Being Ministered To on a Mission Trip

I woke up on a cot in the gymnasium with butterflies in my stomach. I’d brought a sleeping bag with the intent of sleeping on the hard floor, but after suffering from an awful case of indigestion, I was offered one of the few available cots. I seemed to be feeling back to normal, except for the butterflies.

A group from my university spent our Spring Break on a mission trip in downtown Dallas, partnering with a ministry who served families in need. We had a full day of service planned and I hoped I was up for it.

I also hoped it wouldn’t be too obvious I was out of my comfort zone. I grew up in a small country church where I was related to half of the congregation. I’d never been to Dallas and didn’t know a thing about witnessing to strangers who had nothing in common with me. I rubbed my sweaty palms down the front of my jeans as I walked quietly to the van.

The first stop that morning was the sanctuary of the church where the mission did its work. We worshiped with the people we would minister to that week. Following the service, they’d go downstairs to visit the food pantry and clothing closet before getting a free lunch. The Bread of life served up with a side of our daily bread.

Our group received a commissioning prayer near the end of the service, which helped ease my nerves. Afterward, we mingled in the sanctuary and a few went outside to witness on the street, inviting people to join us for lunch.

That’s when I met Tom. He was by himself and started talking with a group of us. We swapped stories. He was an alcoholic, which cost him a life with his wife and kids. In his drunken state, he’d ended up on the streets of Dallas before sobering up (a year and counting). He was a regular at the soup kitchen, even volunteering when he could.

During the noon hour, with my lunch in hand, I spotted Tom with his bowl of soup and crusty bread, so I sat down beside him. I don’t recall how our conversation took a turn, but I started telling Tom about my own dad.

“My dad has a drinking problem too, among other things. I worry about his life choices. Even more, I’m concerned about his eternal choices because I don’t know if he is a Christian.”

Who tells a stranger these private things…on a mission trip?! Our conversation probably broke some policy: a volunteer dumping her sob story on the one being ministered to, but talking with Tom felt more like talking to a friend. But I needed Tom’s story and he needed mine. Looking back now, I realize it was Tom who ministered to me that day. No one on this trip knew about my family’s complexities. My soup grew cold, as I kept anxiously glanced to the right and left, wondering who was listening. I wasn’t ready to tell my classmates, but Tom felt safe. He’d been there.

Tom caught up with me again the last day of our mission trip. He thanked me for all we’d done and then, out of nowhere, he teared up and said, “Don’t give up on your dad. Keep praying for him and I will too.”

He shared with me the progress he’d made with his own family — the ones he abandoned. His ex-wife still wanted nothing to do with him, for which he couldn’t blame her. He talked with his son occasionally, but his relationship with his daughter had mended the most.

She’d prayed for her dad all these years, the entire decade since he’d left home. She was ecstatic to get reports of his recovery and he hoped to save enough money to go visit her soon. That little piece of hope rooted around in my heart. Some conversations settle in the deepest parts of your soul.

//

Years later, I sat in Bible study discussing the importance of continuing to pray for a person who isn’t walking with God. One lady spoke with such confidence, “If you keep praying, God will reach that person.”

Immediately, I remembered my encounter with Tom. I knew things weren’t always that easy. I’d taken Tom’s advice. I prayed for my dad for years, until the day he died, yet I don’t know how those prayers were answered. My dad never showed much evidence God had reached him. I rely on hope unseen: it’s what my faith calls me to do.

I remember my time in Dallas vividly, when Tom assured me if he could be saved, there was hope for anyone — including my dad. Hearing Tom’s story, looking into his tear-filled eyes as he begged me to continue praying for my dad; that’s the hope I cling to still. I realized something on that mission trip: the Kingdom of God is a great neutralizer. In Christ, our backgrounds and geography don’t matter all that much. I’ll never forget the time I thought I was the one ministering to people, but it was I who received grace from a recovering alcoholic fresh off the streets of downtown Dallas. That’s the way of God’s kingdom.

Traci Rhoades
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Traci Rhoades

Writer at Traces of Faith
My name is Traci. I live in southwest Michigan. Somewhere in a triangular section connecting Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids with all things Lake Michigan. My husband and I parent one daughter. We have dogs, cats, pigs, chickens and ducks. Their number is always changing, as farm animal counts tends to do. I enjoy watching sports, reading, cooking and all things Bible study. I am a writer.
Traci Rhoades
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  • “I rely on hope unseen.” I absolutely love that Traci. No matter where our mission is, our faith is hope unseen.

    • Thank you Debby. That hope carries into every part of my life. How I long for a greater faith (and the hope that comes with it).

  • Beth

    Traci, thank you for sharing your story! I love how God works in community and when we are in community we understand fellowship. What a great reminder also, to me, that the people I serve aren’t projects, but people who I can be in community with…that as I share my life with them, to allow them to share their life with me..and we can be mutually encouraged.

    • The people we serve aren’t projects… YES! That is the heart of this message. I love how the Kingdom of God brings us together in Jesus. This piece was a reminder to me as well Beth.

  • Wendy Munsell

    Traci, I could relate to your feelings of nervousness in ministering for the first time on the city streets. It is incredibly sweet that God used your time there to bless you as well as Tom! Your conversation was truly a God appointment… the best kind of all.

    • God sends so many to encourage us along the way. The more I grow in my faith, I learn to watch for those individuals he sends me to encourage or be encouraged by. Often, it’s both!

  • Nina

    God leads us on mysterious ways.

    • I’m thankful for the times my spiritual eyes are open to all the mystery. You’re right Nina!

  • Sara

    Thanks for sharing Traci, that was so personal. What an experience that must have been. I love hearing about your missions and life experience!

    • It’s one of those times that’s still so vivid in my memory, even years later. I’m thankful for the family of God!

  • I love the way Tom ministered to you when you were there to minister to him. That’s often the way it goes. We step in to bless, but we are the ones who receive the blessing.

    • Every time, it seems. Thanks for taking a moment to read here, Kelly!