I will never forget the first time I saw his cute little face, his bloated tummy, and his orange-tinged hair. The signs of massive mal-nutrition were obvious and could not be ignored. But there was one other thing about him that I couldn’t ignore either…his shirt! Of all the things to fixate on, I just couldn’t get over this kid’s shirt—his dirty, stinky, tattered, hole-ridden shirt. Why was he wearing this shirt? Why not get another? Why not at least wash it? Why, day after day, was he wearing the same shirt?
This was the summer that I turned 17, and here I stood in the hot, steamy jungles of Papua New Guinea, on a summer-long mission trip with Teen Missions Int’l. I was there, along with 23 other teenagers, to complete the construction of the only hospital in over a 100-mile radius and to build the living facilities for the nurses and doctors who would staff it. I thought that I was the missionary, but little did I realize that I was about to become the mission field.
I will never forget the day the local missionary looked at me in total disbelief over my fixation on this kid’s shirt and said, “Ryan, why are you so worried about his shirt? He loves that shirt. It’s his favorite! It’s the only shirt he has worn for the past 2 years! In fact, Ryan, it’s his entire wardrobe. He’s proud of that shirt.” What is one to do when confronted by abject poverty?
What can any of us do when Christ’s words, “Unless a man gives up everything he has, he cannot be My disciple,” (Luke 14:33) become real, frighteningly real, in their application to our lives? Well, my response was to dump out my duffle bag. (And I wasn’t the only one on my team who did this.) I gave my missionary all but the clothes I needed to travel home and asked her to distribute them to those in need, which she most graciously did. But as I arrived at home, something still didn’t feel right. I walked into my bedroom, opened my closet doors, and stared at the clothes in my chest of drawers. I cried out to Jesus and asked why I had so much when some people had so little? In that moment Jesus answered, “Ryan, everything you have, I have given to you. Simply be a conduit of my love. Don’t hold on to anything too tightly. When it’s time, I’ll ask you to dump out your duffle bag again; just make sure you’re ready when I do.”
Many times since then God has brought this lesson home to me, but probably none more dramatically than in 2008. I was nearly 10 years into a civil engineering career, happily married, kid #2 on the way, very active in my church, and earning 6-figures annually. In the midst of all this success Jesus asked my wife and me to walk away from the familiar to become faith-based missionaries. He wanted us be a part of training, equipping, discipling and taking teenagers on the same type of summer-long mission trips that had so changed my life. Jesus was asking me to dump out my duffle bag once again.
This is why I’m so excited about Student ConneXion’s Youth Beyond Borders Conference. Speaking from experience, I can now tell you that the path of missions is one full of risk, sacrifice—and great reward. It is a path that can be at the same time both lonely and full of relationships as the Holy Spirit transforms the lives of each who dares to travel it. Students who come to this conference will begin to experience personally what I experienced when I was their age. They will hear the stories of those who have given up normalcy and dared to go wherever God sends them. They, too, will be challenged to take up this mantel, lift up the cause of the gospel, and walk in the very same footsteps that Jesus did as He was on mission here on this earth.
I hope I see many of you there!
Student ConneXion: A Launching point for youth into a lifetime involvement of SERVING JESUS through missions and ministry by connecting them with the mission field of TODAY!
Missionary, Teen Missions Int’l
2016 Student ConneXion Conference Coordinator