Tuesday, August 05, 2008

My Personal Mission

For my post on personal faith experiences today I'll be kicking off a conversation about mission and service. Please reply with your own stories on this topic, or send related topic ideas by clicking the "send your ideas" link the sidebar...

Just as background: I'm the son of two UCC missionaries in Turkey - Dad was a teacher there for 11 years and Mom was a nurse there for 9. We've always been "church" people, and that meant a lot in my small childhood church with an average Sunday attendance of 30 to 50. Needless to say, there's always been an emphasis in my life on giving of one's self.

In college, my wife and I were members of Alpha Phi Omega, an international "service fraternity." We helped with Special Olympics, tutored city-kids, cuddled and read to babies born adicted to drugs, and built houses with Habitat, among other volunteer services. The organization has a basis in Christianity, but doesn't have an official religious association.

Shortly after college, my fiancee and I spent some time looking seriously for a church home. While it is true that we landed at First Pres of Kirkwood because the 11am service was late enough to ensure we had time for in-line hockey and showers before the service, it's also true that we were very attracted to the wide variety of mission and service opportunities at the church. Even before becoming members of the church, we particpated in a spiritual gifts inventory to help us identify where our gifts and talents might lie. This was a great way to help us identify how we could provide a service to the church and contribute to its mission elsewhere. My big mistake was to check the "I'm interested" box next to everything that I was interested in "learning more about"... not necessarily volunteering for!! Although I haven't done as much as said I was interested in "learning more about," over the past 8 years, I've gone on work camps with senior high students and relief after hurricane Katrina, volunteered with a local shelter program, participated in committees, and served as an elder.

At a business meeting a couple of years ago, I sat with a woman who told me about a mission trip she and her husband had planned to Costa Rica. They'd spend most of their time site seeing, but everywhere they went, they planned on handing out bumper-sticker sized flyers that said "JESUS" on one side, and the Lord's Prayer in Spanish on the other side. She was so excited to be able to save so many souls that way. This kind of mission, I struggle with.

In college, we focussed a lot of attention on giving of our time and talents rather than our money -- we didn't have much. As I moved into the professional world, money started to become a part of the giving -- donating supplies, paying for gas, etc. Having "evangelism" called out as one of my spiritual gifts surprised the introvert in me, but I've certainly begun to see the value of sharing your beliefs with others. As an elder in a church with some fairly wealthy members, I've seen how monetary gifts can also be a form of mission. I wonder where else I'm not yet recognizing mission in action?

In lieu of our "Ask the Experienced Pastor" feature this Friday, we'll be continuing our focus on mission with a discussion about the caveats and dangers in the way we currently organize our mission trips. Please join guest blogger Talitha for an interesting discussion!

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