I was recently surprised by an invitation to attend the 20-year class reunion of graduates at an academy on the East Coast where I had been principal. After the catered dinner, slides were shown featuring the highlights of their senior year. Almost the entire show was built around their senior trip, which was a then-revolutionary concept of a mission trip to an out-of-the-way island in the Caribbean where they built a small church and conducted evangelistic services for the local people. The class members laughed about the things they recalled: the bug bites, the blisters, the twisted ankles, the long days, the hot sun, the beaches they visited after the project was over, the kindnesses of the people, and the excitement of doing something for others. I overheard one former student, who is now a medical doctor with a family, say, “That was the best time of my life.”
Two decades later, students, teachers and administrators throughout the North Pacific Union continue to practice the Mark 16:15 directive, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation,” and have combined it with the Matthew 25:40 pronouncement, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
It is amazing to realize that over the last couple of decades, hundreds of kids from our union have visited the far corners of the earth ministering to the needs of the local people. Countries such as Mexico, Belize, Borneo, Dominican Republic, Peru, Jamaica, Venezuela, Aruba, India, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Zambia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Bolivia, Honduras, Zimbabwe, Philippines, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Fiji, Russia, Solomon Islands, Argentina, Brazil, El Salvador, Papua New Guinea, Ireland and Samoa have benefited from North Pacific Union Conference (NPUC) student groups. Untold thousands of people in the Northwest have also benefited from hundreds of local community outreach events.
It is difficult to determine who profits the most from mission trips and community outreach projects. Those who receive the assistance surely gain both physically and spiritually. However, when you listen to the testimony of students and look at their beaming smiles after they have left their comfortable lives and have experienced the hard work and the satisfaction of completing a building project and sharing spiritual truths with those who don’t know about a Savior, who is to say who benefits the most? Surely God must have had this double blessing in mind when He proclaimed that Christians should go into all the world.
As we read the daily media and hear about problems in schools across the country such as hazing incidents, violence, lack of character education, bullying, intolerance and seeming approval of early sexual experiences, how pleased we can be that Christian teachers and administrators are willing to plan and provide these kinds of opportunities for our kids to experience the thrill of mission work and community outreach. This is just one more benefit of an Adventist education in the NPUC. Where else would you want your students to undergo life changing experiences that can mold their world view and bring them face to face with a God who declares that “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me”?
Alan Hurlbert is the North Pacific Union Conference education director and writes from Vancouver, Washington.