It had just about every aspect of a “typical” missions trip. The team came to reach neighborhood kids using all the usual suspects: candy, hot dogs, face painting and, of course, balloon animals. At night, the guys slept on the floor of a neighbor’s garage, while the girls had beds in the host home. Early morning devotions were followed up by a breakfast heavy on carbs, thanks to tons of donated goodies.
By nearly all accounts, this was like any other short-term missions team you would ever see or participate in. But this team was very different.
In late July 2012, a team of 19 drove over 1,700 miles from San Luis Potosi, Mexico, to Savannah, Ga. They weren’t heading home—they were coming to minister on our turf. If this sounds the least bit unusual to you, that’s probably because it is incredibly unusual. In fact, I can’t remember when anything like this has happened before, so this is truly worthy of celebrating.
This team, made up of mostly younger Mexicans, was led by Foursquare Missions International (FMI) Missionaries John and Robin Mazariegos. It should come as no surprise that they were so well prepared, as the Mazariegos clan has been receiving teams for years as they serve the Lord in San Luis Potosi. They know exactly what it’s like to host teams, which gives them a very unique perspective on how to lead teams.
John and Robin’s team came to support an upstart church called BeaconWay (Bloomingdale Foursquare Church) in Bloomingdale, Ga., just outside Savannah. Foursquare Pastor Chris Mazzola and his wife, Melinda, moved to Bloomingdale two years ago from their home in New Hampshire. They have worked hard to build relationships with their neighbors, and Chris has made incredible inroads with the elementary school just down the street from their house. Chris also serves as a divisional superintendent in his area.
Preparing to Serve
For five months prior to the trip, the hardworking team from Mexico began preparing every Sunday so that when they arrived, they would be ready to minister. Not only did they sacrifice their time, they worked very hard to raise the 6,000 pesos (about $470) to make this journey. And why did they do this? What would compel them to drive 1,700 miles to serve at a little church trying to reach its neighbors?
The answer is simple: Hechos (Acts) 1:8. When team members read about the Holy Spirit empowering them to be God’s witnesses to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth, something stirred in their hearts … just as it does for us. Just as it does for Brazilians and Nigerians and Indonesians. The call of God to make disciples of all nations is not limited to any one nation or race. It is for all of His followers.
Team member Jaasiel Guerrero learned this lesson well. At 26, this young architect was participating in his first mission trip. Growing up in his church, he had seen many missions teams coming to his town.
He mentioned how missions teams coming to Mexico are like a double-edged sword: They come and do wonderful things, but then they leave, and the people are just waiting for the next team to come and help. Ouch! We need to let that sink in. Jaasiel has witnessed firsthand the destructive aspects of short-term missions teams and how they often create dependency among those they intend to serve.
Responding to God
What was most intriguing about this trip was to see how each team participant responded during the last night as John led them through the debriefing process. Sitting there and hearing these awesome young missionaries share about how God stretched them and how they fell in love with the church, I experienced a déjà vu of sorts … only the translation order was opposite the norm.
A few of the comments shared by team members were particularly heartwarming.
“This was my first missions trip,” said a young man everyone called Pollo (an affectionate nickname). “I thought I was going to come and teach people about God, and then I remembered that when you give something away, you are the one who receives more.”
Pollo went on to share how he had been a part of the church for 10 years but had never connected with others because of his own prejudices. With tears in his eyes, he shared how much love he had received from the team, and how close he now felt with his brothers and sisters.
“I’m taking home more faith,” a young woman named Jessica shared. “I feel like I’m also taking home something more of a family.”
A young man named Edgar echoed her sentiments: “I’ve learned something important,” he said. “First, I’ve learned to appreciate the things I have, like a good church, and not material things. The other thing I’ve learned is forgiveness.”
If you didn’t know any better, you’d think these comments were made by Americans who had just finished a missions trip to Mexico. And that’s just the point. Are we not all disciples of Christ, doing the things He told us to do, facing the same obstacles, fighting the same fight?
The Foursquare Church is a global church. If this missions team from Mexico teaches us anything, it’s that we are united. They remind us that the same Holy Spirit in us resides in the hearts of all believers everywhere, and the call of the Lord is not limited to any one society.
Perhaps their example teaches us here in the U.S. a bit of humility. Hopefully it calls us to a new level of partnership with our global Foursquare family, so that we may someday soon see that every tribe and every tongue has heard the Good News! And, yes, that includes Bloomingdale, Ga.
Check out FMI’s website to find out more about short-term missions and how you and your church can get involved.