By Brent Hoskins, The Journey at LBC
In Matthew 28, Jesus instructs his disciples: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Two thousand years later, says Lenexa Baptist Church (LBC) member Todd Baker, these very words served as a calling for him “to be on mission” for the Lord.
On Oct. 24-Nov. 1, Baker traveled with six others from LBC to Empalme, Mexico, a city located on the south-central coast of the Mexican state of Sonora. It was his fifth mission trip to Mexico; he most recently traveled with a team from LBC to Ciudad Juarez in February of this year. LBC works to support a local church in Empalme and its pastor, befriended by LBC members Howard and Beverly Rhoden, who served as missionaries in nearby Hermosillio from August 2010 to July 2012. Beverly Rhoden was among the travelers on the recent trip.
“This trip, as with the others that I have been blessed to go on, was such a reward,” Baker says. How so? “Getting to reconnect with people that you have become friends with while seeing their growth and how God is at work everywhere.”
Drawing on his construction background, Baker’s duties on LBC mission trips through the years have included such tasks as repairing wooden benches, concrete wall repair, painting and reinforcing cabinets. “While working with others, it always opens up opportunities to share your faith,” he says. “On this trip, we were able to share when going out into the communities to invite people to the evening events. We were also able to share with people at a hospital while passing out small hygiene kits to those in need.”
In addition to handing out hygiene kits outside of the hospital, says fellow traveler Robin Whittenburg, she and other LBC team members distributed the Book of Romans, allowing them to share the Gospel with individuals who took the kits. She also helped plan and lead activities for children each evening, assisted with light construction work during the day and helped the pastor’s family move into a home of their own after living in the back of their church for more than 15 years.
“The team was also involved with sharing the Gospel each evening with the ladies by having a craft activity with them,” says Whittenburg. “The guys would talk with the men individually while the ladies’ and children’s activities were underway. They would also walk the neighborhood to talk to people.”
Whittenburg says that sharing the Gospel alongside the pastor’s wife outside the hospital was the highlight of the trip for her. “It is an awesome experience to watch someone from another culture share Jesus with her own people,” she explains. “It really made me stop and think about how often I share Jesus with the people here in Lenexa.”
The recent trip was not the first for Whittenburg and not her first to Empalme with LBC. She has also joined LBC mission teams on trips to Diaz Ordaz, Mexico; Mission, Texas; and Haiti. “I went to Mexico again because I really love the people that we work with,” she says. “It is like going to see family on vacation. The church in Empalme is very engaged with its community; the desire of the church’s members to see their friends and neighbors come to Christ is very contagious.”
While Baker and Whittenburg are veteran LBC mission trip team members, it was the first mission trip for Carla Swartz. “I have been trying for ten years to go on a mission trip, but something always got in the way,” she says, noting that she has always know that “God had plans” for her. “I left my dad, who is not well, and my grandsons behind — left my comfort zone — to do God’s work that he called me to do.”
Her first day at the church in Empalme was “so welcoming and warmed my heart,” Swartz says, noting that the congregation is small but “very eager” to share God’s Word. She, too, was able to assist with the pastor and his family’s move to a new home, as well as share the Gospel outside the hospital. “With the help of Beverly translating for me, I was able to lead two homeless men to the Lord,” she says of her visit to the hospital, noting that during the same visit Rhoden and fellow traveler Rebeca Schmidt led another man to the Lord. “I was in awe, as I knew God was using us to reach His people.”
Swartz estimates that the LBC team members led at least 14 people to Christ during their stay in Empalme. In addition, she says, the team literally helped to save a life. While riding in a van, “we observed a man sitting in a wheelchair next to railroad tracks; I could see that he was without legs,” she says. “The next thing we knew, he got out of his wheelchair, removed his hat and laid down on his back with his head across the rail with his arms stretched outward. We could see a train coming.”
Pastor Larry White stopped the van and, along with Baker and Doug Whittenburg, pulled the man off the track with the help of local police officers who had arrived on the scene. “The next morning, I gave a devotional and used the man on the tracks as an example of how much desperation people have when they are hit with so much turmoil in their lives,” says Swartz, noting the “awesome feeling” she had two days later when the man from the railroad tracks, outside of the hospital, spoke to her and Rhoden from his wheelchair. “They are starving for His Word, not knowing that if they had God in their lives, they would have everything.”
Swartz encourages others to “get out of their comfort zones to go and do God’s work, to spread His Word.” They, too, will be “very blessed,” she says. “I used to ask God to help me; then I asked if I might help Him. I ended up asking God to do his work through me.”
Whittenburg and Baker likewise encourage others to consider taking part in an LBC mission trip in the future. “To anyone interested in going on a mission trip, I would have to say, be prepared to be humbled and amazed at what God is doing around the world,” Whittenburg says. “We tend to think within our own limited boundaries; God is at work everywhere. This trip made me realize just how much more boldness I need to have here in my own home town to share the Gospel.”
Baker shares a similar perspective. “I would tell my other brothers and sisters at LBC, if you can make time to go, do it,” he says. “We often go to help and encourage others, but find ourselves helped and encouraged by seeing God’s hands at work.”