The following is a guest-post by Greg Buchanan, a student from Bob Jones University who did a ministerial internship with Tri-County Bible Church this summer. It describes a recent trip which Pastor Joe Tyrpak planned for several of our teens, including my oldest daughter. I love the idea and commend it to you.
How would you respond if you found out your teen was systematically attending services of false religions in a nearby city? Would your response change if the person taking your teen was your assistant pastor? Would that make it better or worse? Well, that’s essentially what a group of our teens did on their Missions Exposure Trip to Cleveland earlier this summer. In four packed days, the teens attended the Youth Shabbat service at the Temple Tifereth (a reformed Jewish synagogue), sat through mass at the Holy Rosary (a Roman Catholic church in Little Italy), met with a leader of The Grand Mosque (the largest mosque in OH), and attended mass at the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral.
So why take a “Missions Exposure Trip” as opposed to a typical “Missions Trip?” Our assistant pastor Joe Tyrpak came up with the concept based on his concerns that traditional teen missions trips have some inherent weaknesses (which he’ll discuss in an upcoming guest-post at MTC). The reason we’ve opted for “Missions Exposure Trips” is that we want our teens to realize the long-term needs in the areas we visit. We want them to see that those who are being taught error are the mission field—to actually see and hear what other religions are doing, not just read about it. We want to expose them to the opportunities and difficulties of these areas so they return home burdened about what needs to be accomplished for Christ. We hope that God will use trips like these to compel our youth to consider giving not just a weekend to the needs of the world, but possibly months or even entire years of their lives. And we pray that they will understand and love the gospel more as a result of what they’ve seen.
Because several of the places we visited gave us tours before their services started, our teens were able to ask specific questions about their beliefs. Everyone who talked to us was eager to discuss his/her religion, and we intentionally asked what misperceptions they thought we might have coming from an evangelical, Christian background. Although worded slightly differently from place to place, everyone we talked to gave the same fascinating reply that their religion has “more in common with ours than it does differences.” That statement alone was highly instructive for our teens; they were witnessing false religions deny Christ as the promised Messiah, deny Christ as the Son of God, deny Christ’s crucifixion, deny Christ’s resurrection, deny salvation by faith in Christ alone, and yet suggest that they really aren’t all that different from us. Our teens weren’t shaken.
One of the teens wrote, “Seeing how ‘similar’ yet DIFFERENT we are was such a blessing. It definitely makes you realize how blessed we are because we know Christ and what He did for us, and we are kept under His shed blood. We can look at those false religions with a heart that is full of gratitude and thankfulness to Christ that He chose us to save but also [with] a heart for the lost as well. There are many out there that don’t understand the true way to salvation and it is very sad.” Another teen commenting on the sermons she heard, “The rabbi at Tifereth talked about the 12 spies that went to Canaan. The moral of the story was to believe in yourself and seize the moment. At Trinity Cathedral, the lady priest talked about how she had never before really understood the Trinity… until the Lord spoke to her at McDonald’s. It’s so scary to think that people can make up their own ideas about things such as religion and feel sure that they are going to heaven. This makes me SO thankful that we have teachers at TCBC who study the truth and can explain it without mingling in random stories or morals.”
On Sunday morning, immediately after mass at Trinity Cathedral—by far the most stomach-churning service we attended (the lesbian dean preached blasphemy about the Trinity)—we went to an all-black Baptist church. Before we entered, Pastor Joe made very clear that this service was not another false religion to survey; this was us, and these were our brothers and sisters in Christ. Coming from a community well over 95% white, this congregation was by far the most distinct from our group in terms of culture and physical appearance. At any of the other places, we looked just like everyone else (if yamaka or prayer shawl were donned), and yet here where we looked the most different, we truly had the most in common. The contrast from Trinity Cathedral to this body of believers could not have been starker. We were warmly welcomed, and we worshipped with those believers united by the same grace, the same gospel, and the same cross.
Toward the end of the trip, the temptation we each faced was to be proud that “we’ve got it right” as opposed to all those who don’t, and Pastor Joe wisely reminded us that we have absolutely nothing in which to boast except Jesus Christ crucified. While it is appropriate for us to rejoice in the truth, we have it only by God’s grace. There is nothing that makes us any better than any of the people we encountered; we are needy sinners just like them and our hope and prayer is that they too will come to a true understanding of the gospel of grace.
Time will show the long-term impact of the trip, but overall, the entire experience was extremely shaping and culturally enriching for our teens. They saw truth contrasted with error. They saw that worship is not dependent on sincerity, beautiful sound, or being moved emotionally (the Jews and Catholics have these elements mastered). They saw how sobering it is for heart-felt prayers to ascend to the lofty heights of a cathedral ceiling and yet go no further. They saw the power of the gospel to make them color-blind and unite dynamically different cultures through grace. They saw the needs of the city and the possibility that God may use them to reach those needs.
On the same trip, the teens visited the City Mission, attended a service at the National Church Planter’s Conference, discussed multi-ethnic evangelism with church planter Todd Nye, and toured Baptist Mid-Missions, which is headquartered in Cleveland. Recreationally, they toured the Browns Stadium, visited significant monuments in Lakeview Cemetery, attended an Indians vs. Pirates game (which the Indians won!), explored the city, and ate lots of pizza from the Rascal House.
What do you think of this sort of missions exposure trip? How do you feel about exposing youth to the diversity of false religions in this way? Would you consider organizing a similar trip for your church?