It’s basically a week since I got back from beach mission at Bawley Point. What’s beach mission? Every year, a team of people (high school students, to families, young adults, workers etc.) pack up their gear, and go camping for ten days or so. Bawley point is only one of many such “Scripture Union Family Mission Teams” which go out. Why? To share the news of Jesus.
Beach mission is a fantastic ministry, and God works in some strange ways. For example; it’s weird that some families, unsure of whether they would holiday to the same place again, were convinced by their kids, who wanted to do the kids club again. Or how people have developed relationships with the regular campers, enough to be invited into their lives outside of Bawley as well.
We spend the time running events, going out to chat to people in the campsite, putting on a kids club, and being a Christian presence in the campground. It really is a great thing to do.
All that aside, I thought I’d share a couple of things that mission over the new year has brought to mind.
- Mission is humbling. You get there, and (especially seeing as this was my first year) freak out a little bit when it comes to walking around to peoples tents to talk about what we are doing on mission. But somehow, conversations come from nowhere. I’m not very outgoing, or great at starting good conversations – but God still brought them. You realise very quickly that you don’t have it all worked out, and that it is only by God himself working that people can see Christ revealed.
- Ministry really works on selfless service rather than standing on your rights. This sounds obvious, but it’s a big deal. A few times on mission I came across people complaining, making excuses, or being unhelpful. Nothing big. Usually completely justified. Even so, it put a damper on the moment, and it can make things tougher for the team. I’m sure that I was guilty of this too – the tiredness sets in quickly, and you live with strangers for 10 days. I think I understand a little better what Paul means when he talks (endlessly) about focusing not on the self but on others, and not standing on our rights – “On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.” Mission thrives on selflessness.
- People need the gospel. That’s old news. But I was surprised and challenged by how open people were (i.e. are!) to the gospel. People need the gospel, and often people know that, even if they are still working out the details. People know that life is sudden and unpredictable. People know there is something more. People want for their children to work out what they believe. I realised that I often assume that jsut because people are hostile to God in their sinfulness, they are opposed to any message of the gospel. Perhaps this comes from being exposed to people at school and uni; before the real world really hits, before life crises change opinions, before life experience widens eyes. At uni, empirical, testable knowledge reigns, and people are skeptical. Youth and idealism somehow often merge into a stubborn, opinionated hostility to Jesus. In the campsite, this isn’t the case. It was a huge wake-up call to discover that people don’t always need to be reluctantly led in. Parents would stick around to listen to talks at kids events. They didn’t mind that their kids were singing songs containing bible verses. We were not perceived as brainwashing bible-bashers. Instead, families telling us how much they loved what we were doing.
- I was reminded that you don’t have to be preaching to share the gospel. Particularly, stories are powerful. I was chatting to a family who had little experience of Christianity. The father had been at a Christian school as a child, and his only recollection was the legalism and strict code of rules. This opened a great opportunity; in talking about his schooling, my own, and about Christian schools, we were able to talk about how Christianity is not about rules or behaviour, but about relationship and grace. Later on in the same evening, his wife asked me what my story was, and how I got involved with mission. Again, not an explicit gospel opportunity. As with the previous conversation, however, I could see they were getting some sense of Jesus that they didn’t have before; that it doesn’t matter which church you go to, but whether you actually love and trust Jesus. Again, when one of the dads on mission shared a story of forgiveness he encountered as a prosecutor, and likened it to God’s forgiveness of us, it was powerful. I don’t know what that couple thinks now, but I am certain that God used conversation, and just general talk about mission, our past, our families and experiences, to change their view of Jesus. It’s just a small seed, but a conversation over coffee (ho-cho for me!) and desserts was a great way of sharing the gospel. The actual events were only mentioned in passing, but God works through our interest in others, and in ways that are more subtle than we expect. You don’t have to be preaching to be sharing the good news.
All in all, mission was a learning experience. It put me in my place a bit, and showed me some ways that God is at work. God did good things among the campers at Bawley and all the other missions. Those campers are now mostly home from their holidays. My prayer is that mission can be an experience which pushes them and us closer to God throughout the year.