soup.sandwichWhen my twins were small we read a book called Brown Bear. It read, “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see?” Turning the page, something new would appear and the text would introduce us to another colorful friend: “I see a red bird looking at me.”

Many mission opportunities begin with just this question. “Church, church, what do you see?” And, once you see it, are you brave enough to do something that might change your church, your community or even yourself?

The folks at Baptist Church of the Covenant in Birmingham, Ala., saw the community just outside their door and began a mid-week banquet of sorts. The offer of a hot meal to the families in city housing next door quickly overwhelmed the nursery with crowds of tiny children.

Wednesday night tables filled with new faces completely changed the dynamics of the church’s mid-week fellowship in beautiful and challenging ways. If you have your eyes open, missions will change your congregation. And, some people will not like it.

Young boys at suburban Birmingham’s Vestavia Hills Baptist Church have a long history of serving supper at the Firehouse shelter once a month. They play checkers with the men after dinner, making friends and telling stories. This downtown community looks very different from the church’s upper-middle class neighborhood.

It’s a beautiful tradition the boys love. So much so that, when the girls were invited to join them once, the boys felt territorial about their Wednesday night buddies. If you have your eyes open, missions will change how your children love the world. Some people will not like it.

Hopewell Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa, Ala., was at the epicenter of a massive tornado outbreak. Surviving significant loss to the community inspired a practical and potentially life-saving opportunity.

The church collected and distributed tornado response kits to the trailer park directly across the street from the church. The kit included a weather radio, batteries and a bottle of water — as well as an invitation to seek shelter in the brick and mortar structure of the church building.

“We just want to make sure you to have a safe place to weather the storms,” the church conveyed to its neighbors.

If you have your eyes open, missions can change your community. Some people will still not like it.

Church, church what do you see? What do your children see? Who do your teenagers see?

At PASSPORT we offer opportunities for children and students to open their eyes to the world. We lay sod at Habitat for Humanity houses, we read to children, we dance with senior citizens and paint nails. We try hard not to make it about the people we are “helping” but about realizing that doing these things in our world helps to make Earth as it surely is in heaven.

We pray for a world where there is no more hunger, where children bring joy without fear to those with little hope and where the family of God is a Noah’s ark.

What we do at camp is meant only to introduce children and youth to missions. It is an eye exam of sorts. We want to teach those of the next generation how to set their sights on what is right in front of them or on the street across from them, and then what that leads to just around the corner. We keep in mind these three things:

  1. These are children: Mission opportunities should introduce them to service, not exhaust them.
  2. Learning the why is as important as the what. Conversations with teens about cycles of systemic poverty locally and globally help make thoughtful Christian citizens.
  3. What we are doing is an exercise of faith, not commendation. Missions is never the quest for gratitude or recognition. More often, acts of service in Jesus’ name teach us something about the power and providence of God in the midst of brokenness in the world.

One youth group went home and adopted the seniors at the center across the street from their church. They began walking or rolling their new friends over for Wednesday night supper.

One group went home from camp and began recognizing the new communities of Spanish-speakers in the neighborhood and found ways to practice welcoming strangers.

If you have your eyes open, missions can change your teenagers.

“Church, church what do you see?” Are you open to change in your community, in the make-up of your congregation, within yourself?

Some people will not like it, and that probably means you are on the right track. NFJ

colleenburroughs_optBy Colleen Walker Burroughs

Colleen Walker Burroughs is vice president of Passport, Inc., and founder of Watering Malawi.