Recently I was able to be a part of a vision trip to North Africa and Malta with our denomination’s Western Canadian District. This was an incredible experience where our team was able to gain more understanding of North African culture, and learn about some of the great things God is doing in that part of the world.
A vision trip is more focused on learning and exposure than what a usual missions trip might be. We spent a great deal of time with some of our international workers (IW’s) in the region and were able to experience the culture first-hand, meeting many wonderful people. Many countries in this part of the world are Creative Access areas (locations where an IW must specify an occupation other than Christian missions), so I won’t share about specific people or places. But I’m still excited to talk about what God showed me through our trip.
Though there were many things God taught me through this experience, one has stood out most prominently. Before leaving Canada I felt the Holy Spirit put a certain word on my heart: “relationship.” This may not seem profound, but let me unpack what that has meant to me …
As our team started our time together, everything was a new experience: new sights, new sounds, new culture, new people. It was a bit jarring at first to be sure, simply because it seemed so different. But between our IW’s, local guides, and other local people we met, there was always a feeling of comfort in the midst of the newness.
We had the opportunity to see some very impressive locations while we were there. Yet every time we had seen something visually spectacular, there would always be an experience with people which would be profound for me. Perhaps it was watching our IW’s interact with local people they’re friends with, feeling the conflicting emotions of having children on the street trying to sell us packets of tissues, meeting hardworking women and men who make the most of difficult circumstances, or worshipping with people from many different nations and cultures.
Each time I would encounter one of these situations, whether exciting or difficult, I felt myself engaging in it differently than I would back home. I was more present in the moment, more willing to take time to stop, interact with others, and make the most of the experience. And as I did this I realized that, despite differences in culture or religion, we weren’t actually that much different from each other.
Our IW’s shared many stories of the Spirit guiding conversations or circumstances to allow them to share about their faith. But what also came through in those stories was that relationship and trust needed to be built, and often much time was spent sowing seeds, investing in relationships, and cultivating a personal love for their friends and the North African people.
One of our Alliance workers shared how relationship is incredibly important in the North African culture. They joked that you need to set aside three hours for a trip to the grocery store, because if you run into your friends it’s never a quick conversation! As you grow in your relationships, you can become like family in the way that you’re cared about and let into a person’s life.
On our last night a good friend of one of our IW’s was able to come over and meet us. He had been told we were coming and was excited to meet us all! We were able to hear a bit about his life, his family, and how his job was difficult to continue on in. Though not a believer, he was happy to have us all pray for him in the name of Jesus! That might not sound like a big deal, but trust me – it was. As he left that evening you could tell that meeting us had been a powerful experience for him.
The Spirit kept pointing me back to this word “relationship” again and again, and reminding me how vital relationship is in all of our lives. As I processed this, my mind kept coming back to the great commandment to love God and love our neighbour as ourselves. And it reminded me how vital relationship is to helping others know Christ, and growing to know Him more ourselves.
Relationship Building at Home
The idea of “loving God = relationship with God” might like a no-brainer. And maybe “loving others = relationship with others” is, too. But in reality, I think in our culture we can struggle with investing in relationship with others, and certainly with loving them.
Things like busyness, our career, or the affluence our society enjoys can all become the objects of our time and affection rather than Jesus and the people God has placed around us.
I felt quite convicted of that as we came back to Canada. I’m constantly caught in this cycle of trying to finish tasks to spend more time with people, yet finding the list of tasks never ends. I focus my time and money on me rather than others. I don’t have time to go for coffee with a hurting friend. I miss the FaceTime call from my niece who wants to tell me something she’s excited about. I go through the grocery line speaking curtly to the cashier. And the cycle continues.
Can you relate to that too?
As I processed my experience, I was reminded how Jesus sets a great example for us in Scripture through His relationships. We see Him investing deeply in relationships; sometimes through spending lots of time with certain people and developing close friendships, while other times simply through noticing and fully engaging with those in front of Him. In Luke 19 He calls Zacchaeus down from the tree to share a meal. In Matthew 9 He stops and notices the woman who experiences healing after touching His cloak. In John 13 He washes His disciples’ feet.
When I stay trapped in a cycle of busyness and distraction, it can cause me to neglect relationships, both the casual and the close. And it can certainly cause distance in my relationship with God. But when I ask Jesus to help me love those around me, I begin fulfilling the greatest commandment. As I step outside of my comfort zone to help a friend who is hurting, God looks down lovingly. When I stop to ask my barista’s name and how their day is going, I get to share Christ’s love with them for a moment that could make their day – maybe even change their life.
As I do these things, not only am I expressing love to others, but I’m also expressing love to my Heavenly Father, Creator of all. And as I intentionally invest in other people, I’m investing in my relationship with Jesus. As our love for Jesus grows, so should our love for others, no matter if they believe the same thing as me or are from the same culture as I am.
When I got back from our trip I noticed that my casual interactions with others felt different at times. The way I engaged with people prompted a different response. I quickly realized that I was acting the way I would have on the trip: a little slower, more intentional, actually interested in them and the moment rather than moving on to the next thing. Not only could I tangibly see a difference in their response, but I could feel a difference through the peace and joy I felt. I’ll admit, it’s a challenge to maintain the longer I’m back home, but the lesson has certainly not been lost on me.
If you take anything from this I would ask you to think of two things:
- First, remember to show love to people close to you, as well as those it’s easy to ignore. Regardless of where they’re from or what they believe, they are people just like you whom God wants to experience a relationship with Him. Don’t let differences be obstacles, but instead trust the Spirit’s guidance and watch God’s love lead to chances to share His gift of life.
- Second, be open to participating in an overseas missions experience if God prompts you to. It can be a great encouragement to our IW’s and local people, and God often speaks to us in new ways through being in a new environment. I know He did that for me and my wonderful teammates (who I wish I could share more about!).
FAC has two more short-term trips with space available this year – one to Colombia with more of a missions focus and one to Thailand with a focus similar to the trip I was on. Contact us if you’re interested!
Written by Spencer Young