By Shawn Hendricks
Contributing Writer, Baptist and Reflector
HENDERSONVILLE — For members of First Baptist Church of Hendersonville, the news that their church led 30 people on a mission trip last week to New York City in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis could have seemed a little shocking.
“That’s right. They traveled right into the hotbed of the COVID-19 virus,” Bruce Raley, executive pastor of the Nashville area church, announced April 23 in his afternoon e-mail. But he quickly clarified by noting, “they did so through our first Virtual Mission Trip.”
The church, whose lead pastor is Tennessee Baptist Convention President Bruce Chesser, had already planned its second virtual trip to Guatemala May 4. As many businesses, and some churches, in the state have begun reopening their doors and navigating what some are calling a “new normal,” virtual trips could become more common in the coming months. Media reports suggest “social distancing” may continue for months.
“We see this as an integral part of our missions going forward,” said the church’s missions minister Mike McClanahan, who participated in the New York trip.
The mission team included college students, a man with cerebral palsy, several senior adults and others who had never been on a mission trip before. Eight members of the team, he noted, were over the age of 60.
The idea for the April 20 trip, McClanahan said, was sparked by a Zoom call with Chris Mills, a church planter in New York City that First Baptist and the North American Mission Board help support. Mills and his wife Sarah, who also have jobs with faith-based nonprofits in the city, focus their ministry on Hell’s Kitchen, a neighborhood where they began planting One Community Church about a year ago.
McClanahan and Chris brainstormed on the call about ways they could engage his neighbors through technology while most people in the city continue to remain in quarantine.
“From that little conversation,” McClanahan noted, “we just outlined some things, some elements of what we thought would be interesting and interactive for folks to be involved with … (and) developed an amazing experience for our folks.”
Wearing gloves and holding a selfie-stick with his mobile phone camera, Chris — who recently recovered from the coronavirus — led the team on a 45-minute virtual prayerwalk through the city. He stopped at about 10 different spots to share how the couple is ministering there and building relationships.
While the team watched the pre-recorded footage through the Zoom call, their virtual journey had a “live feel to it,” Sarah said. In the video, Chris walked the couple’s neighborhood, that at times appeared more like a “ghost town” due to the ongoing shutdown. In the video, Chris could be seen passing building after building that was closed for business.
“The way Chris was holding the camera it felt like you were walking,” said Sarah, who works with Fellowship for Performing Arts, which produces theatre with a Christian perspective.
“There are people walking by and riding their bikes, and you’re crossing the street. It was very immersive.”
Chris, who works with the Christian youth ministry Young Life, described the virtual experience as a great “entry point” to missions. It’s just one step, he said, in the “crawl, walk, and run” process.
“The ultimate goal is for someone to see themselves as a missionary,” he said.
“We’re all called to live missional lives,” he added.
And adopting a missional lifestyle, Chris explained, is about more than just going on mission trips.
“I think sometimes we get confused and think when I go on mission trips that’s when I do mission work,” Chris said. “God hasn’t called us to do mission trips. God has called us to His mission, and that’s more than just a week trip. That’s a life orientation.”
Sarah described the virtual mission trip as another unique way to “open up those doors” for people who normally might be hesitant or physically unable to go on a mission trip.
“How many get to say that their first mission trip was a virtual trip to New York?” she noted.
“Seeing our community being shared with the community of First Baptist Hendersonville was such a sweet moment for me,” she said. “Especially in a time like this where people are hungry for community, hungry for engagement.”
For more information about the Mills and their ministry work, go to https://fbchville.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/themills.pdf. Or, e-mail the Mills at firstname.lastname@example.org.