Introducing John DeWitt
John Dewitt grew up at Second Baptist Church in Richmond, is currently studying at Liberty University in Lynchburg, and serves as intern at Madison Heights Baptist Church. John was a retreat leader for CBFVA and co-preached for this year’s Mission Madness in Zion Crossroads. This summer John will serve as a Student.Church resident at Blythehwood Baptist Church in Toronto, Ontario-Canada. CBFVA happily invested in John by purchasing his plane tickets to Toronto and back to Nashville for Selah Vie, CBF’s debriefing experience for college students serving during the summer.
The following blog is one John wrote flowing out of a sermon he delivered during Mission Madness. As John preached, Mark Snipes was moved by John’s missiology and suggested he convert his sermon into a blog so it could challenge a wider audience.
by John DeWitt
Have you ever asked yourself this question: “What can I learn from the people I serve?” Each mission endeavor is different. Sometimes workers see what they expect to see; some receive a warm welcome from those they serve; sometimes needs are beyond what missioners can meet; often, the people missioners serve actually minister to them, too.
I learned about student ministry at Second Baptist Church in Richmond, VA. That means I went on MANY mission trips. Second Baptist is very mission-minded. We went to Passport, Impact Virginia, on an international mission trip, and to Clue Camp in New York City. Recently, Second Baptist students went to Strasbourg, France. The adults at Second Baptist also engage in mission projects to places like Southwest Virginia, Haiti, and Italy. Church members regularly work in a food pantry and clothing closest and host homeless people in the Richmond area every year. Missions was modeled well at Second Baptist Church. During college, I decided to attend Madison Heights Baptist Church, another very mission-focused congregation. Madison Heights Baptist offers a community garden, provides a backpack ministry, and started “Neighbors Helping Neighbors.” My freshman year of college, Madison Heights Baptist also hosted Mission Madness. Both Second Baptist and Madison Heights meet tangible needs in their communities and beyond.
Over the years, I have noticed many people think mission work is one-sided. Church folks and students begin to believe they do missions nearby or travel somewhere far away to “fix” things and “save the day.” In my experience, this simply isn’t the case. To be sure, mission engagement is a two-way street; missions require partnership. Though one side of the partnership has physical needs, the ones serving can certainly learn from the people being served.
The summer after my junior year, I traveled to Romania to do missions. This trip was eye opening and very important in my development as a Christ follower. Sights and sounds of a different country were beautiful and unique. Our team enjoyed excellent food and locals made us feel very welcome in a place that was not our own. We built relationships and friendships that have lasted over the four years since we visited. My team was involved in construction work on a couple’s house in a village outside of the city of Arad. The house was in bad shape. It was made out of mud bricks and had dirt floors. The ceiling was starting to cave in and the walls were crumbling. We spent the week digging up the floor, poured concrete into the floor space so the family could have a floor made of more than dirt, and installed a new ceiling. We also repaired crumbling walls. Our group met many of Meircha’s and his wife’s physical needs, but Meircha gave me something much more important. Meircha made sure we had plenty of food that we needed to perform hard physical labor. (Those were some of the best hotdogs I’ve ever eaten!) Meircha also gave us spiritual food. He prayed for us before and throughout each work day. He shared his favorite passages of scripture and the passages that got him through the most difficult times in his life. My favorite memory from my time with Meircha is when we shared a meal together on his new floor in his house. Meircha invited our group to eat the first meal on his new floor a few days after we poured the concrete. A sweet friendship developed in the week we were in Romania. I confess now that when we arrived, I assumed Meircha had nothing to offer me, I was wrong. Meircha was my partner, he was my equal, and, honestly, I needed Meircha more than he needed me. He gave me so much spiritually in the course of our time together.
I recently received a text from one of our Romanian friends. He sent me pictures of Meircha’s house and his goat and the goat’s baby kids. Ongoing relationships with individuals and churches are a very important part of missions. This idea reminds me of Mark 14:1-9: And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”
Mary does a wonderful thing for Jesus. She prepares him for his death and her bold action is still spoken of today! Jesus even said her story would be told throughout the world wherever the Gospel is preached. This is a very big deal! Mary helped Jesus with one of his needs. Usually we hear about what Jesus did for people like Mary, but we don’t often hear stories about people helping Jesus. This passage describes Mary serving Jesus in a way his closest friends did not think to. Mary decided to spend a lot of money on Jesus and serve him. We assumed Mary didn’t have much to offer the savior of the world, but she did. She gave Jesus something he needed at one of the most difficult times of his life. Does today’s church have the same attitude as Jesus’ disciples? Sure, we have a lot to give and we are called to do for others but we must also recognize we can receive from the people we try to help. Jesus models the correct mindset perfectly. Jesus graciously receives and shows service is a two-way partnership, involves give-and-take, as each party benefits from ministering to the other.
Missions is not about flying halfway around the world and “saving” those we think need help. No, missions is about a long term partnership in which both sides benefit from the time and attention of the other. Whether we serve in-country or abroad, relationships are key as we aim to “help not harm” in every respect.
Several weeks ago, I was a chaperone for Madison Heights Baptist Church during Mission Madness in Williamsburg. At my mission site I wasn’t feeling very joyful because I felt I needed to do more. About that time, a 6th grader came out of the house and asked if he could help. Because he hadn’t signed a wavier, we couldn’t put him to work, but he helped me feel a little more joyful by spending time with me. We talked about March Madness and the NFL and our respective favorite teams – he likes the Eagles and I like the Redskins. He messed with me about how well the Eagles did late in the season. We talked about how we both predicted Duke to win the National Championship because Zion was so good. Turns out both of us were wrong. This man and I spent time together and a new friendship began. After our group finished the day’s work at the site, we played basketball with my new friend and others in the community. We joked around about how, even though I’m tall, I’m not a very good basketball player. Despite my height, I can’t really do much to block shots or do anything defensively… or offensively for that matter. Jamari helped me feel better that day and was a positive presence to me when I was feeling down. Even though I was there to serve him, he served me by being there and engaging in conversation.
Missions is always about a partnership—partnership in which Jesus is glorified through relationships and service. As you prepare for future mission projects, I hope you keep in mind missions is a two-way street. I leave you with a quote from Lila Watson, an Australian activist: “If you are coming to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you are coming because your liberation is bound up with mine then let us work together.”