Have you ever wondered what the “mission field“ is really like? This is a Christian expression that is so widely talked about, discussed, explored and often even misused and misrepresented. The most prevalent picture that comes to mind is that of the missionary family we get letters from in the mail who are in a far country, somewhere in the bush, living in difficult conditions and reaching out to a local tribe. Or something like that… In fact, in a lot of settings this is the case. But on the other hand, we often miss the obvious. While we care for those in far countries who need to hear the Good News and whose lives are lost without the saving touch of our Lord, we often forget that in our own neighborhoods and city there are as many people who desperately need to hear that same Gospel message of salvation.
In the good old times travel was very limited and it was much more difficult for people to move around and settle in other places than it is for us. Globalization and the development of modern technologies create a completely different picture of the world and travel has never been as fast and easy as it is today.
With easy travel and a big desire to explore, thousands upon thousands of international college students flood the United States every summer. They obtain a special visa offered by the United States government in order to come to the country during their summer break. They work for a few months and then they travel around the country to visit and explore places. You will come across such students mostly in the resort areas around the coast. The most intriguing thing about these students is that large numbers of them come from former communist countries like Russia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania and others where for generations Christianity was banned. In such countries even today the number of converted Christians is less or a little above 1% of the population. In a way these college students are a whole mission field in itself. Only in the Myrtle Beach, SC area there are more than 3,000 of them coming each summer.
Our own eyes were opened to this reality in 2008 when we started an outreach project among these students. We established friendships, invited students for lunches and dinners at our home. We took them to the stores so they won’t have to walk for miles to get there. We fixed their bicycles and helped them in any way they need it. Some of them stayed with us for weeks before they could figure out a suitable place to live at for the summer. We cared for others who were recovering after an unexpected surgery at the local hospital. It was in this context that we got to know each other. We were discovering things about them, their life back home, their families, their studies and their beliefs about life. They, in turn, were discovering about us, our past and present, our seminary studies, and about our faith. It was in this atmosphere of developing friendship that we were also able to share with them the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ. With some of them this kind of sharing was easier because they were almost fluent in English. With others we had to use some of our knowledge in Russian and whatever other language that would come handy. By God’s grace we continued this ministry for the next several years.
It is great that churches and Christian organizations are sending missionaries all over the world but in this case it would be sad not to notice that God is sending the nations to our front porch. This is a mind-blowing opportunity! In the course of our own outreach efforts we connected with students and we witnessed God’s work in touching hearts, changing lives, and using us in the process.
THE DREAM… COME TRUE
Over the years of outreach to international students one thing became more than clear: the two of us were absolutely unable to reach out to thousands. Obviously we could not do it all alone. We had no illusions whatsoever. But we started dreaming. We envisioned local churches getting involved with their people, buildings, and resources. “All Nations International Student Cafe” was the name of our dream. For years we tried to extend an invitation to churches that did not seem to resonate. Finally in 2014 God called one local church to get on board. Seacoast Vineyard Church in Myrtle Beach, SC opened its doors for two nights every week in the summer to welcome students with freshly cooked meals, games, music and fellowship, and opportunities to hear the Good News of salvation. Since 2014 hundreds upon hundreds of students have been streaming to the “All Nations International Student Cafe.” The local team has served with incredible dedication and passion for God’s Kingdom work. We are humbled to see how the Spirit of God is moving far beyond what we are able to do on our own and to make godly dreams come true.
It is no surprise that in the Bible we find no formal division between local and foreign missions. The “mission field” seems to be closer than we often think it is. Just around you. Do you see it?