Ever since my first mission trip outside of the country when I was sixteen years old, I’ve had a fascination with other cultures. At sixteen, I went on a week-long trip to northern Mexico, where I served in an orphanage and at a local church. In hindsight, the trip wasn’t the healthiest expression of missions and gave me a skewed idea of what missions truly is. The Lord, however, is full of grace and redemption and used that time to shape my life in immense ways. I fell in love with missions at that orphanage and served there twice on mid-term. Missions and going overseas became my obsession, so I picked Samford as my school, Brook Hills as my church, and even picked my major all in consideration of going to another country long-term and “doing missions.”
This undeniable drawing to the field is a good thing—there are people all over the world who haven’t heard the gospel. However, my infatuation with going overseas reached the point where I saw my life here in the U.S. as just the "prep time" before I hit the field and did real ministry work. I began to prepare myself for service by growing in my intentionality to reach people in Birmingham: I hung out with international students, attempted to meet new people in public places, played sports to meet people from other countries, and got WhatsApp to network with them.
Then, after all of my preparation, I joined the field and served mid-term for 90 days in Spain. I had fallen in love with Spanish culture and the Spanish people and was so excited to finally “do” missions! I quickly realized, however, that life in Spain looked a lot like life in the U.S. My ministry still included going to college campuses, playing sports to meet new people, and using WhatsApp to network. Life was the same—just a different language and culture.
It was over that term that I finally came to realize something very important: God is not giving me the scraps of mission work in the world by placing me in Birmingham right now. I am to be an active, eager, and joyful disciple-maker and evangelist to everyone He puts in my path, especially to those who haven’t yet heard. The Lord used a summer abroad to transform my heart for my own country, and He continues to complete my joy with afternoons full of ministry to international friends from all over the world.
One particular student came into my life from China and he had never heard the gospel. After a year of sharing the gospel with him and feeling as though my words were falling on deaf ears, God changed his heart and pulled him from darkness and into light. I now have the privilege of walking alongside him, getting to show him what it looks like to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, and strength. Seeing the Lord’s grace illuminate someone’s eyes for the first time, no matter where they are from, is definitely not eating the scraps of God’s “real” work in this world. God has a harvest prepared for our church and his people here in Birmingham, and thanks to our globalized world, we have the opportunity to take the gospel directly to the nations over coffee, tea, board games, lazy afternoons, and everything in between.
Maybe some of you reading this need a wake up call like I did. We aren’t to be any less intentional, driven, or excited about ministry because we are in our homeland. Let’s rejoice in the Lord and actively participate in His work in the world with satisfied hearts. Go make a new friend today, or call upon an old one, in order to share our great God’s salvation. Our God deserves the praise of all nations, and the nations have come to our own city. Let’s walk in obedience and seek to lift up the shout of praise to Him that He deserves.
Josh Sumrall, originally from Louisville, KY, is a senior at Samford University. He is a double major in Education and Spanish. He leads a small group of college students each week in the Southside area.