And then it was . . . that the Spirit of God began extraordinarily to set in, and wonderfully to work amongst us; and there were very suddenly, one after another, five or six persons, who were to all appearances savingly converted.
Jonathan Edwards, “A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God”
The Real Work Is Soul Work
On Palm Sunday afternoon, 62 teens, 36 adults, and 10 college students, all from Vermont, headed 250 miles north, across the border, over a mountain pass, through blinding snow and into Grand-Remous, Quebec, Canada. It was spring break, and at Christ Memorial Church that could mean only one thing—mission trip.
Over the past 10 years, Christ Memorial mission teams have served in places like Jamaica, Wales, Cambodia, Cameroon—even Louisville, Kentucky. By day, we work. We’ve done street evangelism, puppet shows, and literature drops. We’ve painted, roofed, raked, cleaned, built stone walls, even constructed entire buildings. Each night a gospel-driven theme is fleshed out through music, testimonies, and messages. Day and night, we’re making connections, intentionally engaging in gospel conversation. Often more than half our group are unbelievers. Wherever we go, we are ministering the gospel to New Englanders. The projects we’ll have with us always; the real work is soul work.
This was our second trip to Camp des Bouleaux, affiliated with the Association d’Églises Baptistes Évangélique au Québec. In 2007, 60 of us had renovated buildings and prepped grounds for the camp’s summer season, and this crew was ready to do the same.
It was Nick and Hannah’s second Canada trip. On the first they’d been unbelieving high school juniors, interested in friends, fun, and something to put on their college applications. But this time, Nick shared his testimony. “I grew up in the church and in a gospel-teaching home. But I honestly didn’t care about the gospel.” Though gripped by the offensiveness of his sin during our 2006 Hurricane Katrina-related trip, he’d doggedly refused to surrender. In 2007, as I delivered a message on the foolishness of putting off salvation, God showed Nick his folly. “It was at that point I decided I wanted to submit my life to Christ and ask him to save me.” And Christ did.
Hannah had also grown up in the church. A “good” kid, she was jolted during the first Canada trip by her exclusion from a believers’-only meeting attended by her closest friends. She, too, shared her testimony this year. “I was sitting through the talks, but God was the furthest thing from my mind. He chose that moment to turn me completely around.” God showed Hannah the black abyss of sin inside her. Head knowledge became heart knowledge as she cried out to God, and he saved her.
Then there’s Doug, Hannah’s dad. A skilled builder, Doug’s first mission trip was to Cameroon in 2005, helping construct a church building for a NETS Institute for Church Planting field pastor. He’d gone and returned unsaved, but the Lord had begun speaking to his soul. The following year, the hounds of heaven pursued him to New Orleans, where God grabbed Doug, as he’d grabbed Nick, with the wickedness of his sin. In the shadow of Bourbon Street, the mission of that trip was realized. Doug exchanged his sin for Christ’s righteousness. The following year in Canada, his first mission trip as a believer, Doug had the privilege of witnessing the salvation of his daughter, Hannah.
Extreme Makeover: Love Edition
The theme of 2011’s Easter-week trip was Extreme Makeover: Love Edition. The bottom line (from Luke 18:18-19): we need an extreme, internal makeover if we’re to be the kind of people we want to be, or at least who we want others to be toward us—people who are truly good in their hearts and loving in their conduct.
On Wednesday the camp makeover was severely impeded by more than half a foot of snow. But God was making over our hearts. That night, I challenged believers to stop flirting with the world and remain faithful to Christ. I urged unbelievers to accept Christ’s sweet proposal of marriage. I implored them to leave all other lovers—money, popularity, comfort, even family—and cleave to Christ. Following the message, all 108 spent a half-hour alone with God. Afterwards, while some gathered for fervent prayer, the rest broke into small group discussions, some lasting until midnight.
And then it was . . . that the Spirit of God began extraordinarily to set in, and wonderfully to work amongst us; and there were very suddenly, one after another, five or six persons, who were to all appearances savingly converted. Two of these—eighth-grade boys who’d started the week disinterested in the gospel—testified on Easter Sunday to God’s surprising work in their hearts. At our mission trip gathering the following Wednesday night, three more teens did the same, opening with remarks like: “I didn’t want to go.” “It was spring break—why would you go to a church thing?” “I wanted to hang out with my school friends. I didn’t want to ‘waste’ a week driving on some bumpy road to the middle of nowhere.” But that bumpy road proved a Damascus road, where these wayward teens met Christ.
Kevin, a tenth-grader, was particularly miserable.
I thought, all I’m going to do is hear about sin, and how we’re all sinners and I’m going to hell. I already know all this. I don’t need to hear it again. Then Dan [converted in the wake of the first Canada trip] shared his testimony. I finally began to understand that others had dealt with the same issues as me and had found a way out of their sin. On Wednesday, Mr. Pastor talked about the rich young ruler who was unable to give up all he had and follow Jesus. I understood that I literally had to give up my entire life to Christ.
Kevin did. And, as he, his parents, his peers, and I, his pastor, can testify, his life is bearing the fruit of conversion—an extreme makeover.
The real work of the church is the soul work that comes through faithful gospel proclamation. Though no Great Awakening, we caught a glimpse of that real work in Canada. Gospel seed sown in Quebec is bearing fruit in New England. So it is with each Christ Memorial mission trip. The mission of the trip is the mission of the church—to make converts to Christ of all nations. As we faithfully proclaim the gospel, God is pleased to save sinners. To God be the glory, great things he has done!