By John Echols
Everyone knows going on a mission trip will cost you something.
When we began planning for our mission work as part of the CBF South Africa Ministry Network, our team from FBC Chattanooga was assigned to do Holiday Club (“Backyard Bible School”) in Winterton at the Thembalethu Community Center. In my years of leading Bible School, I’ve always used a guitar. I didn’t really want to schlep my guitar, so I decided to find an inexpensive guitar to purchase in Johannesburg, use it during our ministry, and leave it with someone there.
I found a store online (you can find anything on Google) and started corresponding with a young man named Matthew. We agreed upon a price for a guitar they had on sale, and he had a bag to sell me as well along with a couple of picks. I was to send an electronic funds transfer, and he was to deliver the guitar to our hotel.
For whatever reason, the EFT didn’t work.
When we arrived in Johannesburg, the hotel graciously loaned us a car and driver who took two friends and me to a shopping mall where we picked up the guitar. I walked into the store and behind the counter was my email correspondent, Matthew.
Matthew fetched my guitar and bag and asked what I was doing in South Africa. I told him that I was part of a group that was traveling south to do some teaching and ministry work.
He handed me the guitar and said, “God bless you on your ministry.”
I took my new guitar with me, back to the hotel, to Winterton, and to the Holiday Club each day. I taught the children “Mercy Keeps Falling” and they taught me “Agego Ofana No Jesu.”
In the evenings, when all our groups were back together, I played for worship. My new little guitar was serving me well, and, quite honestly, I was falling in love.
I didn’t want to leave it in Africa.
I began to hope that no one would want it. While I played each day at Thembalethu, there was no one there who seemed interested. I could have offered it to the owners of Emseni, the retreat center where we stayed, but that just didn’t feel right.
Maybe I would get to take the guitar home with me. A musical instrument can be a souvenir, right?
During our last night in Winterton, we had a braai (South African barbecue) with all of our ministry partners. This was going to be my last (and hopefully unsuccessful) attempt to give the guitar — my guitar, my precious guitar —to someone.
I didn’t want to do it, but I approached Sofi, the woman who runs Isibani, the foster home and community center where a different team had worked. I introduced myself.
“Good evening, Sophie,” I began. “We haven’t met. I just wanted to thank you for the fantastic work you are doing.”
“Thank you,” she replied, noticing the guitar. “I should thank you. I’ve really enjoyed your guitar playing. It has really made worship more wonderful.”
“Thanks. I enjoy playing for worship.”
“We have a woman at Isibani who plays the guitar, but we don’t have one. I’ve been searching for somewhere where I could get her one.”
Gulp. This is it.
Could God have made it more obvious?
“Then search no more,” I said. “I bought this guitar in Johannesburg with the intention of leaving it with someone who would play it. You should take it to her.”
I handed her the guitar. I don’t remember much of the conversation after that. I walked away, grieving because the plan worked. I didn’t expect to feel so strongly about a guitar. I was surprised at my resistance, my grief, my disappointment.
Over the next hour, as I sat in a debriefing meeting, I was reminded that ministry requires sacrifice. Giving away my guitar (was it ever really mine?) was a small sacrifice in comparison to what many others give. And somewhere, on a Sunday morning in South Africa, a community of Christians now has a guitar to enhance their worship of God.
Everyone knows going on a mission trip will cost you. But it will also bless you.
John Echols is a member of First Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tenn.
The South Africa Ministry Network is a consortium of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship congregations launched in 2009 to work with and support CBF field personnel in the South Africa. In July, the network led a group of 70 Baptists to take part in a short-term mission experience at several mission sites. The hands-on trip culminated with the group taking part in the 21st Baptist World Congress in Durban, South Africa, the quinquennial global gathering of the Baptist World Alliance.