How a burnt-out Christian found God again on her first mission trip.
In November, I impulsively joined a mission trip to Myanmar, and what I thought would be “dipping my toe in the water” turned out to be, dare I say it, a baptism of renewal.
I didn’t plan for it; I definitely didn’t expect it to happen, but I left with a renewed spirit, a strengthened bond with God and a deeper understanding of what it means to be a Christian and what it means to be part of a church with no walls.
But I have to admit it didn’t start out that way.
A NIGGLING THOUGHT AT THE BACK OF MY MIND
There wasn’t anything particularly special about the day I signed up to for the mission trip. In fact, it was right in the middle of a cell group meeting and my mind had drifted off in the midst of a Scripture (sorry, CGL). That was when I felt this urge to sign up.
It had always been a thought at the back of my mind to go on a mission trip, but a hundred things got in the way—work, life, family, money. It was just never a priority. But that day, at the end of September 2019, as my mind floated about, the idea just popped up – a split decision to head to the CHC website and to pick the one mission trip that was easiest to sign up for.
There were a handful of choices, but the trip to Myanmar seemed just right: three days, two nights across a weekend right at the end of November. I filled in the form while my cell group leader was talking (don’t do this, kids.) and at the section labelled “Which area would you be open to serve during this mission trip?”, I checked off “Praise and Worship” and “Media”.
A couple of days later I found myself added into four groups on WhatsApp: the main mission chat, the prayer group chat, the media team and the praise and worship team. I blanched, a little horrified that I had now become so involved in something I thought would be a quick charitable trip to end my year.
I was bombarded with plenty of new information: there were to be two prayer meetings before the start of the mission trip, and for the trip itself we would be packed from morning to evening on all three days, leaving Singapore bright and early before landing back close to midnight on a Sunday. It seemed as though the mission trip had already started, two months in advance.
I was also informed that I would be leading worship for the first prayer meeting. My first time. Ever.
Baptism by fire, that’s what the kids call it these days right?
WHAT DO YOU MEAN, “STEPPING OUT IN FAITH”?
The first prayer meeting came around. This was my opportunity to step out in faith, I told myself, so I had better do it well. I pored through a bevy of songs trying to decide what song to sing, thinking about how long the song should be, how I should arrange it and a dozen other ifs, buts and hows. But I still felt nervous. Unpracticed and unsure.
I had started out quite okay, if slightly shaky, but when it came to the part of the worship song where everyone was praying in the spirit, I was lost in my own head space worrying, “Should I sing something?”, “Should I break the silence?” “Remember to signal the guitarist!” By the time I was done thinking, another attendee broke the awkward silence with an impromptu worship song. I felt a little ashamed that I had not led, but was so relieved that that sister had taken over. What was meant to be a time to connect with God became for me, a mess of confusion and frustration.
As the 20-odd strong team went around in a circle, sharing why we had decided to join the mission trip, it occured to me then that I didn’t have an answer. I had no idea why I signed up, I didn’t feel especially called to serve the people of Myanmar, I didn’t have friends there and I most definitely had never been a mission trip warrior. It truly was an impulsive decision, that only much later I realised, was led by God.
NOTHING IS BY CHANCE
The weeks flew by and the night before the trip I lay in bed wondering why I had signed up. A tinge of regret crept in and I told my husband that I really didn’t want to go. “It’ll be fine,” my taciturn husband said soothingly, adding, “Everything’s gone smoothly so far… so it will go well.”
It was true. When I had told my boss I needed to take a day’s leave for this mission trip she told me that I didn’t need a day off, because I was doing some good for the world and I shouldn’t have to take leave for it. She freely gave me an additional day off. I mumbled in disbelief, “Er, but you know it’s for church, right?”
“Religious or not, you’re going to do some good yes?” she asked.
“Yeah.” I replied, still soft in the brain.
“Then go! In fact, let’s have a charity drive for the orphanage you’re visiting,” she declared.
She pulled together the people in my office and we collected $1,323 for the orphanage. It was pretty miraculous how one small conversation about taking leave led to that generous amount.
Reminded by my husband of the journey so far, I went to sleep, ready for the mission trip but still with a sense of doubt.
SHROUDED BY DOUBT
The next morning was a whirlwind of activity. In fact, it passed so quickly I barely recall what happened. Duties were given, short prayers shared and then ,before I knew it, we were traversing the bumpy road to the orphanage. It was quite a difference, driving from the city area, deeper into the quieter, yet more crowded corners of Yangon. We drove past stinking heaps of trash, huts sitting precariously above grey water, half-completed buildings that were little more than construction sites, and plenty of jungle.
Armed with colorful balloons and gift bags to distribute to the children, a word that the team was going to share and a fun skit based on The Prodigal Son, there was an innocent hint of martyrdom in the air. An unspoken promise to each other that we were here to do good and share God’s joy with these poor underprivileged children.
Suddenly we were there. We pulled into the two building complexes, and next to our little bus a lorry packed with kids had just stopped and they were clambering out. As we stepped into the warm hall to set up (as part of the media team I was laden with tripods and cameras) the 100-odd kids filled the space. Little bald boys as young as four months sat amongst kids that were as old as 18. They sat there, waiting in anticipation.
Happily, in my corner, I pulled together the media equipment and got ready to set up a Facebook live video. After my disastrous (or what I felt was disastrous) first attempt to participate during the prayer meeting, I was pleased to be a spectator now.
Little did I realise that during a mission trip, nobody sits and watches. Everybody is thrown in the deep end.
Halfway during the service, as the prayers for the children began, my fellow team member and seasoned mission trip goer shoved me out of my corner. “Go!” She hissed, “I’ll do this. Go and pray with the kids and be part of it!” Bewildered, I walked amongst the sea of children, eyes closed in worship. So many other confidently praying for them in a language the kids didn’t understand.
Awkwardly, I walked up to a teenager, and desperately I prayed the “Prayer Of The Unsure Christian”. You know it, I’m sure you’ve prayed it before. It begins with “Dear God”, followed by “thank you bringing us here together”, then a mild request for strength and guidance before ending with “in Jesus’s name, we pray. Amen.”
She gave me a hug.
I felt guilty.
Thankfully the rest of the night passed with administrative tasks, and what I did instead was watch. I watched as the kids we thought we were here to minister to, gathered around the worship leader and asked to pray for her. I watched as they same group of kids demonstrated their deep love for God as they sung a worship song for Him in their own language. I watched as they shared their hopes for their church. Then I saw the director of the orphanage move about with an infant orphan balanced on her hip, and I saw primary school-age kids take care of the ones younger than them. That’s when I realized that we weren’t just here to minister, we were here to be ministered to. I left feeling warm and for the first time in a long time, I felt God’s presence.
At the evening sharing over dinner on the first night, any lingering thoughts of martyrdom fled. We all shared the same thoughts on how we took away so much from the visit to the orphanage.
It was also at that point that I confessed to the team that I felt like such a fraud. I felt I could, because was a safe place, and I felt that I needed to, because I didn’t want them to mistakenly assign me to a group and have them burdened with a dud missionary.
I spilled my guts: I told them that I felt out of my depth and incapable of prayer or being able to minister the way I saw many of them could. So many had come from School of Theology (SOT) and I, this inexperienced, backsliding Christian with a dying ember of faith, had nothing to offer the people of Yangon.
The team leader, Wendy, shared in her calm, thoughtful manner, that she had prayed and found time for everyone to share their testimony or a word during the mission trip. But nothing came for me. She asked God why and it was only now, after I had shared, that she understood that God’s purpose for me was to watch, learn and to understand.
That filled me with such hope. It had been so long since I had last heard from God that I had forgotten His voice and I needed someone to remind me that He still remembered me.
OBEDIENCE AND BELIEF
The final two days of the mission trip, I moved with more ease. I felt lighter, knowing that God had meant for me to be here and I wasn’t here by chance. This mission trip was out of my comfort zone, but I remembered that it is only through change that we experience growth.
Alongside my media team duties, I had been assigned to lead worship for the morning devotions. After my disastrous first one I was nervous but the worship team, made up of more experienced people, lent such strength and offered such great advice. It was only through them that my confidence grew and I remembered what worship was really about.
I stopped questioning and I let go and let God (yes, sorry but this overused statement fit in perfectly here). I imagined drawing the entire team into my personal quiet time with God—praying fervently, worshipping earnestly. It didn’t matter if I messed up because I didn’t matter during devotion. It was every individual’s experience with God that mattered and I was just the empty vessel to guide them there.
It was the perfect way to start the morning as the teams split to their different locations. Some went to a praise and worship workshop for a church, others to home visitations and cell groups. On the third day we split up to visit three different churches.
My duties remained the same: I blew balloons for children, occasionally strummed the guitar, stepped out in faith and prayed my “Prayer Of The Unsure Christian” for people who didn’t understand me. But remembering that it was God who ministered to them, I was there to just guide them to Him and to be a friend to hold their hand once they met Him.
I spent so much time talking to the locals and it was only after the trip that I realized that I had been well-fed spiritually.
I was touched by the encounters I had had with the people of Yangon, by their stories: a boy who came from a mountain village in Myanmar who took the long journey to India to attend Bible college there. He was in Yangon to also help bring more people to his village. The kind-hearted pastors who adopted more than 20 children in their tiny rented four-bedroom home and gave them a space to grow even after they turned 18. The church that stood steadfastly in Yangon despite having experienced multiple robberies. They had lost a number of musical instruments, bicycles and even their power generator to thieves. Yet by faith, and out of obedience they continued, believing revival will come. The 80-year-old grandmother who celebrated her birthday by cooking lunch for the entire church.
So many were desperately in need, yet they were more desperate for God and that was truly humbling and inspiring to me. Us with plenty often forget where our riches come from.
Their belief in Him and how obediently they served was a beautiful reminder and a fresh awakening for me.
OPEN HEART, OPEN MIND
Though it might read like it, the change in my thoughts and in my confidence in God wasn’t overnight. I struggled emotionally and spiritually, but I think, that day when I impulsively signed up for the Myanmar mission trip it was a step of obedience that opened the door of my heart to God. It was from that point that He began working in me. That was me putting my hand up and asking for God to touch my life.
During the trip, my roommate and I had a late-night conversation: if I had come to Myanmar with a closed mind, or come just cause a friend had asked me to rather than it being of my choice, I wouldn’t have had the same baptismal change. I wouldn’t have the right mindset.
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7).
If you’re feeling dry spiritually and if you feel as though you can’t see Him it is because you need to open your heart and open your mind to Him. You need to ask, you need to seek and you need to knock.
There is no safer ground than a mission trip to find God again. The tools are there, the opportunity is there, and God is there. So the question is, will you reach out to Him?
Do as Amanda has done and sign up for a mission trip in 2020! You can explore your options here.