Worldwide trip, right at home

Published 10:46 am Thursday, March 19, 2009

ASKEWVILLE – If they can’t go to the mission field, bring the mission field to them.

That’s exactly what Askewville Bethel Assembly of God did Sunday night. The congregation in Askewville was treated to a Missionary Experience in which they were allowed to “travel” to Eurasia and Latin America.

“We have always hosted a lot of missionaries, which is a great thing,” said Askewville Assembly Senior Pastor the Rev. R.O. Denton Jr. “Last year we probably had 15 missionaries come through at one time or another.”

Because of the volume of missionaries that had come to the church, the pastor decided to have two emphasis weekends about missions – one in the spring and the other in the fall.

“I don’t want it to become monotonous for our people,” Rev. Denton said. “We’ll have one major event in March and another in November. As we were talking about it, we decided to try the missions experience first.”

The missions experience was something that had been seen by Grace White* a missionary who was helping the pastor and his members coordinate the program.

“I was involved in something similar before when people were allowed to see Eurasia, European counties and Africa,” White said. “We picked the two we had tonight because of the missionaries that were here.”

The Snuggs – a family of four – will be heading to Mexico as missionaries. They will join a work already in progress in that North American country. The other missionary couple – Joseph and Lucille Stevenson* – will be entering a Eurasian country that is hostile to missionaries.

On Sunday evening, more than 150 people were in the church sanctuary when Pastor Denton gave instructions about what would follow. The sanctuary would be considered an airplane from which the congregation would disembark. They would then travel through “customs” and arrive at separate destinations.

Members of the congregation were given passports and asked to produce photo identification. Some who lacked appropriate documentation were “detained” and a few were “arrested.”

After arriving, the congregation was divided and half went to each destination.

Those who entered the Eurasia Experience were asked to remove their shoes and women had to wear head coverings as is the custom in most counties of that region. As they entered, people tried to sell items including live chickens, trinkets and clothing.

After arrival in a room, men and women were separated as is custom. Then Stevenson addressed those in attendance about his upcoming work.

“There is no Target, no way to shop as we know it here,” Stevenson said. “When we go to the market, we will encounter basically what you have seen here. While the cast system has been officially erased, it is still very much in existence.”

He also talked about how men and women are treated differently in many counties of Eurasia with a man’s wife often being considered his property that he can do with as he pleased.

“The people will want to see how authentic we are,” Stevenson said. “They will look to see if our actions follow what we say.”

While he will be working as a missionary, Stevenson said most of the region believes there is a God.

“There it is not so much is there a God, but which God do we serve,” he said.

After hearing about the region, the people were led in prayer for those in Eurasia and the missionaries in the region.

The group then moved to the Latin America Experience. There the Snuggs talked about the country they would be serving in and the way of life in Mexico.

“We will be serving in the state of Tlaxcala,” said Alina Snugg. “It is the poorest in Mexico and one of the most densely populated.”

In Tlaxcala, 97 percent of the people consider themselves Roman Catholic, two percent are Protestant and the rest do not profess any religion.

Clint Snugg led those involved in the experience in prayer for Mexico and all Latin American counties.

After the event, the church congregation came together to eat both Latin American and Eurasian food.

Jessica Howerton, a teenager who served as an actor during the Eurasian Experience, said she enjoyed it.

“I wanted to help,” she said. “It’s a new experience.”

Timmy Mizelle, a member of the congregation who has taken Latin American mission trips to Belize, Ecuador and El Salvador, said it was an excellent experience.

“I can’t speak for the Eurasian Experience, but for the Latin American Experience, it was as real as it could be,” Mizelle said. “I think people can get a feel for what it is like through these types of programs.”

Sandra Phelps said she has never been on a foreign missions trip, but her daughter has.

“We’ve talked about her experiences, but it was a little more real for me after tonight,” Phelps said. “When I went into the Eurasia Experience and saw those children begging – three of which were my grandchildren – it really got to me.

“That’s what got me the most,” she added. “Seeing how desperate those children are in countries like that was touching.”

That’s exactly what White said she and others who helped plan the program were hoping for.

“When we were praying about what God would lead us to do, one of the things we wanted was for God to show people things to pray about,” she said. “We wanted God to open their eyes as to how to intercede for people in ways they may not have thought about.”

Rev. Denton said he would continue to offer such opportunities.

“We’re blessed because 50 to 60 percent of our people have been on some type of missions trip,” the pastor said. “We wanted this to remind those who have been and to offer insight to those who haven’t. We’ll continue to try and help on the mission field as much as we can.”

(* signifies the purposeful changing of a missionary’s name to prevent endangering them as they serve in foreign counties.)