Each year in March, one big basketball tournament becomes a highly publicized window into the magnificent mission field of college campuses. As Americans fill out their March Madness brackets and root for underdogs and watch the games, they’re paying more attention to the colleges of our nation than they usually do. This annual attention can also provide a chance to take a unique “vision trip,” observing this particular people-group and picturing what mission work among them can accomplish.
Enjoy the 2011 edition of this essay, and pass it on to anybody who might enjoy this trip!
Imagine you’re considering helping missionaries reach a new country, and you take a Vision Trip to see for yourself the potential and the people in this locale.
The month you visit just happens to be the same month nearly seventy different tribes from across the nation meet in their great annual contest (known to the natives as “the Túrnee”). Warriors from across the land meet to compete, and thousands of other countrymen will watch these games.
So of course, you choose to observe the event, too. It’s an excellent chance to start exploring the culture and qualities of this largely unreached people-group, and it will help you decide if this mission is worth supporting.
As the games begin, you first notice that each tribe promotes its own identity fervently – and the unique tribal names make it clear this is no normal mission field! Many tribes are named after animals known for their ferocity – “Gators” and “Tigers,” “Golden Grizzlies” and “Nittany Lions” – while others have chosen somewhat less menacing nicknames (like “Terriers” and “Spiders”). Some of the tribes have chosen to honor heroic ancestors – calling themselves Aztecs, Musketeers, Spartans, Commodores. Another has simply taken the name of a locally grown nut believed to bring good luck, while one tribe uses the name of footwear once appreciated in the region!
At these great annual contests, dancers are prevalent – as are costumes, musical instruments, food, drink, wagers, merchants, and religious invocations. The chiefs of the tribes are here, and they can be found cheering next to some of the youngest from their villages. Healers stand by, though actual bloodshed is minimal. Impartial judges are assigned to regulate the games (but will face much taunting throughout the Túrnee). The entire event is noisy, to be sure – but occasionally, above the din, rise various tribal chants: sometimes jubilant; often rhythmic, even solemn.
As you watch the competitions, you begin to notice traits beyond the festivity, pageantry, and revelry. You are unable to deny the deep passion here, among warriors and watchers alike. Some fighters win, and the crowd’s elation is profound. Some lose, and the contestants and their tribes weep together – with an unbridled bitterness that would be shocking if not for the fervent zeal you have seen displayed all month. You view transcendent, singular “shining moments” when Davids take down Goliaths, when boys become men for a few crucial minutes, when weakness is turned to strength so opposing armies might be put to flight.
Of course, these are just games. But with missionary eyes even this simple event begins to reveal truth. You notice the clear opportunity available if you’ll help reach these passionate people for Christ right now:
- The enthusiasm in these tribes has yet to be tamed. There is a grit here, a rowdiness, a messiness, a wild youthfulness in everyone: the warriors, the dancers, the musicians, and the crowds.
- The bonds brought about by tribal identities are not frivolous. The natural connections and surprising community within these tribes will help God’s work to spread between their members.
- Creativity abounds here. Channeled for the Kingdom of God, this same ingenuity could serve to impact the entire nation and the world.
- This people-group is not short on energy, either. If God allows you to touch even a segment of these vibrant people, their impact on others could be quick and profound.
So as this year’s contests come to a close, you find yourself awed that God would allow you to be involved in reaching this unique group. Of course, this will not be an easy mission (as though any missionary activity is ever easy!); these are distracted people, and the natural blessings they possess make it harder for them to realize their need. Surely other difficulties will arise, and patience and resources will be required to build a strong and lasting work.
But your Vision Trip reminds you: This mission field is a unique adventure and a blessing indeed. And if these people are reached, they in turn might just change the whole world.
All the “madness,” the virtue, the passion, and the valor found here reflect the tribes from which these crowds have come. This is the beautiful mission field we reach through college ministry – and there are far more than sixty-eight tribes to reach.
I’ve had the amazing opportunity to visit 46 of the schools in this year’s Tournament, along with a few hundred more campuses in the last few years. And God is doing some amazing things throughout the campus tribes! For more on what’s taking place and how we can impact better, see my free ebook, Reaching the Campus Tribes.