By David Temples
“Why are we sending a mission team back to Dalton, GA?” The question was not intended as a criticism. In fact, I was expecting to be asked it at some point. It was the spring of 2014, and we were preparing to return for our fourth summer mission trip to Dalton. We had told our church that we would send a team there to learn how to do missions better in a local context, and then see what would be transferable to our church and location. But the more we went, the more we experienced the value of building a long-term relationship with ministries in a different location that reach people we don’t ordinarily reach.
The two ministries we work with in Dalton are Rebuilding Hope Ministries and Grace Presbyterian Church (PCA). During the day our team assists Rebuilding Hope in meeting people’s needs through construction-related projects. These are always well-organized and tailored to the skills of our team. In the evenings, we assist Grace PCA with their outreach to the local Hispanic Community by hosting backyard Bible clubs.
So, why do we keep going back? We go back because this trip is accessible, affordable, practical, cross-cultural, and transferable. Here’s what I mean. Dalton, GA, is about a five-hour drive from where we live in Dothan, AL (no passport required). That makes it very accessible, which allows some of our folks who cannot take a full week off work to go for part of the week and then return home early for work. This also helps the trip be more affordable than many others. The cost of $150 covers three meals a day and a bed in a nice bunkhouse located on the church’s property. The only other money someone might need is for meals traveling to and from Dalton.
The experience we’ve gained assisting Rebuilding Hope Ministries has been very practical for us. Jim Boyd, who has developed this ministry, focuses on “meeting the physical needs of hurting people in order to gain the opportunity to share the gospel.” He does a great job keeping these two ideas connected (serving and sharing). He does this by encouraging our volunteers to take time to get to know those we help. Jim is also very thoughtful about who and how he helps, and is a great resource for anyone who desires to develop or improve their mercy ministry.
Our experience assisting Grace PCA has also been practical. Over the years we have developed good, flexible approaches to backyard Bible clubs. Pablo Ayllon, Grace’s Associate Pastor for Spanish-speaking Ministries, has also helped us gain important insights into the Hispanic community. And the combination of a high percentage of Hispanics in the Dalton area (over 40%), Grace’s bi-lingual worship service, and our outreach to the Hispanic community provides us with a tangible cross-cultural experience.
As a smaller church, we are not able to duplicate the ministries we serve with in Dalton. But we have found much of the experience we’ve gained in outreach and construction to be transferable to our church and location. We have gained the confidence to hold backyard Bible clubs in Dothan, built wheelchair ramps, and assisted with a major renovation of a home that will be used as a transition home for girls aging out of foster care.
We are planning on returning to Dalton for our 10th time in 2020. Each year the team dynamics, job sites, and backyard Bible club attendees are different—so even though we go to the same location, no two years are the same. What will be the same, though, will be the relationships. We will see many people we know and enjoy serving with. We will continue to learn and be challenged. And we will continue to find ways to have this trip enhance our ability to serve others in the Dothan, AL, area. I’m looking forward to seeing how God will use this next trip for his glory—in both Dalton and Dothan!