WEEK OF PRAYER: Missions -- 'whatever it takes'
EDITOR'S NOTE: The annual Week of Prayer for North American Missions, March 1-8, and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering provide support for missionaries who serve on behalf of Southern Baptists across North America. With a goal of $60 million, this year's offering theme is "Send North America." For more information, visit AnnieArmstrong.com.
CHICAGO (BP) -- Gabriel Revilla recalls a "Nike moment" when his college pastor in Miami approached him with a question.
"What do you think about recruiting an actual team of students and allowing them to come to Miami to reach lostness here?" Gus Hernandez, collegiate pastor at Christ Fellowship Church, asked Revilla.
The question was neither small nor random. Hernandez knew Revilla's heart and potential for leadership in ministry.
Revilla accepted the challenge and decided to "Just do it."
Hernandez connected Revilla with a North American Mission Board Generation Send (GenSend) mobilizer who challenged Revilla to leave his comfort zone in Miami to learn how to be a missionary in another major city.
Going somewhere new through NAMB's GenSend initiative was attractive to Revilla. "I was so curious about what God is doing in cities other than Miami," Revilla said of the six-week opportunity in the summer of 2014.
Through Christ Fellowship Church, Revilla had gained early exposure to missions in Miami. The church regularly hosted a mission camp in which all seven of its campuses met to serve the city of Miami for an entire week at the downtown campus.
"If you can't make disciples where you currently live," Revilla said, "I think it will be extremely difficult to make disciples in a setting in which you are unfamiliar with language and culture. So the mission starts where you are right now.
"Missions is important," he said, "because when our heart is in God, then our heart is in the nations because God is in the nations."
International mission trips to Haiti and the Dominican Republic also had enlarged his understanding of what God was doing beyond Miami.
"I'm a city dude, grew up in Miami my whole life," Revilla said. Venturing outside the U.S. "to see what Jesus is doing in these two countries was incredible."
But, he realized, "Here I am traveling the world, and I don't even know what's going on in my own country outside Miami."
Revilla attended a Next Generation Leader's Conference in Nashville in early June 2014 that helped prepare him for a subsequent assignment in Chicago and in Miami in 2015.
"I started to realize that there is so much more to the Gospel," Revilla said.
Loving the Windy City
"You can only read so much until you actually do something," Revilla said. "I came into [Chicago's] O'Hare Airport thinking I could do this," but "it was interesting to see how God humbled me to show me that this trip meant loving on people and intentionally caring for people -- because they are people not just an objective. So it was great to see God readjust my mindset."
Revilla's team lived in Edgewater, the northernmost part of Chicago that includes Loyola University, for much of the six-week immersion -- home to students and scores of established and affluent people.
Bordering Lake Michigan, Edgewater gets the full effect of wind coming off the water. The community also represents the full effect of America's diversity. Devon Street, which claims to be the most diverse in the country, is lined with shops all the way to Wrigleyville where the Chicago Cubs play at the venerated Wrigley Field.
Like other GenSend missionaries, Revilla's assignment has been to walk the streets and engage people. NAMB designs GenSend as part of its Send North America strategy to help a generation of Southern Baptist college students develop a heart for America's major metropolitan areas where most of the nation lives. Chicago and Miami are two of 32 Send North America cities.
"You learn to live in the city, and you let the city change you," Revilla said. "You figure out the rhythm of the city, the flow and the tides."
One place where Devon Street and Cuban coffee flow is a restaurant called La Unica (translated: the one and only). Revilla is Cuban, and over the summer he built relationships with La Unica's employees and was able to share his faith in Christ.
On the street, Revilla found that being a Captain America fan opened doors when he wore Captain America T-shirts. Around Wrigleyville, he wore his Miami Marlins baseball hat, which led to conversations with Cubs fans. He's also good at skateboarding. So he bought one in Chicago and met people as he skated.
While he had some success in meeting people, "I get discouraged when I see the brokenness and people don't want to talk. They don't know who Jesus is, and they still don't want to talk," Revilla said. "The urgency is extremely overwhelming."
Revilla said Chicago seems to reflect the same challenge as Miami, where an estimated 96 percent of Miamians don't have a personal relationship with Christ.
"People are lost here," he said of the Windy City. "People don't know who Jesus is."
Having now experienced missions in two urban areas, Revilla has developed convictions about missions in America's largest cities.
"If you change cities, you can change the world," he said. "I'm a firm believer in that. The cities impact everything else."
Revilla will mobilize a GenSend team this summer to encounter Miami and learn how to minister there.
"The reason to do it is not because it's just another mission trip," said Revilla, who aspires to be a collegiate minister. "It's the kind of mission experience that allows you to see where your own heart is, to realize how important people are."
Watch Gabriel Revilla and other GenSend missionaries talk about the program and their passion for the cities: