Wednesday, April 1, 2015

How Mission Volunteers Can Impact Lives

Since moving to New England in 1993 my wife and I have used mission volunteers to help us impact the lives of the communities we have served in. Since many of those volunteers come from other parts of the country, it can sometimes create interesting conversations. I remember one conversation with a young mom whose children had been to our Vacation Bible School. The team that helped us with the Vacation Bible School had come from Ninety Six, SC and the mom could not believe a town really existed that had that name. I assured her Ninety Six was a real town and that I had been there and spoken in a church there. She went on and on about how her children really enjoyed the VBS program and how happy all the people on the mission team were. She wanted to know how much we were paying them to make them so happy while working with all those rowdy kids all week in VBS. When I told her that everyone on the team were volunteers and that not only had we not paid them, but that they had paid all of their own expenses to come up and volunteer for the week, the mother was even more amazed. “Why would they do that?” she asked and I was able to explain that it was because the people on the mission team loved Jesus. The love of Jesus deeply touched that mother’s heart and in time she and her children all started coming to church. They eventually came to faith in Christ and were baptized. Years later she told me, if those people from that town in SC with an odd sounding name had not come and showed them the love of Jesus, they would have never known the happiness they found in Christ.

Though most volunteers only stay a few days, some stay longer. I remember getting a phone call from Dwain and Sarah, a retired couple from Texas. They were in New England on vacation and had visited one of our Southern Baptist churches for a worship service. They had told the pastor they might be interested in becoming long term volunteers if there was a need but since neither were public speakers, they knew they were not called to be traditional church planting missionaries. The pastor put them in contact with me and the next night I had dinner with them and learned that Dwain could fix anything and that Sarah had been an executive secretary in a big corporation. At the time the Baptist association in that area could not afford to pay a secretary, but really needed one badly, and there was backlog of maintenance projects in half a dozen churches in the area. I told them they could come to New England and be missionaries using the very skills God had given them and that they did not need to be preachers in order to be missionaries. They agreed to come for six months and moved into a small parsonage owned by one of the churches. Six months later they extended their time to two years. Nearly five years later they are still serving in that same spot as mission volunteers. Not everyone can volunteer for five years, but a retired couple in good health and with a modest retirement income can make a real difference if they are willing to stay a few months.
Then there is Jane and Greg, a young college educated professional couple. Both grew up in Christian homes near Clemson SC. They wanted to do something for the Lord but were not sure what. Jane spent one summer in our home as a summer missionary and caught the mission bug. After she finished grad school she married Greg and they moved to New England. They found a small little Baptist church that need a young energetic couple and got involved. Greg polished up his guitar playing skills and Jane took over most of the children’s ministry programs. Though you will not find their names anywhere on an official list of missionaries, there is no question that they are called by God to serve faithfully as lay leaders in a small New England church. Missionaries come in all shapes and sizes and not all of them have an official titles or job descriptions, but they have been called by the Holy Spirit to help complete the task of evangelizing their area and the church is stronger because of them.

I could one story after another about mission volunteers who have come to New England to help us complete the task. They are heroes in my eyes and will be rewarded by the Lord when they complete the race that has been set before them. We are thankful for all those who have already come to New England to help us complete the task. But though many have come, there is still a need for more. Every village in New England needs an army of prayer walkers. Every college campus in New England needs some sweet southern grandmothers to pass out cookies and talk about Jesus. So many church buildings need work that it is almost overwhelming. So many families with children need a sports camp, a craft camp, a music camp, a Backyard Bible Cub or a Vacation Bible School led by someone who is happy in Jesus.

We may not all be able handle a room full of rowdy kids for a VBS or move to New England to volunteer for years at a time, but we can all do something. Will you come to New England and help us complete the task? If you cannot come to New England, will you somewhere and do something as a mission volunteer? You can change a life as a volunteer.

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