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Helping College Students Reframe Missions

Dordt’s dean of chapel encourages students to consider how they can help—by not going.

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In his role as chief of staff and dean of chapel at Dordt University in Iowa, Aaron Baart is helping college students rethink what it means to support missions or even become a missionary.

Baart recognizes that students are at a critical juncture in their lives in choosing a career or vocation. Educating them and broadening their views about the best model for missions can have a lifelong impact.

The model Baart believes is most effective and efficient is for Western Christians to support and assist the work of indigenous missionaries in reaching their own people with the Gospel.

As the description in I Corinthians 12 indicates, the Body of Christ is made up of many parts, each of which has a purpose and is necessary to fulfill the Church’s mission in the world, Baart said.

He encourages students to ask questions about what they can contribute and what their global brothers and sisters can contribute.

Dordt no longer takes short term mission trips with service projects like painting a school or putting on a roof.

“We never do anything for anyone that they could do for themselves,” Baart told MinistryWatch, echoing the principles found in “When Helping Hurts” by Brian Finkert, a book Dordt students are assigned to read.

Instead of service project trips, Baart said the students go on “vision trips” that he hopes will have a lifelong impact. These trips are centered around a field of study. Students consider ways they can bless and encourage indigenous missionaries and connect with the global Christian community and continue to serve once they return home.

Students ask what the indigenous missionaries need and how the skills and expertise the students are gaining could serve to meet those needs.

This model of missions impacted Austin Lindemulder, changing the course of his life and career. Lindemulder, an engineering major, never intended to spend his life in missions.

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But his senior year, Lindemulder was involved in an effort at Dordt to help Liberian Christians reach rich agricultural soil that was available but unused. Along with other students, Lindemulder engineered a bridge as a solution to the access issue. Seeing the value his engineering skills could bring changed his view of how he could serve in missions.

Now he and his wife are serving in a closed country in Southeast Asia, working on business development plans for locals, and are committed to helping advance a translation of the Bible into the native tongue. They will be on the ground there for 20 years or until a sustainable church is planted and transferred to local leaders.

“They are there for a defined time period and with an exit strategy,” Baart explained.

All types of career fields, such as business, medicine, finance, or engineering, can play an important role in missions within another culture.

Maybe a medical student can be the one to help develop a residency program to train doctors where none currently exists, Baart offered.

Most students are excited to learn about this new paradigm in missions. But some are reluctant when they realize it may upset their lifelong plans to go abroad as a missionary.

Rethinking one’s view of missions and the years of investment in the traditional model can be challenging and hard to embrace, Baart admitted.

Baart himself said he always assumed he would become a missionary. So when he met and became friends with Emmanual Bimba, a Christian pastor in Liberia who was aiding orphans after the end of the country’s civil war, Baart began considering how he could go and be a missionary there.

When he realized the costs associated with taking his family to one of the poorest countries in the world and serving there would be over $100,000 per year, Baart said he was convicted to “do missions by not going.”

He committed to the Lord that he would support and assist Pastor Bimba until 100 churches were planted among unreached people. One Body One Hope is a nonprofit organization that finds ways to “encourage, support, and sustain the work of sharing the Good News of the gospel in every corner of Liberia—and beyond.”

Since its inception, the charity has grown from a child sponsorship group for 35 children to include community development projects, microfinance, schools, and a network of churches.

Aside from seeing the effectiveness and efficiency of working with indigenous leaders to reach their own people with the Gospel, Baart recognizes that investing in indigenous missions like the one in Liberia may “ensure the future of my grandchildren’s faith.”

Baart said the rate of Christianity among immigrants is much higher than the general population. Also, immigrants often become Christians within five years of arriving in the country. Some of the largest congregations within denominations are filled with immigrants.

With those statistics in mind, it is very likely that 30 years from now immigrants may be leading the Christian churches that Baart’s grandchildren attend. And maybe they will be immigrants from Liberia who heard the Gospel through the ministry of One Body One Hope and Pastor Bimba.

Main photo: Photo by Ben White / Unsplash

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Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts is a freelance writer who holds a Juris Doctorate from Baylor University. She has home schooled her three children and is happily married to her husband of 25 years.