Growing Closer to God and Others During My First Mission Trip Experience

Today’s blog post is written by Orange Family’s outreach leader, the one and only Samantha Richard! I hope you are encouraged as she reflects on her experience of accepting the call to serve in Thibodeaux, Louisiana for spring break.

The BCM at VT crew with some new friends from Thibodeaux.

When I first started BCM in the Spring of 2019, I would have never believed you if you told me I would be going to a different time zone for a mission trip or going on one at all.

I had always dreamed of going to Louisiana because I had always felt really attached to it in some way, but I just didn’t know how. In one of my classes this past semester, on the first day we played two truths and a lie and one of my truths was: “I had never been to Louisiana, but I’d love to go some day.” A few weeks later at the BCM they were talking about mission trips and how one of them would be at Nicholls State in Thibodeaux, Louisiana. I felt that this was a clear sign that I should go on the trip however, I was still hesitant to sign up. I talked with God and prayed A LOT, over if He would use me to help spread His word on this trip, or if I was just going because I was checking off something on my bucket list. After realizing that this is what God had in store for me, I signed up to go and was accepted for the trip.

You would think that after careful consideration I would have realized that Louisiana was in a different time zone and I had never been that far away from home, but you would be incorrect. I remember I was talking to our campus minister while paying for the trip and asked how far the drive was to Louisiana. He told me that it was about a 14-hour drive but that we would most likely be flying there. FLYING THERE??!! I had been terrified of airplanes my entire life and never thought I would be getting on one. After going back to my apartment and having a meltdown because I would be flying on an airplane, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace, and I knew that it was God reassuring me that I was going to be fine.

Fear: Conquered.

When we arrived in the New Orleans Airport, we were greeted by two of the sweetest people I have ever met, Ashton and Shelby. They were kind enough to commute an hour and back to take us to where we were staying. The first night the six of us who were on the trip had a great Walmart adventure and made it back to the church we were staying at, just before the alarm would be set for the night. Getting settled in with everyone was great. We were able to sit in the common area and just chat about what are goals were for this trip and how we were going to use our God given gifts to share with the people we would encounter on this mission trip. It was truly a blessing to already feel so close with the people that I would be spending the next week with.

“It was truly a blessing to already feel so close with the people that I would be spending the next week with.”

Samantha Richard

I guess part of the reason we were able to grow close quickly is because of the experience we encountered on our second night in Louisiana. It was the night that the time change would spring forward an hour and around 1:00 in the morning, we were woken up out of a dead sleep by flashing lights and a loud alarm that kept saying: “AN EMERGENCY HAS BEEN DETECTED. PLEASE EXIT THE BUILDING.” We were of course freaking out because we were in an unfamiliar place and we were scared to go outside. Once the boys finally came out of their room, they led us outside into the pitch-black dark while we waited for the fire department. After an hour (and watching it turn from 1:59 to 3:00 on our phones) the fire department said we could go back inside, they had solved the problem. You would think that would be the worst thing that would have happened to us that day but again, you would be wrong. Around seven in the morning when I was still laying in my “bed” which was a row of chairs, there was a loud knock followed by flashlights shining in our eyes. The law enforcement officers asked us to come out into the common area with our driver’s license. I thought it was a follow-up from the fire alarm from a couple of hours earlier however, it turned out that we were suspects for a break-in that was reported that morning in the church. It turns out our friend Jakob was going to the shower when the man who opens the church on Sundays saw him and was unaware that we would be staying there. Long story short, poor Jakob ended up in handcuffs with shampoo still in his hair. The mission team that almost gets arrested together, stays together…or something like that.

Jakob Lyons, the shower criminal

Even though that second night may differ from this, I think I can speak for everyone when I say that we were treated like royalty when we were down there. Everyone at the Nicholls State BCM was so nice and welcoming. They introduced us to their “Jungle Pong” game and we ended up playing that for the rest of the week. I was also introduced to a crawfish broil which was… interesting to say the least, but also a lot of fun. A mission project that we had decided to do was to clean up around the BCM and redo the hallway that was in the building. We gave the hallway and door a fresh coat of paint and my dear friend Kirsten (who is amazingly talented), hand painted a verse from Matthew 28 that states: “Go and make disciples of all nations.” We decided on this verse because this is where their BCM members would show their photos from the mission trips they have been on.

I saw the love and awesomeness of God so much throughout this mission experience. He gave me the courage to go out on campus and do “water bottling” which is offering someone on campus a water bottle if they asked you a question about faith, religion, the Bible, etc. When I was first told that we would be doing this, I was feeling uneasy about it. I am not usually the type to discuss my faith, I just practice it with no questions asked. And talking to strangers? It was unsettling for me. God gave me that courage to participate, and I ended up having so many wholesome conversations with students. Some were Catholic, Baptist, and there were also great conversations had with an atheist student. I know God knew exactly what He was doing when he placed these individuals in my path. I broke out of my shell that week by talking to people I had never met, singing in front of a crowd, and just being my true self with people I had just met. It was incredible to see myself doing things I thought I would never have the courage to do.

The BCM at VT team. From left to right: Kirsten, Hunter, Jakob, Samantha, Maddie, and Kate.

Something that made us see the silver lining during this trip was the emergence of COVID-19. We were able to go visit New Orleans the first full day we were there however, by the end of the week New Orleans was considered a “hotspot” for the virus. It was nerve wracking to experience something like that. On top of that, everyone on the Virginia Tech team got the email at the same time that stated we would not be returning to school after spring break. We were absolutely crushed. We had this amazing experience that we couldn’t wait to go back and tell everyone at BCM about and we were not able to get the chance. I am, however, very grateful that we all found out this news at the same time, so we could lean on each other and really reach out to the only senior on our team, Kate. I am so thankful even in this time of confusion and uncertainty because I was at least able to go on this trip, before everything closed down. The silver lining was that we were still able to have 6:33 virtually and we had the opportunity to attend Nicholls State’s worship night over Zoom!

“If I could give an incoming freshman or anyone for that matter one piece of advice, it would be to follow God’s calling for you.”

Samantha Richard

This trip is one I will never forget. I conquered so many fears and experienced so many firsts throughout this trip and I cannot praise God enough for the opportunity he gave me. The kindness I received in Louisiana will never be forgotten and I cannot wait to go back next year, if it is God’s plan. The whole time I was down there I thought that I was supposed to be the one helping and serving others. I never imagined that I would get that plus more in return from the kind people at Nicholls State. If I could give an incoming freshman or anyone for that matter one piece of advice, it would be to follow God’s calling for you. I know that God wanted me to go on that mission trip because he knew it would grow my faith in him tremendously. He made our group grow closer to each other, but also closer to the students at Nicholls State. I made so many amazing friendships with the Nicholls BCM students. God prepared me for my first time being an outreach leader for the BCM (shout out to my orange fam) with this mission trip because I was able to take what I learned about outreach and evangelism in Louisiana, and bring it back to my time of leadership at Virginia Tech. Even during a time when the world was, and is still changing due to COVID-19, we were blessed to experience God’s wonderful love through heartfelt interactions with everyone we came into contact with on our trip, and that is something I will keep in my heart forever.

The girls: Kate, Maddie, Kirsten and Samantha’s hand.

After God’s Heart, In Community, On Mission

Jesus had a lot of prospective disciples. Seriously…a lot. Think about Jesus feeding 5,000 men, not to mention the women and children. It’s not hard to presume that on this one occasion Jesus was interacting with a Cassell Coliseum-sized group. People were entranced not only but his miracles but by the things he had to say. In Mark 2:1-12 when Jesus heals the paralytic, we see a good example of both healing and teaching in one place. It seems, at times, that Jesus had a knack for drawing a crowd.

But at the same time, Jesus doesn’t seem to keep the crowds around for long. Sometimes, he told people to drop what they were doing and follow him. But sometimes he said some hard things that seemed to scare people away. “Eat my flesh and drink my blood” (John 6:53) is not the most inviting language I’ve ever heard.

So, I think it’s fair to ask – what exactly does it mean to be Jesus’ disciple? What characterizes the life of someone who follows Jesus? Books could fill the world on these questions, but at BCM we have tried to synthesize the answer to this: After God’s Heart, In Community, On Mission. This is our slogan and it’s the thing around which everything we do revolves. This, we believe, is the heartbeat of the Christian life.

After God’s Heart

In rebuking Saul, Samuel tells him that God will install a new king over Israel, one who is “after his own heart.” (1 Samuel 13:14) David was the young man God chose, the smallest of his brothers, but the right one for the role because of his heart (1 Samuel 16:7). What then can we learn from David about being after the heart of God?

David’s life was riddled with mistakes, some of which were quite grave. The episode with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband is enough evidence. How about his census that brought about a plague? A cursory reading of the Samuels demonstrates that David’s life was far from perfect or pleasant. One of the more heartbreaking stories revolves around his son Absalom. David’s other son Amnon raped their sister Tamar. Absalom was enraged by this act and later murdered Amnon. Later, Absalom decided that he would replace his father as king. In a scheme of trickery, Absalom rallied support and David was forced to flee to the desert.

In the desert, at the point of despair, David pens these words:

You, God, are my God,
    earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
    my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
    where there is no water.

I have seen you in the sanctuary
    and beheld your power and your glory.
Because your love is better than life,
    my lips will glorify you. (Psalm 63:1-3)

The heart of God is mercy and love. On the cross his love and justice meet. We have worshipped the golden calf and turned to other gods but God looks at us and says, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6-7)

If this is God’s heart, then to chase after it means to put yourself at His mercy. It is to confess and agree with God that you have sinned and cannot earn his favor. Like David, it is to look at the mess around you and acknowledge that He is the bread of life. Come to Jesus like a little child, dependent on his love.

In Community

If it hasn’t happened for you already, if you grew up in a church-going home, your mom WILL call you within the first month of school and ask about church. In fact, if you last a month without her asking, I would be shocked. For some families, going to church feels as natural as breathing. It has been engrained into the neurons of your brain that Sunday=church.

The thing is, not everyone loves going to church. Many have been disillusioned by surface-level interactions or sermons that didn’t connect. Some went to churches with music that felt out of touch or where the median age was 60. What happens in many situations like this is that people become disenfranchised with the faith. They get to college and don’t want much to do with Jesus and would rather look elsewhere for the life they desire.

This should catch our attention. If Christianity was all about information, we all have access to the same stuff – we all have the same Bible and most churches teach at least the basics of the gospel. What’s the difference? Community.

It’s not a secret that Jesus talks a lot about our relationships with others. When he narrows down the commandments to 2, “love your neighbor as yourself” is left standing. His sermons and ethics have a lot to do with how we treat others. In the gospel of John, he tells the disciples that it is our love that will demonstrate our identity to the world. Examples abound. 

However, I believe that many of us have experienced far more polite religion than we have experienced community. Many have sat in pews with people for years and know almost nothing about them. We love to have theological conversations, but are not very good at talking about our inner lives, struggles, and hopes.

God made us to be relational beings. In fact, God himself, within the Trinity, is inherently relational. Neurobiologists have found that connecting with others is how our brains form rightly. Put simply: you were not created to live alone. In that, God has made our relationship with him to be intricately tied up with our relationship to others. We cannot truly have one without the other. Think that’s overstated? Check this out: “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar.” (1 John 4:20)

God invites us not just to know about him, but to know him. Doing that involves letting ourselves be known by god. (See 1 Cor. 8:3) But integral to this is Christian community. One of the takeaways I see from Hebrews 10:23-25, a famous community passage, is this: community is God’s vehicle for drawing us near to Himself. It is in community that we experience his love, grace, correction, and reconciliation in the flesh. The Spirit is at work in and among us.

On Mission

Mission trips have long been the hallmark of church missions. Backed by the Great Commission, we take the gospel to “them,” which is inevitably oversees or at least across some kind of border.

Don’t get me wrong, missions to the nations is biblical and spans the entire canon. The Israelites were called to be a priestly nation. God moved them to the geographic center of a bunch of people who didn’t know him and put his people on display. He wanted the people of the world to see their obedience and relationship with God and stand in awe. (See Deut. 4:5-8) And yes, Jesus sends the disciples out from Jerusalem to share the good news. Paul is seen spanning west into the known world. We can and should go to the nations with the gospel.

This may seem nitpicky, but it’s important to note that we are not “on missions.” We are “on mission.” That is to say, we are joining in with the mission of God. What is that? It is God brining all of creation under his rule through the gospel of Jesus. God designed us to be co-rulers of the earth, but sin has temporarily marred this intention. Through the reconciliation available in Christ, we are invited back into the family of God to rule with him once more.

What does this involve? Everything. God desires all of our lives to be a mirror of him here on earth. This is what in means to be made in his image; we are his representatives here on earth.

So yes, this involves reaching out to all of mankind, imploring them to cease their striving and find rest in the love of Jesus. Jesus does truly want everyone to be saved. But this is done through far more than simply preaching and helping people understand the words of the gospel. This is done by showing extraordinary care for those who hate you. This is done by standing with the oppressed even when it disadvantages you, especially in light of George Floyd. This is done by doing what is loving instead of what is self-preserving, especially in light of the pandemic.

The gospel is not just about getting your mind right, it’s about getting your life right. This means that we aren’t just out there trying to get people to say a prayer and believe that Jesus rose from the dead – Satan believes that. Being on mission is about submitting to the lordship of Jesus and inviting others into that life. Others are drawn by our unique love both for one another and the world.

Come and See

Philip was called to follow Jesus and he seems to accept somewhat quickly. Before long he finds Nathanael and tells him that they have found Jesus of Nazareth, the one about whom the prophets wrote. Not only is this an outrageous claim, Nathanael carries with him the local bias against Nazareth. He rebuffs Philip’s excitement, sure that nothing good can come from Nazareth, much less the Messiah.

Philip’s next words are amazing: “Come and see.” (John 1:46) Philip doesn’t open up a scroll and begin to argue with Nathanael. He doesn’t get mad that he has been so quickly dismissed. He says the only thing he can say: “come and see.” This is the call of following Jesus. From a distance, it can seem hard, odd, and frustrating.

But would you simply come and see?

Blog Coming Soon!

We will be launching the blog on July 20th! Come back to hear about everything from how students are seeing God work in their lives to tips on how to navigate freshman year at Virginia Tech.