David has been on two Serve Asia trips since 2014. The effect on his faith has been life-changing.
God touched my heart
On the last day of a youth camp in the Philippines, David found a concrete bench, laid down, and looked up at a sky full of stars. It had been a busy, but fruitful, few weeks for David and the Serve Asia team that he led. They had seen God move in special ways. Now in a quiet moment gazing at the beauty of creation, God did another work in David’s life.
“God really touched my heart about the nations,” the 23-year-old Serve Asia worker from Germany said. “I realized that we are sent to the nations, to make disciples of all nations. (I) see this as a calling for me.”
Serve Asia, OMF’s short-term missions program, offers opportunities for Christians from around the world to be a blessing to the people of East Asia. Often, of course, it is the Serve Asia workers themselves who feel most blessed by the experience.
That was the case for David, who has now participated in two Serve Asia trips. The first was in 2014, when he spent time working among the urban poor in Manila during a gap year between high school and university. His second trip was in April of this year. This time, he led a team of eight first-time Serve Asia workers. The first few days they did youth and children’s ministry in Manila. Following that, they helped with a youth camp on the island of Mindoro.
There is no plan
On both trips, David faced challenges. He knew that some of those challenges would be related to cultural differences between his home country of Germany and the Philippines, but experiencing the differences in daily life made the challenge more real. On one of his first mornings in Manila, he found some local believers that he was working with. They were just sitting around, talking to other members of the community. David asked them what they would be doing that day.
“They were just looking at me like, ‘What do you mean by that?” he recalled. “So, I asked, ‘What’s the plan?’ They said, ‘There is no program or plan. We are already doing something.’”
Hanging out and loving people was the only plan for the day. Sometimes that took place sitting around at a community center, or playing on a nearby basketball court. The goal was to build relationships, be a blessing, and show Christ. David realized that his home culture was more task-oriented, whereas the Philippines was focused more on relationships. This value was also reflected in the warm hospitality he felt from the Filipino people during his visit.
“You feel really welcomed,” David said. “I could really learn from them, to see how important it is to have time for relationships, to invest in community.”
Rich in faith
David was also touched by how, even though many of the Filipino Christians had few material possessions, they were “rich in the word of God.” Many Westerners question the scriptures, he noted. In contrast, the Filipino believers he met held the Bible in high esteem. The effect on their lives was easy to see.
“We can discuss (the Bible) and talk about it, but first, it has an authority,” he said. “Because they highly value it, I see how much bigger the impact is, the power of God’s Word in their lives. That also has an impact on how deep people are in their relationship with God.”
Many of the believers he met in the Philippines were young leaders. David described how talented many of them were. One man in particular had an obvious talent for organization and leadership (“You could think he would be a future CEO,” David said.) Instead, he lives at an orphanage, where, at age 25, he is a father to the fatherless. Another believer he met spends time traveling to impoverished villages in the mountains, asking what they need (clothes, food etc.) so that he can go find it and give it to them.
Return to Germany
Such experiences were transformative for David. He has returned to Germany, where he is finishing up his degree, but he is a changed person. He has tried to focus more on people and less on tasks. He is also learning how to apply the sacrificial faith he witnessed in the Philippines to his life in Germany.
“The question is, of course my heart is beating for God’s kingdom; I want to see it grow and expand, but what does it look like in daily life?” he said. “I realized I don’t want to stick to possessions and security in circumstances. I really want to be open, like Paul said, he can live with more than he needs, and he can also live in very simple circumstances, he can do anything through Christ who strengthens him.”
David has joined a small church plant in Germany that has a vision to “make disciples who make disciples.” He is also praying about his role in reaching the nations. In the near future, he thinks that role will involve reaching the many people groups already residing in Germany.
“It’s not just asking God about being a missionary five or 10 years from now,” he said, “but being a missionary now.”
“I realized that our country (Germany) is full of the nations. It’s such an international place. We can serve the nations here.”
As for Serve Asia, David highly recommends it, as long as people are open to what God may do in them – not just through them – during the experience.
“You really have to seek after God, that God would work in your heart in every circumstance. If you’re open to that, it will really have an impact on your life. It may impact your worldview, your concept of life, your life goals. I really recommend to all people who are thinking about doing a short-term trip, to do it if you want to be changed.”