a shining moment reflects our shining opportunity

For one day every year, I’m a huge Luther Vandross fan.

They don’t make videos like this for a national audience about any other ministry area, do they? I started tearing up before they even got to the actual game clips – the creativity, the goofiness, the fun, the excitement of bands and players and cheerleaders gets me every time.

Who are we, that we get to serve in this awesome mission field?

If you can’t remember why I get so excited about this Tournament, here’s 2014’s “Vision Trip,” one last time…

4 tribes

Sixty-Eight: A Missionary’s Vision Trip

Suppose you felt the tug of a missionary calling. You might recognize a desire to help send others to reach unreached tribes; maybe you would consider engaging a mission field yourself. In either case, you might very well decide to take a Vision Trip to your potential mission field – an opportunity to “survey the land” to discover the opportunity and the need.

So imagine, if you will, taking such a trip to a nation filled with numerous individual tribes. You’ve heard reports that the need within each of these groups is critical, that these people are still largely unreached for the gospel, and that darkness abounds within these tribes. But you’ve also heard that these tribes are highly influential, and that their people are… interesting, to say the least. So you take a Vision Trip to observe, pray, and consider what God might have in mind, and which tribe He might call you to impact.

Your timing is fortunate: The month you visit, nearly seventy of these tribes are meeting in their great annual contest (known to the natives as “the Tournament”). Warriors from each tribe meet to compete in games of skill and endurance, and thousands from their villages surround the contests to watch.

So of course, you’ll watch this “Tournament,” too – perhaps it will provide a window into the tribes themselves.

A First Look

You first notice that each tribe rallies around its individual identity. For instance, many tribes have named themselves after animals known for their ferocity or agility – Gators and Wildcats, Tigers and Wolverines. Others have chosen less menacing avian monikers – Blue Hens, Bluejays, Cardinals, Ducks – but these tribes are no less proud. Some tribes honor ancient warriors – Spartans, Aztecs, Musketeers, Minutemen – or simply evoke nature’s terrors (like Cyclones or Golden Hurricanes). One tribe has taken the name of a nut believed to bring good luck (Buckeyes), another rallies behind the mythological Billiken, and some simply honor their regions’ industries, through names like Cornhuskers and Lumberjacks.

Of course, competition and tribal pride inspire plenty of festivity. Dancers are prevalent here – as are costumes, musicians, food, drink, wagers, and even prayers. The chiefs of the tribes are present and may cheer alongside 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 quite noisy – but often, above the din, tribal chants rise: sometimes jubilant or jeering; often rhythmic, even solemn.

The Cardinal of Stanford uses whirling, dancing trees to represent their tribe on campus and in the Tournament.
The Cardinal of Stanford uses whirling, dancing trees to represent the tribe on campus and in the Tournament.

Looking Deeper

But you’ve come here to observe, not simply watch. And as the competitions begin, you look beyond tribal identities, pageantry, and revelry.

You are unable to deny the deep passion here, among warriors and watchers alike. Some competitors win, and the crowd’s elation is profound. Others, upon losing, may weep with an unbridled bitterness that would be shocking if you hadn’t seen fervent zeal displayed all along. 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. And suddenly, you want to serve among these people.

Of course, these are just games. But with missionary eyes even this fleeting contest reveals 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 wild youthfulness. Wisdom must be added to this messy zeal, of course – but with such energy, much could be accomplished for God’s Kingdom.

You also realize the bond within each tribe, the “spirit” shared by its members, is not frivolous. The natural community and surprising comradeship within these tribes could help God’s work spread among their members.

Further, creativity and intelligence abound here. Clearly these are future leaders. If God touches even a handful of these enthusiastic, connected, brilliant people, the impact within their own tribes – and beyond – could be quick and profound.

The “Research Triangle” is home to several tribes – including the Blue Devils of Duke (above), Tarheels of UNC, and Wolfpack of NC State. Every tribe is different, and each one requires a different missionary approach.

As you continue observing the Tournament, you begin to be awed that God might ask you to be involved in reaching such unique people. Of course, this will not be an easy ministry (as though any missionary activity was ever easy!). Surely patience, energy, and resources are vital for building strong and lasting work. But your Vision Trip has reminded you: This mission field offers a powerful adventure and blessings untold. And if these particular people are reached well, they in turn could change the whole world.

All the “madness,” the excitement, the passion, and the valor found in March’s Tournament 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 48 of the schools in this year’s Tournament, along with a few hundred more campuses in the last seven years. (As is my custom, I’ll be wearing the “garb of the campus tribes” – T-shirts from those 48 schools – over the next 22 days of the Tournament.)

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, download my free book, Reaching the Campus Tribes. And in case you’re wondering, the tribes pictured at the top are the Stanford Cardinal, Oregon Ducks, Kentucky Wildcats, and St. Louis Billikens.

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