This summer, our college ministry has sent mission teams to Honduras and Zimbabwe, and will be sending a team to Kenya in August. I personally led the team to Zimbabwe, while the team to Honduras was led by a couple of my adult leaders and the team to Kenya is being led by one of our students.
In Zimbabwe, we spent our time in the northern part of the country close to an area called, Bumi Hills. To give you an idea of what this area is like, from Harare, we flew in a small 10 seat airplane to a dirt landing strip on a peninsula that stuck out into Lake Kariba. Before landing we had to make three low passes along the runway to clear a herd of elephants and a few impalas (not the Chevy) out of our way. From the landing strip, we drove for about an hour to our base camp. Later in the trip along this same road we would see multiple elephants, zebra, water buffalo, and warthogs.
Our base camp was at the homestead of a Tongan pastor named, White Congabwe. From here we would hike out to a few surrounding villages to camp, hold gatherings where we would share the gospel and show the Jesus film, and begin discipling new believers. The Tonga people in Zimbabwe are very unique. Their tribe originated in Zambia (which borders Zimbabwe to the north) but the Tonga in Zimbabwe were cut off from them when the Zambezi River was dammed in the late 1950's. The result has been the creation of what seems to be a very socially, geographically and politically isolated group of people. They have been socially cut off from the rest of their tribe, they are geographically bordered by Lake Kariba on one side and a small mountain range on another, and politically they seem to have a very small voice in Zimbabwe.
One of our desires as a ministry is to minister to and serve the hard to reach and/or unreached people groups of the world. Pastor White is the only evangelical Christian, Tongan pastor in this particular area which is dominated by ancestor worship and multiple "churches" that have no knowledge of Jesus Christ. There is a lot more that could be said about Pastor White and the Tonga people, but for the sake of time and space, it will suffice to say that our goal was simply to encourage and serve Pastor White in any way that we could.
What were some of the things your trip accomplished on the field?
Due to the lack of resources in this part of Zimbabwe (i.e. no electricity, no cell phones, etc…), there was very little communication with Pastor White through our in country partners leading up to our trip. Pastor White knew a team would be coming sometime this summer and that was about it.
When we arrived, we were immediately hit with two things we did not expect. First, Pastor White's wife was away at another village preparing to go into labor with their fourth child, Pastor White's son was sick with malaria and Pastor White's sister was ill to the point that she died a couple days after we left. Our team knew that we had come to serve and encourage Pastor White, but we had no idea that it would be under these circumstances. It was a huge blessing to get to serve him and his family while we were there.
Second, we knew going into the trip that we would likely do some traveling from village to village, but because of some vehicle issues, our mode of travel went from driving to hiking. Expecting to be in Pastor White's village the first couple of days, we were told upon arrival that we would be leaving the next morning for a village that was about a 10 mile hike away. This was only the beginning. A trip that was not supposed to be a hiking trip, quickly turned into one. We spent much of our 2 weeks on the field hiking from place to place holding meetings every chance we had and preaching the gospel.
Our daytime meetings were smaller than our meetings at night. Typically during the day we would hike from homestead to homestead and meet with groups of 5 to 60 people at a time. At night we would meet in a central location of the village and there would be anywhere from 100 to 200 people that would come to watch the Jesus film and hear the gospel. On one afternoon we held a meeting at the local school with close to 1,000 kids from all of the surrounding villages in attendance. Our entire team was completely caught off guard by this, not thinking that a school of that size would be in such a remote area.
It was a huge blessing serving with Pastor White because as people responded to the gospel each night, he very diligently took down each person's name so that the next morning he could begin the follow up process with these people. Even since we have left, Pastor White has been making visits to these villages and holding meetings with the new Christians discipling them and training them with the hopes of planting new churches in each of these places.
What effect did the experience have on your students?
To be honest, this was a very surreal experience for our entire team. We only took a small team of 5 people and only a couple of them had been out of the country before. The experience of seeing and being in another part of the world was very impactful. To meet and worship with Christians on the other side of the planet that do not speak the same language is always an incredible and eye-opening experience. Whether it is conscious or subconscious, it is easy to think that we worship a middle-class, American God. Clearly that is not the case, and it is experiences like this that make that a reality.
In addition, none of our students had ever had the experience of hiking from village to village, preaching the gospel. In some places we were welcomed, in other places we were not. In some places people responded to the gospel, in other places people did not. It is amazing how experiences like this open our eyes to some of the things that God says to us in His Word. It changes the way we read passages like Matthew 10. Experiences like this give a fresh understanding to verses like Romans 10:14-15 (Have you ever seen the feet of someone who has hiked 30 miles over 7 days without a shower??).
How did this trip benefit your college ministry?
A lot of the effects of trips like these are not seen right away, but over the past 8 years of going on trips like this one there are a couple of ways I have seen this and previous ministries impacted. First, mission trips are a great tool for developing and sharpening our college ministry's leadership. Being away from the normal ebb and flow of college life is the perfect setting for pouring into students in a way that is harder to do surrounded by the distractions and repetitive patterns of being at home. One of the reasons I look forward to mission trips the most is because I personally have a chance to develop the relationships that I have with my students more so than any other time of year.
Second, the more students that we have go on the mission field, the more globally-minded and mission-minded our ministry becomes. One of the four prayers of our college ministry is that we would have an impact, not only in Denton, but throughout the world. There are so many ways that God has equipped us and resourced us to share the gospel both at home and abroad and we want to use those tools and resources to the max. The more students that catch the vision that God has for establishing His kingdom on this earth, the more other students will catch that same vision!
What advice would you give to someone planning a similar mission trip?
Take advantage of a good mission agency. There are so many things already on our plates as college ministers. It is hard to do it all. I know that if I had to plan all of the details of a mission trip each year, something in my ministry would suffer as a result. There are some great missions sending agencies out there that do all of the planning for you. I have been using Extreme Missionary Adventures (xmaonline.com) for the past 6 years. I love their vision for missions and the way in which they go about it.
Lastly, if our college ministries do not have a vision and a heart for reaching and sharing the gospel with the people in our own communities and on our own campuses, we should not be sending out "mission teams." If you and your students are not living as missionaries at home, then your trip to the other side of the world is nothing more than a glorified vacation. Our desire to send teams to other countries should only be the side effect of what God is doing in and through the ministry at home.
Austin Wadlow is University Minister for Overflow College Ministry at First Baptist Church Denton.