For 20 minutes, my teammate and I taught a room full of women about being a disciple of Jesus while our new friend Rachel translated from English to Dinka. For the next 30 minutes or more, we listened as they taught us about gratitude, joy and the incredible power of presence. One after another, beginning with an elderly woman in the front row who had begun our time by leading the group in song, these South Sudanese women prayed blessings over us, shared significant Scripture passages, and thanked God and our team again and again for our short visit to the Mission Gardens of Christ (MGC) in Bor, South Sudan.

“We are so thankful for you,” we heard over and over, first from the women and then from the larger group, nearly 130 men and women who had gathered on a Saturday in early November. Some had walked miles to be with us. “We know you are our sisters, and God’s love brings you here,” one woman shared. “Thank you for showing how blacks and whites can be sisters in Christ Jesus,” another said. “Pray for us and our country; please remember us,” a third requested, while a stately older pastor asked us to “tell the church in the U.S. that you have brothers and sisters in South Sudan. We are committed to God’s Word and the peace that it brings.”

Each time they expressed such effusive thanksgiving for our visit, I found myself thinking, “But we haven’t really done anything yet.” Most of our trip up to that point had been spent sitting on an airplane, not doing ministry as I tend to think of it. Yet, as I learned over our four days spent at MGC, we had brought the most powerful ministry we could offer to these South Sudanese followers of Jesus simply by showing up. The ministry of presence – the willingness to go and be with – was priceless to them.

In 2017, over 160 people from Bay Area traveled on short term missions trips. Countless others gave and prayed to make ministry possible in places as diverse as West Virginia, India, Poland, Brazil and Uganda – nine locations in all. In each of these places, though tasks varied from children’s ministry to pastoral encouragement to medical care, the ministry of presence served as a common denominator. By going or by making it possible for someone else to go, you brought hope, joy and strength. “God is with you,” we said with our actions as we shared the same truth with our words. “God cares for you,” we said as we ministered to the physical needs of children and families in Appalachia, El Salvador or Uganda. “God hasn’t forgotten you” was the message we carried to South Sudan on three airplanes and one very bumpy car ride to the small, remote town where Pastor Stephen Mathiang is discipling current and future leaders of this young, war-torn nation.

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It’s difficult to stand far off and shout, “I understand and I care about you.” You must whisper it. You must be close; you must give something of yourself to stand with others in a time of need. You must show up.

Whether you traveled, gave or prayed for short term missions this year, you were present as Bay Area teams traveled across the globe, equipped with prayers, funds, donated supplies and more. I love what Romans 10:15 asks: “How can anyone preach unless they are sent?” Thank you for going and preaching – whether in word or deed – the gospel of Jesus. Thank you for sending. Thank you for showing up.

More short term missionaries than ever left the doors of Bay Area’s campuses in Annapolis and Easton to show up in cities and towns across the world, bringing the name of Jesus to people in need of hope and encouragement. You closed the distance; you bore the cost in time, money, jet lag or even illness. You prayed and relied on the Holy Spirit as you stepped outside your comfort zone, out “on the edge.”

This Christmas season, I’m reminded by the example of Jesus – Immanuel, God with us – how powerful it is to show up. He took on flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14) and He “made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Phil 2:8). Jesus closed the distance between God and man. Thanks for showing Jesus to others this year, Bay Area. Let’s keep showing up in 2018.

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