Life Impact of a First Mission Trip
By Bill MacLeod, Director, MissionConnexion
In the fall of my second year of college, I had a weekend job from 12:00 AM (midnight) to 8:00 AM sitting behind a desk and buzzing people in the front door of a high-rise apartment building in downtown Philadelphia. With this late-night working shift, I was able to get a lot of reading assignments done.
One weekend I had to read the entire book of Genesis and as I was coming to the end of both chapter 50 and my shift, I could not get the country of Scotland out of my mind. In the days that followed, the thought persisted and so I sought counsel from the head of the missions department. It was suggested that perhaps the Lord wanted me to do a short-term mission in Scotland the next summer. I remember thinking “Me? A short-term missionary?!”
I wrote hardcopy letters to any and every organization that I came across that was working in Scotland. With numerous invitations, I finally decided to go with the Church of Scotland because they organized summer missions throughout the country, putting college students to work sharing the gospel in various ways, such as working with children and doing open-air evangelistic outreach. This was also the first time I had ever traveled outside the USA.
Mission locations were typically held in old, but functioning, parish church buildings that housed the students in rustic youth hostel-like settings. Teams were led by Church of Scotland parish pastors, much like pastors in the USA devote a week at a church camp. I was thrilled to be the only American serving among Scottish students in three seaside locations that summer:
- Portree, on the (western) Isle of Skye, staying in the Portree high school not far from Dunvegan, the clan MacLeod ancestral home
- Benderloch, 140 miles south on the Western side of the country, and finally
- North Berwick, due East of Edinburgh on the piece of land that juts out into the Firth of Forth.
I preached my first sermon that summer in an ancient, Highlands church; and spoke in open-air gospel settings for the first time. I learned how to share my faith and use my Bible to develop ministry with other team members, do daily chores of meal preparation and clean up with the team, and made lifelong friends. I hitch-hiked between Portree and Benderloch with a guitar on my back, further fueling my desire for adventure.
Before heading back to the States, on a heather-covered hill in Crieff, almost in the center of the country, I found myself praying for the country and sensed that the Lord was calling me to return to pastor in Scotland.
Following graduation, I eventually made my way to the Pacific Northwest to further prepare to pastor in Scotland by enrolling at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. Little did I know that an international evangelist named Luis Palau had just set up his office there and that our lives would intersect… and my life would never be the same.
So, what has been the impact of that first mission trip now some 48 years later? Let me tell you…
- While reading the Word of God, God spoke, and I knew He was calling me.
- God confirmed through others like Dr. Ralph Maynard at the college what I was sensing.
- I learned that by serving others, I could fit into a different culture and work well on a team.
- Three years after that first short-term mission experience I met Luis Palau, who invited me to help work on his first Scottish Crusades. Also, friendships I had made with church leaders on that short-term mission suddenly became strategic in this new national effort.
- Just four years after I had stood on that hill in Crieff, I was back in the same town meeting pastors from every compass point of Scotland whom Luis Palau had invited to a conference to discuss what it would take to proclaim the Gospel to the entire country.
- Ken Donald, who was on two of my three missions that summer, became a close friend. He recently retired after having spent his entire career as a Church of Scotland minister and our kids have met and have stayed in touch on social media over the years.
- My experience in Scotland with Luis Palau led to years of involvement with the Palau Association in the UK and in many other countries and cities, and even led to my meeting my wife Joan and marrying during the Palau Mission to London Crusade. We celebrate our 40th anniversary this December.
- Being sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit, working with others on projects that require teamwork and faith, exercising spiritual gifts that I perhaps did not even know I had, praying for situations that seemed impossible…
All these lessons I began to experience on that first short-term mission to Scotland and they have stayed with me up to the present.
Though I was one of only six summer missionaries chosen to be sent out by my college that summer in 1975, I do not recall any real training or preparation, either by the college or the Church of Scotland once I arrived there. That is why I am so pleased that through MissionConnexion and MissionWorks we can provide specialized training that helps leaders and churches do missions better, through the Standards Introductory Workshops (“SIW’s”), Short-Term Mission Connexion, and the workshops on Short-Term Missions at MissionConnexion Northwest. I hope you can experience a short-term mission if you haven’t yet, and that you can go out fully equipped to serve!