I had never felt the feeling before, and I’ve never felt it since. I was sitting with Raj, one of the farmers who sold produce at the local marketplace. We were in his home, talking and laughing. I sensed for the first time in my life as though God himself were telling me, “This is what you were made for.” It was a summer a few years ago, and I was on an Island Encounters outreach in Fiji. It’s humbling to realize that what I walked away with from this outreach was far greater than anything I could have given.
There are a lot of preconceived notions about Fiji, and though my grandparents were born and raised there, my perceptions were no different than those of my culture. A foreign, exotic place with crystal clear water and white sandy beaches. A place so beautiful and seemingly luxurious you’ll hear the sarcasm more than once:
“Fiji? For a mission trip? Wow, really suffering for Jesus.”
It’s a revealing statement about what we collectively (myself included) believe about overseas missions. But Island Encounters breaks the one dimensional box we’ve tried to fit missions into and facilitates experiencing Jesus in everyday life, regardless of your country of residence. Over those two months my viewpoints were drastically changed concerning missions and calling, service and sacrifice.
Shift one: Labor.
Although we participated in many different activities, much of the day to day work was spent on Oasis Farm. The Island Encounters farm wasn’t as glorious then as it has become today. It was in the early stages, a “Garden of Eden” concept where vast fruit tress, vegetables, and unique farming techniques would unite people and provide them with knowledge and skills. Even before any of the transformations had taken place, the farm was magical. This was the first shift in daily mission work. Could developing a farm be missions? Oasis Farm is obviously not the call for all missions everywhere, but I believe its intent is magnetic, and one that can universally apply to followers of Jesus everywhere. To creatively pursue passions we’ve been gifted with, for the purpose of displaying God’s love. Each member of the body with different affinities to showcase the diversity of God’s kingdom. This is Oasis Farm.
Shift two: Outreach.
I was struck by the relationships Island Encounters had with the local community. These relationships didn’t center around inviting neighbors to church or handing out Bible tracts (not that those things can’t be helpful) but it was more about being the church. If someone was hungry, a meal would be cooked, when someone lost a job work would be provided, someone without shelter would have a place to stay. Needs were selflessly met and these relationships were more friendships and partnerships than outreach. This caused me to rethink what it looks like to operate this way, regardless of the country you live in.
The story about sitting with Raj and feeling God’s presence in the moment was less about being in Fiji with Raj (though I’d say yes to it any day of the week), and more about God’s call in my life to operate in the communal fashion exampled to me in Fiji. It wasn’t the burden of convincing others that for much of my life I believed I was responsible for. This was Biblical living, driven by and focused on love. After all, Jesus didn’t say they’d know us by our converts, but by our love. These bonds were formed by waking up everyday, throwing seeds, and watching God grow some of them.
Shift three: Community.
There’s a saying in Fiji, that “no one has watches, but everyone has time.” Being present had been wildly unfamiliar to me in my culture. I tend to live either in the past or in the future. In Fiji, people are always right now. They sit with you, not to get it over with, but because of the connection it brings. They talk with you, not to exchange obligatory pleasantries, but because they truly care. If they love you they want to show it, and they are quick to love. Their community is communal. Not a mass of individuals desperately building their kingdoms, but a collective of people who recognize the importance of others.
The dissonance in my own life surrounding this is still being revealed to me all these years after having such an experience. In the gospel of Luke prior to the cross, Jesus is constantly present, even with the knowledge of a future crucifixion. Jesus lives as though there is nothing more important than the children in front of Him, or the blind man that needs healing, a crowd that needs feeding, or disciples who are learning to trust. Many Fijians have this figured out, and it’s inspiring to witness. This is an opportunity to step into the work God is doing in Fiji, and then step out into the unique calling He has for you. Corey Schwarz
Ray, Laura, and the entire Island Encounters team breathe life, encouragement, and purpose into the lives of those around them. Island Encounters is for anyone who is thinking about overseas missions, but also anyone who wants to be challenged to grow in love for others.
Anyone who wants to rely more on Jesus by putting themselves in situations they may be unfamiliar with. Anyone who wants to cultivate community and witness the change God can bring to the lives around them. Anyone who may be curious about Jesus and the freedom He promises. Anyone who is interested in finding a deeper purpose.
Island Encounters is all about relationships. It’s about encountering God, others and yourself. Island Encounters exists to demonstrate the love of Christ by meeting practical and spiritual needs across cultures in the context of relationship.
Do you want to spend some time with us in Fiji? Learn more about our semester program running in Fall 2022 here.
Through our study-abroad programs, short-term teams, internships and more, we want to guide you into greater life encounters. Encounter God in new ways through a guided study of the Bible as well as what missions is and how to most effectively shine Christ’s light in a way that transcends culture. Learn more about Island Encounters here.
On MissionFinder, we have over 1,000 ministries offering mission trips, internships and job opportunities like this to serve at home and around the world. Does your church or organization need help organizing mission trips? Check out our partner site, MissionMinder.com. Their easy to use software will help you manage all the details for your short-term mission trips and team members online. Unlimited Trips. Unlimited team members. Easy online fundraising for your team members. Try it free for 30 days. Learn more here.