Serving the nations
by McCrea Nirider, Class of 2016
One overcast early October day, I stepped off a mini bus in Burgas, Bulgaria, yanked my 65 liter pack off the bus followed by my day pack, and walked with my six teammates into a hostel boasting an abundance of character. This was the start of the third of my eleven months overseas, during which I would travel to eleven countries.
In each country, the organization I traveled with, the World Race, connected us with different organizations to serve alongside. These were organizations or churches already on the ground doing kingdom-bringing, justice-seeking work. Our job was to contribute and to refresh those serving there long term. This journey would take me to eastern Europe, southern Africa, and southeast Asia. It would introduce me to countless individuals from backgrounds as diverse as the vast distance I traveled and would radically expand my understanding of the world around me.
A couple thousand years before I set out on my journey, Jesus sent his first disciples into the world to proclaim the good news of his kingdom, to love people really well, and to bind up the brokenness they encountered. “Take nothing for the journey,” he told them. “No staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt.”
Frankly, I find that irresponsible, so, even after a genuine attempt at minimalism, I looked a lot different than the original twelve did when they set off. I took no staff, but I did take a bag—my aforementioned 65 liter pack—and I hardly walked into a travel day without snacks that would last at least twice the planned travel time. I opened a Charles Schwab bank account with enough money for at least a few awesome adventures on days off and the occasional meal or cup of coffee outside my allotted three to five dollars a day for food.
I later found out that I valued my library of good books and the ability to make toast and really good coffee over extra shirts, but I started out with plenty of those, too. On top of all of that, there were probiotics and antibiotics and one fancy bar of soap, a tent, a sleeping bag, a pad, a pillow, and pictures of everyone I loved back home. These items, still, are relatively minimal in comparison to the expectations that had snuck into my heart. They were expectations of service that asked nothing and imposed nothing. I knew the months would shape me and change me forever, but I was there to give, not to take.
But this month there was no host to greet us, no meal prepared for our arrival, only a shabby hostel that was home to the occasional backpacker passing through and couple of refugees hiding from the authorities. It was my team’s job to find the hosts this month, to make the connections so that future teams like mine could partner with and serve alongside the people already bringing the kingdom in Burgas.
The month started slowly—a lot of time spent networking in a perfect little coffee shop with my favorite angsty barista who always wanted to know why on earth we’d come to Burgas—but picked up as the month wore on and one connection led to another. By the end of the month, my team was splitting up into two or three groups almost every day to meet with potential contacts or join new friends in various ministry opportunities.
There was the pastor to many other pastors who was so concerned about our sandaled feet in mid-October that he offered to get us socks, the young couple leading a Young Life-style ministry for Russian-speaking Bulgarian youth (a weekly event that my favorite angsty barista frequented), the German missionaries who invited us into their home and spent most of their days pouring love into foster children who had aged out of the system, and all the people I never met but my teammates did.
On our final Sunday in Bulgaria, my teammates Emily and Grace and I were set to travel a few hours outside of the city to two potential contacts: a Turkish Roma church and the Youth With a Mission leaders. Our travel would include a 4 a.m. taxi ride and a train ride that we hoped would arrive on time at the station, where we hoped to find a taxi to take us to the church. If not, we would walk the rest of the way. After church and meetings, we would do the same in reverse, optimistically arriving back in Burgas by 10 p.m.
Over dinner with a new friend named Christina, a 20-something accountant we met through church, we shared our plans. She listened, expressed large amounts of concern, assured us of the train’s unreliability, and then offered to drive us herself.
Later, as we discussed our options, I expressed my hesitations. Perhaps she had felt some level of obligation. We had a budget, and I had itinerary-planning skills for times like this. My teammates countered that this would be a great opportunity to get to know a local more. Plus, what if something did go wrong with the train and we missed our meeting? The latter convinced me, and when we took the train at the very end of the month and arrived at our destination four hours late, I understood Christina’s concern.
Sunday came, and Christina picked us up at the undersized studio apartment we had left the hostel for, and a comfortable, uneventful car ride took us to Sliven. No longer surrounded by high-rise apartments, trendy coffee shops, floral gardens, bakeries, and grilled corn stands on every other corner, we instead found single-lane dirt roads, outdoor markets, street dogs, and unfinished homes. The church was unmarked, but the stream of people flowing into the one-room, one-level cement structure in front of us led us to our destination.
After we met the pastor and his family, the service began. Worship was a mix of Turkish and Bulgarian, sometimes changing in the middle of the song, and always loud and lively. After the service, we were prepared to meet with the pastor, share our purpose and find out how future World Racers might partner with the church.
As the service closed, however, the sanctuary was quickly transformed into a dining hall. Tables appeared, and dishes full of home-cooked Turkish food seemed to float in. The congregation had left, but the teens filed back in. Unbeknownst to us, the pastor had told them we’d be sharing with them. The three of us quickly decided what we’d share, and Christina volunteered to translate.
I couldn’t tell you what Grace, Emily, or I talked about. It was probably full of truth and challenging in an encouraging sort of way, but it doesn’t matter because when Christina asked to share, her words were the only ones that mattered.
She told her own story, how she had been caught up in the pressures of culture—finding a man for her security, marrying in her teenage years, being the type of woman society taught her she should be—until she met Jesus. That’s when she learned she was worth more than a man’s affirmations or a marriage and that life was for so much more than being a slave to culture’s expectations. We didn’t know she said those things until later when we got to ask her to tell us in English, but we knew it resonated because, as we sat with the pastor to eat, the teens hung around to talk with Christina.
After our meal and another successful meeting, we began the drive back to Burgas. The sky filled with oranges and pinks as Christina expressed her desire—no, the deep need—to return. She had often dreamed of and hoped for a chance to step outside of her comfort zone and serve but hadn’t known what that looked like or if she was capable. She was already dreaming up ways to build meaningful connections and had already talked with the pastor about potential opportunities for partnership between the young adults at her church and the teens at his.
My joy mixed with Christina’s, and then was softened by reality. I had almost excluded her from the trip because of my own pride and need to remain self-sufficient. Had I remained stubborn, the church and the YWAM base would still have become a future contact for the World Race, but Christina might not have discovered her potential for impact, and a relationship between churches would not have been formed. On that day in October in Bulgaria, the greatest gift I gave the kingdom was allowing someone to give me a ride.
It was then, at the end of month three, that Jesus’ words started to mean something more. Instead of seeing impractical simplicity, blind faith, and irresponsible unpreparedness, I saw deep humility. Jesus tells his disciples, past and present, to give away love lavishly, to use gifts and authority and preparedness to serve practically, and to find solutions to address the brokenness around us, and he asks us always to remember that sometimes there are more important things than tasks being accomplished and goals being reached. Those things usually look a lot like the people around us.
They look like Christina, overflowing with gifts and desire to give but needing an invitation and a word of encouragement. They look like Sophoan, a travel guide who helped us get unstuck at the Cambodia-Vietnam border after a visa mix up. A Christian in an almost entirely Buddhist nation, his faith was encouraged by the stories he heard of our journey on our drive back to the embassy. They look like a young Romanian who volunteered to translate to practice her English and met Jesus as she translated the Gospel and testimony of Racers.
They look like Willie, my host in Botswana who had lost one of his daughters to malaria months before. We were his first team since, and he loved us as his own, working round the clock to make our off-the-grid experience feel like home, only to tell us through tears on our last night that our being there gave him back something he had lost in his grief—his heart for serving the people of the village for Jesus.
Seeking justice, bringing the kingdom, and serving the nations looks like a lot of things. It looks like programs and practicality and planning and empowerment. It also looks like a humility that leaves space for others to join the journey, to find out or to remember that they, too, were created and transformed by divine love and made for a life of giving it away.
McCrea developed a passion for missions while attending NNU. She went on two NNU on a Mission trips to Haiti and was a part of creating the Ripple Effect, an educational and fundraising campaign to solve a water problem they had witnessed in Haiti. After graduation in 2016, she joined the World Race and served in eastern Europe, southern Africa, and southeast Asia.
Header photo caption: McCrea and her teammates make connections at a Turkish church in Sliven, Bulgaria.