As a part of this blog we periodically want to show a side of our artists and staff that you may not normally see. That may be the process of writing, or how to survive on the road, what it’s like to work with me, or, like today’s blog, their heart for missions.
We sent a list of questions to Jason Gray, Matt Papa, Jaime Jamgochian and Josiah Warneking from Sixteen Cities along with John Mays and Rebekah Markowitz from our staff, asking about their experiences on the mission field. Read on and see how each of them have a heart for the lost….
1. Where did you go on your most recent missions trip and when did you go? Did you have prior ties to this location?
Matt - I just got back from Mumbai, India. The dates of the trip were Jan 3-13. I went there a couple years ago with my band and we played some outdoor evangelistic concerts, which was incredible. We encountered a lot of spiritual warfare, but saw many people come to Christ as we sang His praises in the dark, truth-less city.
Jaime - I went to Guatemala…no prior ties but always wanted to visit Guatemala. I love Spanish-speaking countries as I took 4 years in high school and love the children there.
Josiah – Our last mission trip was a tour of schools and churches in Denmark in November and December of 2009. We were invited by Youth For Christ to come and share our message of hope with thousands of teens all over the country. Not only were we able to perform concerts in almost every city in Denmark, but we were also given the opportunity to speak in dozens of classrooms in public and private schools. Although Denmark is a developed country, and is considered a Christian nation, only 3% of the population attend church regularly, and most of the kids we spoke to had never heard the true gospel of Jesus Christ.
Jason – My wife and I went to Africa a couple of years ago to serve AIDs orphans and their communities in our work with World Vision. We went to four countries (my suitcase went to eight – South Africa, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, and Botswana. While we were there we got to visit two of the kids we sponsor: Mokete in Lesotho and Otillia in Zimbabwe, who was the first child we ever sponsored.
John – Greece. Cities of Athens and Corinth. Oct. 09. I did not have any ties to Greece prior to going.
Rebekah – I went to Israel, which seems weird when you consider it’s the holy center of three faiths. I had never been, but I’ve felt Israel on my heart for years. When I was praying with a friend about going on another missions trip to Africa, God clearly told me that I needed to stop ignoring his call, and I was supposed to go to Israel instead. I asked him to work out the details and two weeks later, my pastor spoke about this trip. I took that as a sign. I was there at the end of this past November, over Thanksgiving.
2. Why did you go on this trip? What did you hope to accomplish?
Matt – I was invited (along with several other singer/songwriters) by the IMB (International Missions Board). The goal of the trip was for us to go out into the streets and slums of Mumbai to share Jesus. No guitars, no concerts, just the story of the gospel and the faces of those who have never heard it. Personally, I hoped to lead someone to Jesus on the trip who had never heard of Him. And I also hoped to see some great songs birthed, which was the other aspect of the trip. The first half we spent in hardcore evangelism, then the second half of the trip was mostly writing songs born out of the experiences we had there. We saw such extreme physical and spiritual poverty, and this stirred great emotion and affection in our hearts, and I think we got some great songs from it. I greatly appreciate the IMB’s heart to bring artists to Mumbai for the sole purpose birthing songs to challenge and inspire the Church for the sake of the kingdom.
Jaime - I went to lead worship and do concerts every night with my band with about 1000 teenage girls on the BRIO magazine now SUSIE MAG yearly missions trip. I hoped to lead these teens from many different church backgrounds in worship in a way that they had never experienced or connected with God in before. Being out of our comfort zone and realizing how very much we are all blessed by God here in the states really has a way of drawing out authentic praise and honest worship… it is always so humbling to see all God does in and through our hearts and lives as we serve on these trips.
Josiah – Before arriving in Denmark, we were unsure of how our music would be received by young people from a different culture. We had no idea what to expect from the trip. All we knew is that we had a message to share, and that there were ears that needed to hear it. It wasn’t long before we realized that God had definitely called us to the front lines of ministry.
Jason – Our main reason for that particular trip was to witness first hand and participate with the ministry of World Vision there in order to better present their ministry to my audiences. I guess I had numerous hopes in going there, among them were to put hands and feet to my worship by serving the poorest of the poor, to have my heart properly broken for their plight, to better understand the challenges they are faced with and what we can do to alleviate their suffering, and be better equipped to advocate for them back here in the states. It makes a difference when you’ve seen the need and the difference that can be made up close and personal – it pushes the cause to the forefront of your priorities.
John – Our Church sent over a worship team to work with younger evangelical worship teams in and around Athens. We went to encourage, train and cast vision for the young worship teams emerging from the struggling Church in Greece. Estimates are that only 20% of the nation are professing Christians.
Rebekah – I mentioned my pastor spoke about this trip. Last year while he was on a pilgrimage in Israel, he met two Arab sisters who were desperately seeking for help to accomplish the vision God had given them for their city. They explained to us that while Israel is the “Holy Land” and the center of the Christian faith, so few people actually know Jesus there. Believers are scattered and constantly feel tension from the other faiths and like they are being pushed out of their communities. Church in their “Christian” community is more of a culture and routine, not a faith. True believers feel completely alone; they have no shepherd to teach them or bring them together, they have no one to pray for and with them when they need it, and they have no fellowship with other believers.
The two sisters have started a foundation to revive true faith in Jesus through serving the impoverished in the city. They are in desperate need of hands and feet to serve and love the poor and searching in the city. So we went to help them and do whatever they needed to help give their foundation credibility. We expected to clean, paint, and serve wherever needed. What we didn’t expect was that while they wanted us to bring food to poor Christian families, what they believe their city really needs is for people to go into these homes and love the people, listen to their stories, and pray for them. In other words, help them deal with the spiritual poverty that plagues their country.
The people we met want nothing more than people to pray over them. It was so humbling to think that our prayers meant so much to them. Here we are wanting to serve them, and all they want are friends who will listen, understand, and pray. We were told by many of the families how discouraging it was to see all these Christian tourists come to see the holy sites, but they never really see the city because they turn a blind eye on the city’s needs. What resulted from our trip was that we met with about 17 different families, we threw their kids a party at the end of the week, and during the evenings, we hung out with a local youth group. The people I spent time with have forever changed my life, and I still keep in touch with some of them.
3. What is the memory from the trip that stands out the most?
Matt – There are 2. First, we were sharing the gospel with a few people in a home the size of a minivan. One of the ladies we were sharing with was crying the whole time we were sharing the story of Jesus. We stopped and asked our translator why she was crying so much. He asked her. She told him. He laughed. ”what is it?” we asked him. He said to me, “this woman had a dream recently that someone was in her home talking about Jesus with her. The person in her dream looked just like you.”
The other memory was a conversation I had on a train with a young man named Ajay. I shared the gospel story with him. He had never heard anything about Jesus before. I told him that Jesus died on a cross and then 3 days later He rose again. I will never forget what happened next. When I said, “He rose again”, he looked at me with pure childlike amazement and said, “it’s true?!?”. I started crying. I have never seen a more appropriate response to the gospel. As I felt the familiar American bible-belt calluses in my heart falling off, I had the privilege to tell Ajay, yeah, its true, its true. So I just finished writing a song entitled “It’s True”.
Jaime – My World Vision rep flew there to meet me for a day to visit the World Visions Dept in Guatemala and to meet some sponsored children. I got to see an amazing music school that a sponsor has built and children learning how to play different instruments. I also met a young girl named Jennifer who had very little but taught me more about gratefulness then anyone I have ever met.
Josiah – There were numerous memories we’ll take home from this trip. We were able to visit all kinds of amazing places, including castles, cathedrals, and meet some amazing people. Our lead singer, Josiah, even proposed to his fiancée next to Hamlet’s castle along the northern sea. But the memories that will stand out above the rest are all the lives that were changed during our trip. The students we talked to were so honest with what they believed and didn’t believe, that it challenged us to look deeper into our faith. It was both refreshing and frightening to be so incredibly honest and real. But after receiving countless emails from our new Danish fans, we knew that our ministry overseas truly brought hope and light to students who were living in the dark.
Jason – In Zimbabwe they drove us eight hours into the African bush – it was so remote. When we arrived at the village the interpreter explained to the people that we flew over on a big metal bird!
When we drove into the village, we found they had all gathered to receive us – the children, the elders, the teachers, and the remaining parents – and we were greeted by a 10 minute anthem of them singing the words “well done, well done” over and over to us. I can’t hardly put words to the experience except to say that it broke something in us that should never be mended… These are the words we hope to hear at the end of our lives, right? ”Well done good and faithful servant”. I can tell you that to hear these words from the mouths of the poorest of the poor was just about as good as hearing them from Jesus himself who claims to be with the poor. I’m certain he was there.
John – Reading Acts 17 aloud to those in our team while looking over the city of Athens from Mars Hill.
Rebekah – This is an extremely loaded question. In general, I will never forget the people I met and the stories they told. I pray for them constantly. If you’re talking about what I just found cool, I would say either watching the sunset over the Jezreel Valley, our boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, or the Shabbat dinner we attended.
4. Describe your strangest memory from the trip
Matt – Before you get on a train in Mumbai, you should consider writing your will. People will literally run you over.
I liked riding in rickshaws. I want to own one.
Jaime – I always forget that you are not supposed to flush any toilet paper down the toilet…they have little baskets that you place your used t.p. in….kind of gross to look at…It is really hard to remember to do that….:)
Josiah – We learned a lot about Danish culture while on tour. Many things stuck out as different from our American culture, like birthday cakes made to resemble a human body, or socks pulled over the outside of your pants. We also learned that many young people in Denmark become “confirmed” in the state church at 13 or 14 years old, only to never go again. Most of the students we met said they become confirmed in the church to get money from relatives and throw a big party with all their friends. There are even retail stores in Denmark with the sole purpose of providing young girls with their confirmation dresses.
Jason – For the part of the trip that I just mentioned, we didn’t have a field guide to manage our outing (doing things like explaining what we as westerners can or can’t eat, etc.), and so we started to panic when we realized that they were preparing a meal for us – a feast by their standards, more food than they would eat in several days. The only thing we recognized was the chicken, which was undercooked and still bleeding. My wife Taya’s sister had been in Africa in the Peace Corp and nearly died from eating undercooked turkey in a village, so we were nervous to say the least. And yet to have turned the meal away would have been a great insult, so what could we do? We took a deep breath and prayed grace over our meal with more conviction than we’ve ever had before or since.
In case you were wondering, we made it, we didn’t die
John – Accidentally stumbling on the Olympic torch being carried down from the Acropolis on it’s way to Canada. Not only that, but getting a picture of me holding the torch!
Rebekah – It’s more a feeling than a memory. When you go to Israel, you expect to experience God through the Biblically historic sites. The strangest thing for me is not only did they feel empty, but there was a sense of hopelessness and a huge amount of spiritual tension. So many Christians who are over there or visit put more emphasis on the the objects and places than on Christ himself. Somehow they think going and praying there will bring them closer to God. It’s really sad. And many of the sites are holy to Christians, Jews, and Muslims, since we are all rooted from the same history. An example is the Temple. All three religions want control of it, and what used to be the throne of God is now a spiritually dark place.
5. Where would you like to go on your next missions trip and why?
Matt – Honestly, I think I could go back to India again and again, maybe even live there one day. The need for Christ there is SO huge….most of the worlds unreached live there so I am very attracted to that place.
Jaime – I am actually going back to Guatemala this summer with the same organization….please consider joining us: www.neverthesamemissions.org One day I would love to go to Russia/Armenia. I am Armenian and would love to see the people there and learn more about my culture and bring the good news of Jesus there.
Josiah – All of the guys in Sixteen Cities have hearts for missions. Whether in heart of third-world Africa or in the bustling streets of Copenhagen, we desire to bring our message of hope to all nations. All of us sponsor children through World Vision, and would love to visit the countries they’re from. Countries like Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda hold special places in our hearts, and we’d love the opportunity to do mission work there. We ultimately know that there are people in every country of the world who need to hear about Jesus Christ, and will go wherever we’re sent.
Jason – Taya and I have a heart for the Indian people and culture, we’d like to go to India some time. We also sponsor three other children in Haiti and hope to take our kids there to visit them within the next few years.
John – Once you go on any missions trip, your heart connects so deeply with the people of the nation you’re working with. Maybe because the experience is the freshest, but I would love to go back and serve the people in Greece. There is still so much work to be done there.
Rebekah – I’d really like the opportunity to serve in Haiti for obvious reasons. However, I think I’ll end up back in Israel, and maybe sooner than I previously thought. Those of us who went have already been approached about the possibility of another trip this summer, so I’m seeing if it’s possible for me to work out the details.