One Tuesday in Tura
Last of two parts
We were four nights into our evangelistic meetings in Tura, a city of 60,000 in northeastern India, and things didn’t look too rosy. We had started with a good crowd on Friday evening, then watched attendance dwindle away noticeably. It appeared that there would be no guests left by the last evening. Our two small congregations back home had not planned for more than a year for this result.
My feelings on the next Tuesday morning as we gathered for prayer, were focused and intense. I have felt a sense of disappointment when outreach activities have not borne fruit. I've seen believers excitedly return from a mission trip, and when no lasting change in their home congregations results, I have felt a similar sense of puzzlement.
It has taken me years to grasp the meaning, but what happened that Tuesday morning gave me hope. God convinced me that He was going to do something in our meetings that we could not do. I believe that God wants to bless us here at home in the same way.
Every morning in Tura, our team gathered for morning devotions. One of us would share a worship reading or thought, and then we would bow together in prayer. That Tuesday morning was no exception. I don’t recall who led worship that morning, or what text was shared. But I will never forget the prayer. Whoever prayed first concluded in tears. The same was true of the next person, and the next. I remember thinking, "I don’t feel like crying." I wonder if that will happen to me when I pray.
When my turn came, I began to pray, and I felt the distinct moving of the Holy Spirit on my heart. I’m not a demonstrative person, but the tears came. One after another, each person in the room pleaded with God for His Spirit to be in control of our efforts, and for His will to be done. One after another, each one felt the Holy Spirit wash over him or her. Then our prayer circle broke up, and we went about the day’s business with a sense of sobriety and expectancy.
That Tuesday our attendance rose a little. The next night it climbed again. The crowd grew until our closing meeting. I still occasionally hear of baptisms among those who first heard the message on that soccer field. God richly blessed our efforts, and that Tuesday morning was the distinct turning point in the campaign.
We prayed together in humility that morning, for the Spirit of God to work in and through us. Was that the reason? There was a sense of urgency, but many of us had been praying regularly and sincerely for over a year for just that blessing, so our Tuesday morning prayer was not completely new. We were finally at the site of our meetings, but we had been there for several days, so that was not new.
That Tuesday morning, for the first time, the Indian workers joined our prayer meeting. We had met with the local believers to pray before, but in a meeting devoted mostly to planning and organizing. At morning meetings we had worship and prayer first. On Tuesday, our team was finally complete. We came to the Lord as full partners, with no superiors or inferiors, nobody more or less in need of the Lord’s instruction and blessing than anyone else. We approached Him in unity, and He saw fit to touch us and put His seal of approval on our unity.
Volunteer missionaries often return glowing with the enthusiasm of having seen the Lord change lives in distant places. The missionaries’ lives have often been among those changed. The impact those changes have upon the volunteers’ home congregations might be strengthened by being more intentional about the teamwork element.
Teamwork involves the volunteers and their home congregation.
An entire congregation should have ownership of a mission trip. Those who send and those who are sent should work in harmony. The home congregation can choose to formally support the mission effort. They can choose the time and location of the mission and approve the broad outlines of a budget. The church can collectively finance the mission so that financial well-being is not a prerequisite to being a mission team member. The congregation as a whole can determine the size of the team and select those who will be sent. They can help determine the ministries that will be a part of the mission, and provide training to team members to help them prepare.
Church members can help research the culture to which the team will travel, provide materials and equipment, and most importantly, organize consistent prayer support. A group of mission volunteers who has seen this kind of involvement on the part of their home congregation are already changed. Even before they leave, they know that their trip is part of the experience of the larger group. They know their church family has a stake in the outcome of their mission, and they know that they are accountable to other believers for their efforts.
Teamwork among those who are sent.
The work of a mission trip should be assigned on the basis of spiritual giftedness. Those who are gifted but not yet experienced should work under the oversight of an experienced worker. Teams that meet regularly before their trip learn how to support one another. Members need to be accountable to a leader chosen by the congregation, but they also need to know that they share in the responsibility and that their perspectives are valuable. They need to train together, and they need to pray with and for one another both before and during their trip. Each member can have primary responsibility for some part of the work of the mission, and be ready to assist in the ministries of others as needed. Perhaps one of the most tangible blessings to result from a unified mission is the experience of its members in working toward a common goal.
Teamwork between those who are sent and workers at the host site.
As we learned in Tura, short-term mission teams truly consist not only of the home congregation and the traveling group, but also of the workers already at the host site. Local workers are an invaluable resource. They can review presentations in advance and suggest better ways to connect with the intended audience. Locals can prepare the field for our work as we can never do. They are often eager, however, to take part in the program. Participation in the effort makes it easier for them to work with the local people afterward. In addition, the local people deserve to see a harmonious working relationship between the members of the body of Christ. Learning to work with the hosts in order to benefit from their way of doing things, can be a valuable asset to bring home to a congregation exhibiting various ways of thinking.
As opportunities to win souls for Christ in distant places present themselves, let us meet them with thoughtful effort and consideration for their effect over the long term. Let us conduct these activities in a way that will serve as a conduit for an extended blessing in our home congregations. Whether your congregation makes a regular practice of mission trips or applies the same principles to home evangelism, the experience gained by those who are involved in such an effort cannot help but edify your church.