We Choose To Go
By Mike Rhoades, Director of Marketing, Praying Pelican Missions
In Charleston, West Virginia there is a small blue house. When I first saw it, it was dilapidated and riddled with drug paraphernalia. To an outsider, the house is in one of those neighborhoods that feels like it’s given up. Perched on a hillside overlooking the city and long forgotten by the buzz of commerce below, it’s a heavy sight for me to process. While visiting I learned about generational poverty of both thought and resources which cultivated a sick, downward cycle where hopelessness seems to outweigh the hope of restoration.
As I stood there in the muggy, late June heat made unbearable by my mask, sweat dripping from uncomfortable places, looking at this small blue house it would be easy to see everything wrong with this community. I began to question why I was on this trip. Was it worth my time? Why was I in this neighborhood, in the midst of a pandemic, with so many other things I could have been doing?
But I am here to tell you that I would have missed out on something incredible that God was doing if I’d stayed home in Nebraska last June.
This particular week, early in our process of resuming short-term mission trips, a group of junior high students donned masks, stepped out in faith, and served however they were allowed. That’s how we ended up working on this small blue house. We are more known for our work with people and programs than construction, but in this case, the best project our partners could identify for them was this house. As they worked, this beat-up old house began to experience a resurrection.
With each trash bag full of junk that was hauled out and each stroke of the paintbrush, this house began looking less like a casualty and more like a beacon. If I would have chosen not to go, I would have missed witnessing the conviction and pure joy in the eyes of these young missionaries. I would have missed their stories of praying for people across porches from safe social distances. I would have missed stories of how community members broke down in tears because this group of junior highers cared enough to stop and talk with them, to let them know that they have worth, they are seen, and God loves them deeply. I would have missed the powerful, intentional, and earnest hopes of these students as they surrounded the little blue house to pray God’s blessing and purpose over it.
So why does our organization choose to go during a pandemic? Because God is at work and we don’t want to miss out.
Praying Pelican Missions entered 2020 on pace for the largest year of ministry ever. The growth was exciting. As a staff we were expectant, this was going to be a year of incredible growth we’d worked so hard to build.
COVID-19 had other ideas. I remember sitting in the hallway of a church building in Orlando, Florida when the news broke across our locations. In that moment the news felt distant, like something we needed to monitor, but overall a minor bump in the road to our otherwise perfect 2020.
Less than a week later, the whole world shut down. In the months that followed everyone scrambled to gain insight, to adapt, and to find ways to push forward. For the short-term missions world, this meant more than merely working from home, this meant a complete paradigm shift. Now that we can’t go, how do we fulfil our mission? When will we be able to go again? Will we ever be able to go again? As you know, it was surreal.
Starting in mid-June, we resumed with a limited number of short-term mission trips in some of our domestic locations where it was appropriate. Like other organizations, we were operating out of an abundance of caution, collaborating with local officials, working closely with our network of host partners. When protocols didn’t seem to exist that would ensure we could resume, we created protocols that other organizations have since taken and adapted to their context. (You can review our COVID-19 guidelines here.)
The truth is, mission trips are always full of uncertainties and complexities. Missionaries must, by definition, be built to adapt to every circumstance. But COVID-19 required a whole new level of preparation. We sensed the weight of responsibility we had on behalf of our teams and the communities we were serving. Even when they weren’t interested in being cautious, we brought caution.
Naturally, we wrestled with the question of whether the ministry was worth the risk. However, as we continued to find ways to come alongside and serve our partners during this season, it became abundantly clear that the needs were increasing. Every direction we looked we found opportunities to partner with local churches as they responded to the crisis. Even the simplest things, the need for people to feel a connection to others, to feel noticed, and genuinely cared for was off the charts. Our ability to lean into our calling to care for the least of these, the poor in spirit, and the downtrodden hadn’t decreased, it was needed all the more.
Why did people stand in their doorway crying when those students prayed for them? I believe it’s because that mission team found those people worth the effort it took to bring the presence of Jesus to their doorstep.
Heading into 2021, God has cemented one very important value in the collective heart of our organization: Say “YES” until we are forced to say “no.”
Sure, COVID-19 is a big obstacle to overcome. It’s one that requires all of us to do our part, to ensure that we are taking every reasonable precaution to protect those we aim to serve. But we believe the calling God has put on us as an organization is worth overcoming any obstacle. We are pushing forward in 2021. God has granted us bold faith. We believe God is going to open doors and that the local Church is going to bring hope and joy to a world that is desperate for a firm foundation. (Matt. 7:24-27)
For us, 2020 has become a year of refinement and explosive creativity within our organization. God has birthed new innovations and developed new methods that refined our model of ministry. The future is exciting again.
There is a little blue house in Charleston, West Virginia. It sits in the middle of a neighborhood that was written off long ago by others, where outsiders assume people have lost hope and turned to anything that will give them some relief. But this house is no longer a casualty of circumstances; it’s now a beacon of hope, a place where seeds of revival are sown that just might help transform an entire neighborhood. So for me, for our organization, we don’t need to look any further than this little blue house to understand why we choose to go. Since we believe our world is desperate for hope and connection to a God who loves us enough to send Jesus, who loves us enough to provide the local church as His vehicle for that love, we happily choose to come alongside them no matter what, pandemic or not. I hope we see you there.
Mike Rhoades serves as the Director of Marketing for Praying Pelican Missions (PPM) and is a member of a leadership team that puts on the annual Borderless Conference. Prior to serving with PPM, Mike was on staff with several churches. He was a founding member and worship leader at Relevant Community Church in Elkhorn, NE, after which he served as the Associate Pastor of Youth and Young Adults at Grace Chapel Community Church in Hermitage, PA for just under five years.