Each year in March, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament serves as a highly publicized window into our mission field. As Americans fill out their March Madness brackets, root for underdogs, and follow the games, they’re focused on the collegiate world like no other time! As college ministers, we can help people realize the power of ministry to this world.
Whether you’re a basketball fan or not, I hope you enjoy the 2013 edition of this “vision trip.” Feel free to pass it on – for the sake of our campus tribes!
Before engaging a people group for the cause of Christ, individuals or organizations often take a Vision Trip to survey the land: A group of pastors might take a Vision Trip to Cambodia to consider sending 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 such a trip. You’ve heard reports that the need here is critical, that these people are still largely unreached for the gospel… So you take a Vision Trip to observe, pray, and consider what God might have in mind.
Your timing is fortunate: The month you visit, sixty-eight different tribes are meeting 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 surround the contests to watch. So of course, you’ll watch these contests, too, noticing the potential for impacting these unique tribes.
You first notice that each tribe promotes its own identity fervently. For instance, many tribes have named themselves after animals known for their ferocity or agility – Grizzlies and Jackrabbits, Wolfpack and Wolverines. Others have gone less menacing routes: Bluejays… Ducks… Crimson… Golden Gophers. Some of the tribes have chosen to honor ancestors – Aztecs, Spartans, Sooners, Explorers – or simply evoke nature’s terrors (like Cyclones and Hurricanes). Another tribe has taken the name of a nut believed to bring good luck (Buckeyes), one rallies behind the mythological Billiken, and another’s name recalls footwear from its region’s past (Zips)!
These gatherings inspire much festivity, of course: Dancers are prevalent – as are costumes, musical instruments, food, drink, wagers, 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, though actual bloodshed is minimal. Impartial judges are assigned to regulate the games (but will face much taunting throughout). The entire event is noisy, to be sure – but often, above the din, rise tribal chants: sometimes jubilant or jeering; often rhythmic, even solemn.
As you watch the competitions, you begin to notice traits beyond the identities, pageantries, and revelries.
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…
First, 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.
You also realize 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.
Further, creativity abounds here. Channeled for the Kingdom of God, this same ingenuity could impact the entire nation… and even the world.
And finally, these people are not short on energy. If God touches even a handful, their impact within their own tribes – and beyond – could be quick and profound.
As the month’s contests come to a close, you find yourself awed that God might ask you to be involved in reaching such a unique place. Of course, this will not be an easy ministry (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 45 of the schools in this year’s Tournament, along with a few hundred more campuses in the last six 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.