In Oklahoma, a state that falls in the "Bible Belt," it's said you can find a church on every street corner. If you venture outside the boundaries of the "belt," churches can be harder to find. This summer, two OBU students traveled to Portland, Oregon, and discovered church can take place in various structures and places.
May 27-July 31, Clay Mattox and Blair Rogers journeyed over 2,000 miles to Portland, Oregon, to share the gospel. For two months, the students lived in Portland, forming relationships with the intention of sharing their faith. Although they easily made new friends, they discovered many of them didn't want to hear about Jesus.
Each year, dozens of students, faculty and staff take Global Outreach (GO) Trips which affirm OBU's mission to transform lives by equipping students to pursue academic excellence, integrate faith with all areas of knowledge, engage a diverse world and live worthy of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ. OBU's Avery T. Willis Center for Global Outreach mobilizes, trains and oversees GO Trips.
"Many of the residents know about the Bible and the basics of Christianity, and have already decided it's not for them," Mattox said. "I've had to find a way to contextualize what the Gospel says to their way of life and stage of life."
The passage in scripture known as the "Great Commission" is a commandment from the resurrected Jesus to the early disciples and holds special meaning to all believers. In Matthew 28:19, Jesus instructs his followers to go throughout the world and make disciples of all nations by preaching the gospel story. Mattox, a sophomore pre-counseling and Bible double major from Yukon, Oklahoma, learned how to integrate the Great Commission into his daily life while in Portland.
"Living on mission with the goal of making disciples is by no means for those currently on mission only," Mattox said. "The idea of living missionally and making disciples is best practiced in your hometown with friends and neighbors. That's where God has placed each one of us and that's where He will use us."
Those familiar with trips like this know there is usually an itinerary filled with service projects and activities designed to minister to the people group you are trying to reach. The extended trip to Portland differed from others, because Mattox and Rogers spent their unscheduled days participating in daily activities with locals, while intentionally looking for opportunities to share the Gospel.
To meet new people, they joined community activities and chatted with strangers, all the while living out their faith openly.
"I found that if I do my devotional reading at coffee shops or doughnut stores I can meet people more easily," Mattox said in his blog. "Usually the Bible or other books that I am reading spark people's curiosity and opens the door to good conversation and new relationships."
One afternoon, Mattox befriended a young man who asked several questions about Christianity."His questions were curious and made us really consider what we believe," Mattox said. "The challenge of answering his questions was a great growing experience for us and hopefully for him as well."
During their conversation the young man asked if they could still be friends even if he didn't believe in Jesus. Mattox was reminded that building relationships is a vital part of sharing your faith in Christ. "If we share without building a relationship and trust how do we expect someone to believe what we have said? This experience taught me that before we press at someone's spiritual need, we should meet them where they are at," Mattox said.
Compared to Oklahoma, Portland has a small number of churches. At first, the visible lack of church buildings was odd to Mattox, but it challenged him to rethink the purpose of believers meeting together.
In his blog, Mattox explained that his church family in Portland was a group of believers that met weekly in homes. Each Thursday they ate together, read Scriptures and shared what God was doing in their lives. Their time together ended with encouragement before reengaging the city again.
During his time in Portland, Mattox learned what it means and how it looks to be a missionary for Christ. "It is common for one to think they are not being a missionary if they are not learning a new language, or traveling halfway across the world," he said.
"What I like about this trip -and what is unique to being an urban missionary -is that what I am doing here on a daily basis is very practical to do once I return to Oklahoma. I am not just learning how to go on a mission trip; I am learning how to live a life on mission," Mattox said.
Although he did see salvations, much of his time was spent panting seeds of hope. When given opportunities, he shared the Gospel with his new friends, praying they would soon come to know the saving grace of God.
"I know many of the stories of going on a mission trip are focused around awesome stories of salvation and new believers," Mattox said while looking back on his time in Portland. "Even though I have not seen but a few examples of the harvest, I know future workers here in Portland will reap what has been sewn in the name of Christ."
When asked about the importance of mission trips, Mattox was adamant that students can be missionaries wherever they are; whether that is 5,000 miles from home or five minutes.
"I think it is important for all who are followers of Christ to learn how to live missionally through their daily lives," Mattox said. "For me personally, I learned how to do that on this trip. If we approach the Great Commission as something that is a part of our daily lives rather than something to add to our lives, we can further the love of Christ to all people."