Jonathan Smith, age 21, Eli Clay, age 19, and Megan Clay, age 21, members of Bethany Evangelical Free Church in Houston, Minn., had the opportunity to share their truth and beliefs that Jesus died for our sins with people in Zadar, Croatia; Neum, Bosnia; Mostar, Bosnia; and Tirana, Albania as they traveled to Europe as short-term missionaries this summer.
The trio went as part of the Royal Servants Mission Trip which was organized by Reign Ministries, a totally separate organization from established church synods which was created to give young people from small churches the opportunity to travel and do mission work. Youths ages 13 to 21 are eligible to join the trips.
Jonathan Smith shared that he’d always felt like he’d like to go on a mission trip. His brother had gone on a trip to help build houses in California. Jonathan had never dreamt he’d be on one to Europe.
Before leaving for the mission trip, Jonathan and Megan spent two weeks training at Pardeeville, Wis. During the first week, they dove into their own relationship with God; the second week the younger students they would be responsible for, including Eli, joined them at the training session. As assistant leaders, Jonathan and Megan were each responsible for three younger missionaries.
The trio did a little research before leaving on their trip, about the countries to which they would be traveling. They learned that there was religious tension between the Islamics and the Catholics in the countries. The wars in Yugoslavia which broke the country apart in 1993-1995 caused much tension that remains today.
The group left the U.S. July 3 and returned August 4, spending the Fourth of July in a London airport.
Jonathan, Eli, and Megan’s group did their work through street ministry. They would perform a dance and a drama in the cities’ tourist locations to draw a crowd. In their performance, Eli was at the center of a circle portraying a clock to illustrate that we all have a limited time on earth while the others portrayed people carrying heavy burdens. At one point, another young man moved Eli’s hands to represent Christ on the cross.
After the performance, they would engage the crowd in a conversation about it. Their goal was to build a connection first and then teach the people. While most people said they understood the performance, they usually missed the symbolism of Christ on the cross. This, however, gave the youths the opportunity to share their message.
When asked if it was difficult to speak about their beliefs, Eli responded that “we had a job and we were just there to speak what we believed.” He said he felt pressure, but, for the most part, the people showed respect for people of different religions and were open-minded.
Megan added that she’d talked to groups of people in their 20s and felt that the fact they were close in age helped make it easier.
With each trip destination there was a family as well – a mother, father, nanny and younger siblings as young as age eight. Other destinations included Peru, Nepal, Ireland and Costa Rica. Each destination would conduct their mission differently; for example, the Nepal group worked at an orphanage. Senior leaders Jeff and Heidi Bell and Holly Duke have led mission trips for years.
The group would do Bible study during the day; first reading and reflecting on a portion of scripture themselves; then reflecting in small groups, and then discussing the selection in the large group.
The father of the family referred to himself as “Food Boss.” According to Eli, they ate nothing but oats, “sandos” and Nalgene. After a daily breakfast of oatmeal, they’d eat “sandos,” the Food Boss’s term for peanut butter sandwiches which might have grape jelly or Nutella if you were lucky. Nalgene was simply water bottles.
When they returned to the U.S., Jonathan ate at a Taco Bell, while Eli went to Buffalo Wild Wings, and Megan enjoyed some sushi.
The street ministries would be conducted in the evenings. In their free time, the youths went in groups of three or more to the beach on the Adriatic Sea, walked through the streets and saw the architecture, historical places, tourist areas, and shops. In Croatia, they walked on original Roman cobblestones and saw Roman pillars. In Albania, they visited a USSR bunker from World War II that had been turned into a museum. Megan noted they also saw a piece of the Berlin Wall; she said the Albanians were fiercely proud of their independence.
Cultural differences that surprised the trio included Eli being very surprised at how competitive everybody was in Albania. A friendly game of volleyball would quickly turn into a fierce competition.
Jonathan was surprised at the 14-hour bus ride; there were long lines to wait to leave one country and other long lines to enter the second. He also commented that people associated Americans with popularity and celebrity. There are not a lot of different nationalities in the countries they visited and the locals were amazed by how different the Americans were from them. People were frequently confused about why the Americans had traveled to their homeland.
The mission group stayed at hostels, churches, and a Bible School. As they talked to random people, they ran into a family from Chicago that lived just down the block from where they had stayed while in Chicago. In Croatia, they met Brian and Debby Stout who were working with the mission group. Bethany Church actually supports the Stouts as missionaries; Megan commented that it was neat to meet them and see what they do in person.
When asked if they would go again on such a trip, Megan said, “Absolutely!” She commented, “Don’t be afraid to share your faith with others. Glorify God in all your good works. Doing tasks for others is serving God as well; it’s just humbling to do that.” She felt she’d grown so much in her faith.
Eli quoted I Corinthians 10:31, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God.” Eli felt that he would not go again, but rather focus on working with people at home.
Jonathan related the story told by senior leader Jeff Bell. He had seen a person he’d gone to high school with on one of his early trips. His classmate had asked him how long he’d been a Christian; when Jeff replied all his life, his classmate had asked him why he hadn’t told him about God’s love sooner, noting that he would have saved him “six years of hell!” Jonathan feels the need to share God’s love with all his acquaintances and to build relationships and friendships.
The Royal Servants’ motto is, “We’re preparing you for a summer of service and a lifetime of ministry.” This seems to have happened for Jonathan, Eli, and Megan.