My worldview was destroyed in May 1997. It was my first overseas mission trip, and I was ready to win the world for Christ. Our little band of poorly trained missionaries flew to St. Petersburg, Russia, having no idea what we were getting ourselves into. I distinctly remember the carefully structured worldview I’d built for myself being destroyed within a few miles of the Russian airport.
Growing up in America, I was raised with the thought that God looked like me, talked like me, and acted like me. If Jesus was alive today, he’d probably be an American, living in California (where I grew up). My worldview was small because I had never encountered people not like me. That is, until I descended into the labyrinth of the Russian subway system.
After departing the Russian airport, our team carted our luggage through the streets and descended into the seventh circle of hell. St. Petersburg’s subway system was built during World War II, so the subways were built several hundred feet underground to double as raid shelters. Thus our journey down the rickety escalator was a slow descent into darkness itself.
The subway station was damp, clammy, and shrouded in dim light. It was as if despair itself was seeping out of the walls. With hundreds of people waiting, the station was as quiet as a mausoleum. When our subway came, our team instinctively thought we’d have to wait for the next one, as there were simply too many people to cram into one subway car. We were wrong.
Carried along by a mass of what seemed like silent drones, we were pushed into the subway against our will. When we crossed the threshold of the car itself, we walked into a tangible wall of human stench. With a full car, no ventilation, and a cultural bias against deodorant, the pungent smell of human odor was literally suffocating. Before we knew it, the doors closed behind us, and the silence was deafening. No one spoke. No one made eye contact. Literally pressed against seven other human bodies, I’d never before felt more isolated.
In that instant, when I’d never felt so “other,” the Holy Spirit whispered to me in a voice that shot at me like a cannon, “Jesus died for them . . . too.” I couldn’t comprehend it. I couldn’t make it work. The Jesus I knew: the fair haired, American loving Jesus had nothing in common with these people. And yet I knew that Christ came to die for them as well.
In that instant, my worldview shattered into a thousand shards, never to be completely restored. My God was too small. My Jesus was too comfortable. If I really wanted to discover the true Jesus of the Bible, then I needed to discover him on his terms, not my own.
If you’ve never been overseas on a mission trip, do whatever you have to do to go on one. It will destroy your worldview; it will be the best thing that ever happened to you.
QUESTION: Have you ever had a similar experience on an overseas mission trip?