip was very worthwhile for two reasons. One, even a little bit goes a long way when you’re in communities that have virtually no access to safe, affordable health care. Two, this trip served as a pilot test to build a trustworthy relationship with the people there so that we can do even more in future trips. By the end of the trip, we were able to see hundreds of patients across all sorts of ages, backgrounds, and communities (kudos to all the doctors…they were thoroughly exhausted). And by God’s grace, in the regions that I visited, we left a fond impression on the people there. Hopefully this will open more doors to more sophisticated, effective methods of medical treatment and patient education!
I have one story that I’d like to share: during clinic, we met a precious, little girl with Down Syndrome. It’s not uncommon for children with DS to have heart defects. I listened to this child’s heart sounds through the stethoscope, and sure enough, the heart sounded very arrhythmic and almost leaky. This indicated that her heart chambers had problems filling with blood. The doctor told me this little girl only has two years to live. Two years. Just like that. It was an uncomfortable feeling knowing that I would outlive this child. I won’t ever see her again. Immediately, a sense of urgency rushed over me in what I was doing. I felt the LORD remind right then and there—the world around you is perishing every moment, along with the people in it. What are you doing now in response to that? I got to pray for this little girl. Now, for people looking outside in, a prayer seems like a cop-out placebo treatment. But as people of God, we believe that prayer is not sending sympathetic thoughts. We are pleading with the God of the universe to move. We are pleading with a God who saves with an outstretched and mighty arm to do just exactly that. I recall praying for the little girl and seeing the adorable smile on her face afterward. I squeezed her arm and told her that Jesus loves her in her own language. And it broke my heart to leave her behind as we traveled to the next church. The thing with short-term missions is that moments like these really have the potential to discourage us and make us feel small and ineffective. But ironically, the comforting thing is that this is absolutely true. Indeed—we are small and ineffective, in and of ourselves. But the realization of this helps me lean on Christ more and to rest in Scripture, which promises us that He who started the good work in us will bring it out to completion. And so I know that if the LORD has started the good work in this precious little girl, He will be faithful to bring her Home safely in His loving arms for His glory.
(Part II coming soon...)