By Rev. Tyler Heston

This year, we have become adept at finding new ways to be community. Through outdoor events with neighbors and friends to fresh forms of fun through video calls and online activities, we have been reminded about how important it is to keep up with the people we love in our lives and how much we are made up by our connections with each other. 

At Country Club Christian Church, we know that we are a part of God’s one human family, and that we belong to all of our neighbors, from those that we have seen each day around our homes to those who live in places on the other side of the globe. A few months ago, the Mission Trip Team here at Country Club sat down to think about how we can make creative connections with our international neighbors  in a year in which we cannot physically travel to see them.

Before COVID, we had planned to offer a trip to Nicaragua to spend time with our mission partner CEPAD, a nation-wide organization that works with rural communities for economic and community development. For years, our church has sent teams to spend time with CEPAD and to support and learn more about their work; and each trip brings people back home transformed by the relationships formed and the time spent together.

Since we could not travel to our mission partners this year, we decided to bring the mission trip home to our own backyard. On Sun., Oct. 18, the Missions Trip Team hosted a Backyard Missions Fair for a chance for anyone to come by and learn more about CEPAD, our Mission Trip ministry, and what it means to follow God’s call of mission.

We set up booths in the backyard, braced ourselves for a surprisingly-chilly Sunday afternoon, and greeted friends from the church who came to hear, learn, and support our partnership with CEPAD. We shared about trips past with slideshows of photos and demonstrations of projects we have done in Nicaragua. Much of CEPAD’s work is to train rural communities in agricultural development and sustainability; we showcased the construction of water filtration systems and the role different plants play in the agricultural cycle, including a fun pocket plant activity that let you take home a seed to germinate just by keeping in your pocket. Through these, we marveled at the importance of water and plant life and the ways in which communities work together to sustain themselves.

We also invited people to learn more about CEPAD’s history and the ethos of our Mission Trips ministry as a church. We mapped out the many places we’ve been across Nicaragua and the world and talked about it means to practice a “ministry of presence” as we travel to new places across the globe to see what God is doing. We also provided information about Global Ministries, the joint international organization supported by our denomination and the United Church of Christ, through whom we initially connected with CEPAD. Through Global Ministries, there are a multitude of opportunities to serve and learn with organizations planted in other parts of the world, from week-long trips with church groups like we take to extended opportunities for individuals and families. Global Ministries’ ethos— like our own— is to go and discover what God is already doing in places across the world; not to be the ones merely bringing something to others in need. 

Our Missions Fair also launched an ongoing prayer partnership with CEPAD. Each month, our prayer ministry will send our prayer concerns to a local community in Nicaragua through CEPAD who will likewise send us things they would like us to lift up in prayer. Through this ongoing prayer partnership, we will join with our spirits in the lives of people far away, separated by miles but united in God’s love. We finally raised money for CEPAD, who usually relies on income from mission groups like those we have sent in years past. If you’re interested in supporting CEPAD this year with a donation, you can do so directly on their website.

Our time behind booths and in conversation with each other reminded us that God does not only call us to one form of being church. As we gathered in the backyard, shivering with a cold quite unlike the weather we would have known had we traveled to Nicaragua in person, our hearts felt close to the friends known and unknown we have through our ongoing partnership with CEPAD, and it was in the air that we are a part of a human family much bigger than we often realize and very much loved by the God who creates and connects us together.