I invited my nephew, Eric Lutz, to share a little about his mission experiences.
Traveling out of the country on a mission trip has become one of my favorite things to experience. Despite the long flights, uncomfortable sleeping arrangements, and new foods (I tend to be a picky eater) there is nothing else quite like it. God uses short-term mission trips in our lives as steroid shots to grow closer to Him and learn more of His heart.
My first mission trip was at the age of fifteen to Honduras. This was through my Christian based high school. I had heard several older students talk about the mission trip and I thought it would be fun. After we arrived in the country, we worked very hard everyday. The days entailed reconstructing an orphanage and building a home for a family who lived in a shack. At the end of our trip, I could see the hard work I had completed by serving in this foreign country. I thought to myself, “I am really making an impact in peoples lives for Jesus.”
The next school year came and went, and I then had the opportunity to travel to Poland on a mission trip with my youth group at church. For the same reason as my previous trip, other friends mentioned how much they loved Poland, so I thought I’d go as well. This trip was much different than the summer before in Honduras. Our youth group travel to a small town called Zakosceile to partner with a ministry called PROem. In “Zako”, there was a summer camp facility in a rural area, where PROem had twelve weeks of camps lined up for teenagers to attend. These camps had themes such as basketball, music, theater, and even special needs. The two weeks we attended were themed as “English Speaking” where youth from Poland and other surrounding countries could come and practice their English with Americans.
As our team arrived in Zako and settled into our camp quarters, I realized this was going to be a very different type of trip. Our days entailed of eating delicious meals, swimming, hanging out around the snack shack, playing cards, participating in worship services, and playing fun games. This trip was so laid back. The agenda was not structured whatsoever. It was a blast spending time with my American friends and getting to know other Polish students. As the trip came to a close, we said good-bye to our new friends, and headed back for the States. I sat in the airport processing what had just taken place.
One of our adult team leaders was sitting next to me and he asked, “What did you think of the trip?” In my response, I told him how much I loved the Polish people, their sense of humor, and the fun I had with them. However, I was a bit conflicted. I summed up my answer by saying, “…but I don’t feel like I really did anything while I was over there.” My leader looked perplexed and asked for clarification. “We didn't build anything for them or make something that would benefit them after we left”, I replied. That was my view of mission trips. You go to a less fortunate country and build something for them. Then you take a picture in front of it and feel good that God used you to help others out.
My leader shook his head, understanding the pull I was feeling. He began to unpack how all the conversations I had with students were planting seeds in their minds and hearts to ultimately have a relationship with God. The need of the students at camp was not some building; their need was a relationship. A relationship with God, through Jesus Christ. He told me that all the time I invested in conversations with students would help the PROem team to follow up with them after we left. PROem would have open doors to talk with these students about placing their trust and faith in Jesus. My leader looked at me and said, that is much more valuable than a building.
My mind was blown! I had never thought about mission trips in that way. My context for serving someone was giving them something tangible. However, what going to Poland taught me was that true ministry was relational.
One of the religious elite comes to Jesus and says, “What is the greatest commandment?” He is trying to trap Him into saying something that will get him arrested or killed. Jesus responds with His own mission in life.
37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’[e] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
Jesus very simply puts it, “Love God; Love People”. His entire three and a half years of ministry were based on loving God and in turn loving the people He encountered everyday.
After my experience in Poland, I thought I should pick a profession that would allow me the opportunity to go on mission trips and share my faith. My friend’s dad was a dentist who went on several mission trips teaching pastors how to pull teeth so they could perform basic dental needs and share the Gospel with people in their community. I decided that was the career for me.
The summer of 2007 came and I had just graduated high school. My sister and girlfriend at the time (now my lovely bride) decided to go with the youth group to Poland. My parents were then asked to be leaders, and because I would be left at home for two weeks, I was asked to go on the trip. My past experiences with mission trips made this one so much different. There was no learning curve this time. My mind was set on being intentional with my time and sharing Christ with others. I connected with a younger student named Tom who had several questions about Jesus, creation, Christianity, and a relationship with God. I spent those two weeks trying to answer every question and dig into the Bible with him. Once I came back home, through Facebook and email, we kept in touch and over the next year he placed his trust in Jesus.
As I was in college at Western Kentucky University, I took the classes necessary for dental school, but was also plugged into a campus ministry called Campus Crusade for Christ, or CRU. Taking what I learned from my mission trip experience, I tried to be intentional with my relationships in college. I led a Bible study for younger guys, became close friends with a basketball player, and grew in my understanding of “Loving People”.
God hit me over the head in a chemistry lab one day and said, “You want to be a dentist so you can do ministry. Just go be a pastor and do ministry. Don’t let the dentistry idea get in the way.” I followed his calling and have been a pastor for the last four years. Now I have the opportunity to introduce middle school and high school students to a relationship with Jesus in my own youth group. Even last summer, I led my first mission trip to Poland and taught my students some of the same lessons I learned while traveling in high school. My hope is that after they come back from a highly relational trip, like what PROem offers, they would see that they can engage with people in their schools that they interact with everyday.
Over the last ten years, I have had the opportunity to go to Honduras, Poland, and Kenya. Each trip is different. The geography, food, travel time, weather, and tasks are all different. Yet, the mission never changes. Love God; Love People. How can you spend time getting to know the heavenly Father, today? Who has He put right in front of you, today, to love and spend time getting to know? We do not have to travel half way across the world and construct a building to share the love of Jesus. You can love right where He has you.