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 focused on our mission field like no other time! This annual attention gives us college ministers the chance to take them on a unique “vision trip,” observing this particular people-group and picturing what mission work among them can accomplish.
Whether you’re a basketball fan or not, I hope you enjoy the 2012 edition of this essay. And please pass it on – for the sake of our “campus tribes.”
Do you know what a “Vision Trip” is? It’s a Missions term, describing travel to a certain location to imagine what God might want to do there. A group of pastors might take a Vision Trip to Cambodia to consider sending church groups on short-term trips; a couple might spend a week in Kenya to determine if God is calling them to spend the rest of their lives there.
So imagine, if you will, taking a Vision Trip to a very unique land. You’ve heard reports that the mission need here is critical, that these people are still largely unreached… but you’re not sure if you or your church can prioritize missions here right now. So you take a Vision Trip to observe, pray, and consider what God might have in mind.
The month you visit this country happens to be the same month sixty-eight different tribes 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’ll observe the Túrnee, too. It will help you discover the special culture and qualities of this people-group.
As the games begin, each tribe promotes its own identity fervently – each with a unique name. Many tribes have named themselves after animals known for their ferocity or speed – “Bruins” and “Jackrabbits,” “Wolfpack” and “Greyhounds” – while others have gone less menacing routes (like “Bluejays,” “Orange,” and “Bonnies”). Some of the tribes have chosen to honor heroic ancestors – Aztecs, Musketeers, Commodores, Spartans – or simply hardworking locals (such as “Boilermakers,” “49ers,” and “Shockers”). Another tribe has taken the name of a nut believed to bring good luck (“Buckeyes”), while one rallies behind the completely mythological, elf-like “Billiken”!
The Túrnee inspires much festivity, of course: 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 often be found cheering next to some of the youngest from their villages! Healers stand by in special uniforms, 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 tribal identities, 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 they weep 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 to put opposing armies to flight.
Of course, these are just games. But with missionary eyes even this “secular” event reveals truth. You recognize the clear potential in this passionate people:
- The enthusiasm in these tribes has yet to be tamed. There is a grit here, a rowdiness, a messiness, a wild youthfulness in the warriors, the dancers, the musicians, and the crowds.
- The tribal bonds are not frivolous connections. The natural community and surprising comradeship 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 impact the entire nation… and even the world.
- These people are not short on energy. If God touches even a handful, 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 might ask 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!). Surely patience, energy, and resources will be required to build a strong and lasting work.
But your Vision Trip has reminded you: This mission field is a unique adventure and a blessing indeed. And if these particular people are reached well, they in turn could change the whole world.
All the “madness,” the virtue, the passion, and the valor found in March’s Tourney reflect 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 five years. God is doing some amazing things throughout the campus tribes, but there is much more to be done. For more on what’s taking place and how we can impact better, see my free ebook, Reaching the Campus Tribes.