The following is a guest article by Rachel Bell Hamm.
The year was 2012, and I was never going to go on an international mission trip.
My pastors did a great job of encouraging our church towards missions. We had sent out more than a few missionary families, and I had heard their amazing stories from the field. But I had made up my mind: I was never going. I had lots of good reasons, too. I had not had a great support raising experience (hello, 2008 recession). I had a suspicion that overseas short-term trips were really just a cover for a vacation. I had heard stories of short-term trips doing more long-term harm than good. I should leave trips open for people who were considering doing long-term missions. I was not one of them. I was not one of those missions people.
That was really the crux of it: I most emphatically did not want to be one of “those missions people.” You know the ones. The ones who wax poetic about doing missions when dying is gain with a romantic breathlessness and stars in their eyes. The ones who get their friends together for “movie night,” which is really a bait-and-switch for a viewing of The End of The Spear or The Insanity of God. The ones who wear weird clothing that was hand-dyed by a blind prophet in the mountains of some country that most of us don’t even know exists. The ones whose favorite worship songs are “Mission’s Flame” and “He Reigns.” The ones who name their children after Lottie or Elliot or Hudson. You know the ones.
These trips were for them. They were emotionally prepared to leave behind all the trappings of American culture and make their home among third-world huts with squatty potties, all to proclaim the name of Jesus. That was their gift. That was their calling. My gift and calling was worship—specifically, worship in venues with indoor plumbing and hand sanitizer. We all need to play our own part in the Body, right?
Besides, I had an extreme and not-at-all-irrational fear of parasites. Didn’t every missionary get parasites?
The Nag, I Mean, The Call
But I had this nagging feeling (those people would call it the Holy Spirit). It was the feeling that I should listen up to these missions opportunities. I kept meeting missionaries and crying at their stories. I kept getting asked to lead worship for their fundraisers. I kept receiving prayer updates in my email. I couldn’t avoid it. For goodness' sake, I had a bachelor’s degree in world religions—I knew what was at stake, and I was even trained in culture crossing. But deep down, I knew the real reason I couldn’t go on a short-term mission trip: I was afraid.
I was so thoroughly petrified that if I went on a short-term mission trip, I would see what God was doing among the nations, and I would be called to go. Like, long-term, live-my-whole-life-among-a-nomadic-goat-herding-people-group go. God was not going to get that one over on me.
Deep down, I knew the real reason I couldn’t go on a short-term mission trip: I was afraid.
How God Got One Over On Me
It was a member meeting in late 2012. Our pastor of international missions told us about the upcoming trips, including a trip to support our North Africa team. It would be a conference, a time of respite and training, for our long-term missionaries. We would bring the church to them, leading them in worship and putting on a VBS for their kids. Our pastor asked for doctors, hair stylists, musicians, and childcare workers. He said, “If you are one of those people, please think about joining us.” Well, shoot.
That nagging feeling shot into overdrive. After the member meeting, I approached the missions pastor in the lobby. “So, like … you need musicians? What does that look like? I’m not like committed or anything. Just curious.” He’s a really straightforward guy. He gave me a few more details, and then he just said, “You should go. It would be really great for you to go.”
Cool. North Africa. Well, I guess I’ll be wearing some hand-dyed dresses soon. Thanks, God.
I Said Yes to the Hand-Dyed Dress
At my first pre-trip meeting, I found out the conference, which was for the North African team, would be held at a resort on the beach in Dubai. Yeah, OK, maybe God knew what he was doing.
The trip blew all my expectations out of the water. I built friendships with some of those missions people, friendships that continue until today. I heard testimonies of God’s Kingdom growing that would renew my own faith. I found the Lord bringing out new skills and gifts and passions in myself that I would continue to see flourish when we came home.
And I received an even better gift than all that: I met my husband. He had just joined our church, and he knew our trip leaders; in fact, he had been a mid-term missionary with them in the Horn of Africa. I introduced myself to him on the day we left for the trip, and then I became friends with his team. Two months later, we would be dating; eighteen months later, we would be married. In the truest of ironies that only God could pull off, I MARRIED ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE.
God hasn’t called us to give up our lives in America, not yet anyway. But in the three and half years since I first said “Yes” to God, in spite of my fears and serious lack of trust in him, I have been on two other short-term mission trips, and this is what I have gained:
In Dubai, I met one of the founding pastors of our church, who is now serving in Africa with his family. My husband was on their team before I met him; half of their family ended up being in our wedding. Their family has been etched in my heart, and I communicate with them regularly. I now get to encourage them from across the ocean, and vice versa.
I traveled to the Horn of Africa with my then-fiance in 2014. In five days, we shared the gospel with over fifty people, we saw nearly thirty people come to know Christ! The long-term team said we had given them at least six months’ worth of follow-up work. I was able to lead worship in their homes, to teach them the new songs that our congregation was singing in the States, and to keep the family connections strong between our local body and their sent-out body.
In late 2015, our missions pastor asked me to lead the worship team for another huge training and respite conference for missionaries. I spent months preparing songs and liturgy, recruiting band members, rehearsing, and preparing the team for the work. And in the summer of 2016, I sang with hundreds of missionaries as they lifted their voices, louder and stronger and clearer than any church I’ve ever seen. I heard testimony upon testimony of God’s goodness and provision and miraculous saving work among the nations. And I saw one of our dearest missionary families bring forward their ten-year-old son for baptism. Not a dry eye on that boardwalk. Truthfully, I’m crying now as I remember.
I have laughed with, cried with, praised with, walked with, prayed with so many faithful gospel workers—truly more than I can count. When a missionary comes home for a visit, I am far better equipped to love them and care for their needs than I ever was before. I am far better equipped to tell the church in America how they can pray for and support missionaries. I am far better equipped to live on mission in my own neighborhood—a cross-cultural ministry in itself. And best of all, I have seen what it means to be the Church: to carry one another’s burdens, to celebrate one another’s joys, to be with those whose load is heavy, to join with the saints in the eternal song of worship to our Father.
And to think, I was so afraid of becoming one of those missions people, I nearly missed God’s gifts. And I never even got a parasite.
Rachel is a member of Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY. She is married to Casey, and they lead a community group together in the Shelby Park neighborhood. Read more of her thoughts about life and faith on her blog. Follow her on Twitter @rachelbellhamm.