A MISSIONS TESTIMONY: THE GOSPEL AT THE CENTER
Daniel Nam | AUGUST 31, 2018 | 8 MIN READ
Chances are you or someone you know has gone out on a short-term mission trip this summer. Having led and taken part in several of these trips, I understand the excitement that the summer mission season can generate. At the same time, you may have wondered if short-term summer mission trips are even worth it.
Even as the missions director of a large parachurch ministry I find myself wondering if we could funnel our funds or energy into better, more worthwhile pursuits. We could build buildings, provide clean water and food, or even give the money directly to local missionaries. These thoughts are normal, and their answers should be taken very seriously for every church and mission organization.
But through my time overseas and as a supporter back at home, I believe that there is a very important lesson God wants us to learn through these short-term trips: The Gospel comes first.
What Their Country Needs
I learned this lesson through my time in Cambodia. This country, with all its wonders and beauty, one filled with deep pain and sin. Forty years ago, under the brutal government of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia went through a civil war and genocide. Over a quarter of Cambodians, between 1.7 and 2 million people, were killed because of their ethnicity, religion, or education level. Out of this terrible time in history, prostitution and sex trafficking began to flourish.
Last year, my team partnered with a ministry called Precious Women, which ministers to young women who are trapped in the sex-trafficking industry. They educate these women and preach to them the worth that they have in Christ. Oftentimes, these women don’t have anywhere to go because of their desperate circumstances or even pressure from their own families, who coerce them into this business.
I remember taking a bus at night through the streets of the capital city, Phnom Penh, looking at all the KTVs (karaoke bars) that house and employ these women. It was an extremely tough sight to see for our whole team. We couldn’t help but question how God was working in this dark place. I felt helpless and angry.
In my desperation, I turned to the leader of this ministry, who was riding with us. She was a Cambodian woman who had founded Precious Women based upon her Gospel convictions. She has seen countless women rescued from these conditions. I felt like my team and I had to do something to help the situation in Cambodia.
She told me that they were understaffed. So I asked her how much money she would need to hire more employees. She told me that the government had turned a blind eye to the situations in the brothels, so even hiring more people would only make a small dent.
I asked her what kind of laws needed to be changed. I asked her if the women be able to support themselves in better ways if the economy improved. I asked her if there was any way I could come back and help. I asked her all these questions so that I could figure out what needed to be done to help this broken country. I will never forget what she said to me:
“This country needs the Gospel. The men running these brothels need to be convicted of the sin they are committing and their need for Christ. The women and children in these brothels need to know the joy, satisfaction and worth they have in Christ. They have been treated inhumanely and they need to know they are made in the image of God.”
This answer stunned me. I was rebuked because I realized then and there that I had been putting my trust in worldly institutions and methods to provide for these people what only our heavenly Father could.
Putting the Gospel in the Right Place
I’ve encountered beggars walk through the trains of India. I’ve walked through the houses of those living in developing countries such as Uganda and Nicaragua. I’ve sat in the cold, quiet subways of Japan while hundreds of Japanese men went to work. I’ve spoken to refugees in Greece as they shared with me the experiences they went through to flee their war-torn countries. Too often I have come to the wrong conclusion that what everyone needs is more money, better living conditions, and world peace. What the world actually needs is a Savior who has overcome the world (John 16:33).
Now, don’t get me wrong. I believe Christians everywhere should be burdened to work tirelessly to relieve our brothers and sisters from the pain that sin can bring into the world. There is a clear calling to fight for the oppressed and to do good for those who are in difficult circumstances (Micah 6:8).
What the leader of Precious Women was saying, and what I believe God is calling us to do, is to never forget the primacy of the Gospel in our preaching, proclaiming and doing. We, as Christians who have gone abroad or are trying to live missionally back at home, have a tendency to fixate on the physical, material and systematic poverty plaguing this world without ever addressing our spiritual poverty.
During our short-term trips, we often cite that we have learned the great lesson of gratitude for the things we have, but I hope that isn’t our greatest lesson. Whether we are sending or going, overseas or back home, listening to testimonies or giving them, let us remember that we are to keep Christ at the center of our lives by pointing the world to Him (Colossians 1:17).
Daniel Nam is a member of Gospel Life Mission Church and is pursuing a career in education.