Sophomore // UCLA
“S-M-I-L-E,” exclaimed Manang Chit, our missionary contact in the Philippines.
My Christian walk is not extraordinary. In fact, I would almost call it quite mundane and typical. I grew up in a Christian household, attended church every Sunday, went through some life struggles, and came to really believe in God in my later years of life. I love God and I can confidently say that I believe in his sovereignty. However, I always found myself struggling to find genuine joy in this belief. As I observed my youth pastors and peers during service, I rarely saw anyone smiling as we were praising God or learning about his Word. Rarely did I find myself smiling. Because of this, I was thrown aback when I first checked out my current church during my fall quarter of freshman year. The pastor was smiling as he gave his sermon. His smile never disappeared. I looked around me and the congregation was smiling. I listened to what he was saying about the Gospel and for the first time, I couldn’t help but smile. It was then that I felt the conviction to go out and spread this good news that makes people smile. The doors opened for me to go on missions to the Philippines and my STSM journey began from there.
It would be a perfect, ideal story if I were to say that I was able to successfully spread the Word and God’s love while smiling 24/7 as I embarked on this one-month mission trip. But of course, that didn’t happen. First off, the training process was rough, as I struggled to learn the dances and skits. When we began to actually perform in the Philippines and begin our ministry there, I still struggled to smile on stage, as I was filled with nervousness. During the first week, our team went out on our first community event, where we were able to go around and invite the locals to the Agape Presbyterian Church, which Manang Chit has been building for many years. The first place that my group visited housed a large family of Roman Catholics. We were able to talk to the eldest daughter and I remember how hard it was to smile through the awkwardness. After inviting her to the church, I sat there, wanting so much to talk to her about Christianity, but my mind became a blank slate. When we left the house, my smile instantly vanished, as I was overtaken by discouragement. I felt completely useless.
Little did I know that God was able to use even this awkwardness to spread his love. I was able to revisit this particular family two more times throughout the span of the month. Every time, it was awkward, but I kept smiling and was able to get to know her family a little more each time. No, I wasn’t able to engage in deep conversations about my religion with her. But I was able to see her smile as we talked about the little, random things in life. Fast forward to the end of the month. I was able to see her at the Agape Church for not only our Saturday VBS/performance, but also at the Sunday service. What’s even more amazing is that I learned that she will actually be attending Agape from now on every Sunday. I don’t know whether she truly believes in the Gospel and loves God as a Christian yet. However, what I do know is that God was able to work in her heart and convict her to take a big step of attending church every Sunday. It was not until the very end of the trip that I was able to feel genuine joy on stage as I danced and performed the skits. I was able to truly smile when I saw this particular family sitting among the audience. I was able to find joy in God’s greatness and power as I witnessed the smiles of the audience and focused eyes… as I was able to see their hearts moving. God really does not need us. He doesn’t need my awkwardness and stuttering while evangelizing. He doesn’t need our dances and skits. He doesn’t need us to travel 7000 miles for missions. He can demonstrate his greatness so easily. It’s just that he chooses not to and chooses instead to invite us to partake in his Great Commission.
Every one of us is not worthy to preach God’s Word. But through God’s grace, we are able to be his children, and as his children, we are called to spread his love. Dan Dan, Manang Chit’s son who I was able to get to know throughout the trip, always signaled me to smile… literally. He would raise up his fingers, put them on the corners of his mouth, and raise them up to form a smile. This was a constant reminder for me to smile throughout the trip, even when things were tough and physically or emotionally toiling. As you can tell, choosing to be joyful and smiling was a constant theme throughout the trip for me. When I came back from the trip, those around me told me that I’ve changed. More specifically, people have been telling me that I’m smiling more often than I usually would. Through this trip, I was able to learn the power of happiness and how big of a gift it is to smile. God has given us the ability to be joyful when praising him and his Gospel, and it took me 19 years to truly understand this. I believe that we are called to spread this joy and we must accompany our smiles with God’s love, as we partake in the Great Commission both abroad and in the local setting.
Again, “S-M-I-L-E,” exclaimed Manang Chit. Thank you for allowing me to share to you how joy, a gift from God, can truly work to spread the Gospel and let the goodness of God be heard throughout the world, even when we are so powerless and so sinful.