The first time I left the country my life changed forever.
The summer before my freshman year of high I got my first passport, new luggage, a guide book, and one of those secret money pouches that awkwardly lined the inside of my husky jeans.
I also spent the forty days leading up to the trip meeting weekly with members of my home church as we prepared for our mission trip to England. We spent intentional time in prayer, reading devotions, and having discussions surrounding faith and cultures.
After all the packing and preparation, I thought I was ready.
We traveled to Harpenden, England, a town about an hour outside of London via rail. In Harpenden, we spent two weeks at Highfield Oval, a kind of village within a village that used to serve as a Methodist children’s home. The Oval had its own chapel, housing accommodations, dining hall, chapel, and printing factory that had all been used by needy children in the past.
The Oval we visited in 2001 was steeped in history, but it had been converted into a Youth With A Mission (YWAM) missionary base years before. We shared the base with people from all over the world for two weeks. Some of the residents were learning English and other languages so that they could go out into the world and share the gospel. Some of the residents were going through a discipleship training program. Other residents had lived there for years. They were missionaries reaching out to the locals who inhabited a Britain flooded with secularism.
Our mission team had been tasked with doing construction work in an old building named The Factory. The Factory used to house the printing press and serve as a place where children could be vocationally trained before leaving the Oval. YWAM was in the process of converting this building into a space where people from all over the world could come with the raw materials of their lives, be fashioned by God for new purposes, and be sent out around the world to make disciples. It was an awesome vision, and our team helped early on in the building’s conversion by tearing down old walls filled with asbestos, dragging out old office equipment, and putting new structures in place.
One night, after working in The Factory all day long, we attended worship with everyone on the base at the chapel. We spent some time singing and then someone presented the vision that led to Loren Cunningham’s founding of YWAM. Cunningham once had a vision of waves crashing over and covering every continent. Then, the waves turned into young people who were covering the continents preaching and embodying the good news of Jesus Christ. As a rising ninth grader, the vision was powerful and led me to wonder how this might come to pass.
At the end of the presentation, the speaker asked all of us to stand up and pray aloud to God in our native tongues.
I thought, “Pray out loud all at once? What if the person next to me is trying to eavesdrop on my prayer?”
I felt a little awkward. But truth be told, I was basically a middle schooler still who was used to feeling awkward, so I began to pray quietly.
Soon, the room filled with noise. But it wasn’t soft whispers. The room was filled with loud sounds, and ones that I’d never heard before. Europeans were praying with passion in languages that sounded vaguely familiar. African women were praying at the top of their lungs with words that sounded like clicks to my ears. And I began to raise my voice to a conversational level as I prayed with earnestness.
I caught a glimpse of the Kingdom of God that night. And eleven years later, that evening has never left my memory.
It wasn’t until years after that trip that I would read Revelation 7:9-10 where John records his vision of a great multitude from every nation, tribe, people and language standing before the throne of God and worshipping the lamb of Jesus.
It wasn’t until years after that I would re-read the story of Pentecost in a new light.
It wasn’t until years after that I realized the United Methodist Church was a global communion with members and missionaries in over 125 countries.
It wasn’t until years after that I learned that Christianity was shrinking in the West and flooding over the lands of the developing world.
It wasn’t until years after that I began to understand how desperately Christians in America need to be surrounded by those followers of Jesus whose culture and language is different than our own.
I’ll share my thoughts on that in the next post.
Have you had experiences with the global church?