Last week I went on a short-term missions trip. And when I say short-term, I mean four hours. I was there to support a couple of sibling missionaries. They’re young and I’m not sure their faith is at the point where they should even be in the mission field. OK, they’re technically not serving as missionaries but “students” as teaching God is forbidden in this small city-state. It was a difficult decision but education really wasn’t an option in their homeland. The independent city-state where the older of the two started his education was excellent and God was worshiped, not forbidden, but after much prayer, their parents decided to send these young believers to the godless mission field. Their entire community has been putting money into a scholarship of sorts for citizens of this godless city-state. The parents didn’t need to raise support so it made sense for them to go to there as students.
Let me tell you about serving in this mission field albeit my experience is limited and (dare I admit it, my heart wasn’t exactly thinking mission trip when I went). The best time to do short-term trips to this city-state is during their holidays. My first visit was during a holiday where the residents dress in elaborate costumes and enjoy sweet treats. It’s a holiday that is somewhat controversial in Christendom but in the proper perspective, enjoyed by others. My first glimpse into their world was watching a parade of them, most in costumes. Throughout the day, the citizens smiled and laughed and ate way too much candy. It ended with a carnival. I moderated one of their games. Oh the delight on their faces when he or she won a big prize. To some, the small stuffed toy was the highlight of their day, their week, maybe a highlight of their year.
My second visit, they celebrated another holiday. It’s much like the one we celebrate in Christendom. In fact, the origin is based around the birth of our Savior, but that’s a small facet. Most involves this fat guy, harnessed wild game, and a miniature version of elves that look nothing like the steam punk ones of my stories. Except for the pointed ears. The citizens sang songs, some of which shocked me because they mentioned the Savior. Most were about the fat guy. And one was about the furlough all residents would go on. See, the citizens don’t live in the city-state but are either employees or students. The city-state actually shuts down during various parts of the year.
Now my last trip was to work a different kind of fair. One to sell books. This trip wasn’t as happy as the first two. I wasn’t there to give out toys or enjoy their culture. I was there to take money from those who could afford books, pens, and erasers and turn away those who couldn’t. Some were students whose family had the money but chose not to give extra to their child, remember the citizens are mostly minors. Others were turned away because there was no extra money. They are sent to the city-state because it’s the only place they have to go. Some of these minors come from lands where the only meals they get are when they’re in the city-state. The only time they’re warm enough, full enough, given any attention. There’s no money for books or erasers when they don’t get the eleven meals their homeland is supposed to provide. For all of its shortcomings, this godless realm is in reality a much better place than their homeland. Yes, in theory, the homeland has the means to provide the basics. But we know how governments, no matter how big or small, waste money and mistreat its residents.
In fact, this city-state is only one of many under the umbrella of a larger government. Many of these city-states are well-run (this one is) but a lot of them are wastelands that frustrate the millions who pour money into them. They make those of us who are forced to pay for them want to do everything in our power to pull money away from them. Keep out the missionaries. Pray they go away or some sort of coup will fix what’s broken.
I sit here today thinking yes, but a coup will never happen. I had a similar thought 25 or so years ago about the land behind the Iron Curtain. I was happily wrong. So maybe if the big government gets its act together, these city-states will be reformed. Maybe even have their religious freedom restored. But even if not, I must do what I can. Pray for those missionaries, I mean students and those government leaders (there are some although they’re mostly forced into hiding) who believe as I do, and serve on mission trips when time allows.
See, when I was younger my circumstances were similar to these two missionaries. I served as a student in a series of these city-states for 17 years. Unfortunately although I was a believer most of my student years, I never really thought of myself as a missionary until my last few years and even then not wholeheartedly. Like these two, I was fortunate to be assigned to a series of excellent city-states. In fact, the leader of the first city-state I attended as a student (he’s now retired) is a devout believer who attends church with my family back in my hometown.