Heartbroken, Gilberto walked down a small village street in rural Chile with his toes busting out of his shoes. His brother had just died, and Gilberto wore the pain all over him.
Kathy Collins couldn't help but notice as she sat in the shade with others from her LifeWay Christian Resources mission team, escaping the noonday heat and munching on sack lunches. As Gilberto passed by, her heart melted at the sight of the despondent man. She chased after him and gave him the rest of her sandwich.
"He was so grateful," Collins said. "I wished I had shoes to give him."
Then Collins and another team member, Sergio Arce, shared the Gospel with Gilberto.
"When he received Christ, he was so emotional about it," said Collins, who serves as an editor-in-chief on LifeWay's children's ministry publishing team. "Tears were running down my face, too, because I realized that God was really providing for him in that moment when he really needed to hear about God's love."
Gilberto is just one of hundreds of people who have received Christ through LifeWay-sponsored, employee-led mission trips. LifeWay began organizing these short-term, volunteer trips for employees because of the vision of Jimmy Draper, who served as president from 1991-2006. More than 1,100 LifeWay employees, retirees, trustees, and friends have participated in the trips since 1997.
"Dr. Draper had a vision to provide opportunities for our people to get out of their offices, step out of their comfort zones, and share Christ," said Ernest McAninch, manager of ministry ventures at LifeWay. McAninch has been coordinating LifeWay's mission trips since 2005.
While employees have participated in mission trips to every continent but Antarctica and Australia, each trip has one specific purpose-to share the Gospel. That means during every trip LifeWay employees tell lost people about Jesus and lead them to faith in Christ.
As a result, volunteers like Collins return with powerful stories about how God has used them and changed lives in the process. Kathy Edwards, who participated in a trip to Southeast Asia last fall, remembers a particularly unique conversation that people from her team had with a Hindu woman.
"She listened as we shared the Gospel message," Edwards wrote when she returned. "She asked Jesus into her life. While she was praying the sinner's prayer, she wiped the dot off from between her eyes. She also covered up her gods. This was a great day for us."
While most trips take volunteers overseas, LifeWay teams have shared Christ in the United States as well — Chicago, New York, New Orleans, and South Dakota. LifeWay coordinates the trips with the International Mission Board and national Baptist conventions overseas, and with state Baptist conventions in the United States.
LifeWay employees returning from mission trips have seen God change their lives. Collins, who is planning to join LifeWay colleagues in Russia this summer, came back from her 2008 trip to Chile and rededicated her life to Christ — and God's global mission in the world. She points to LifeWay's emphasis on direct evangelism during the trip as a particularly transformative experience.
"That was my first time [to share Christ] in that kind of setting," Collins said. "When I had shared Christ with people in the past, it had always been somebody I knew. It was life changing."
The trip also opened Collins' eyes to the extreme poverty in the developing world. She said the trip made her feel grateful for everything she had and ready to help those in need when she returned home.
To help employees participate in mission trips, LifeWay provides time off and covers half the travel costs. "We tell new and prospective employees that participation in LifeWay mission trips is one of their benefits," McAninch said.
It has been a big bonus for David Jamieson, a manager in LifeWay's business technology department. Jamieson had been a journeyman missionary with the International Mission Board in the late 1980s. At one time he thought God might be calling him to serve as a career missionary.
But Jamieson said he buried his passion for missions for several years. Then, in 2004, he joined a LifeWay trip to Uganda. After the life-changing trip, Jamieson decided God was calling him to participate in short-term mission trips on a regular basis.
"This is a way for me to fulfill a sense of calling in my life toward missions," Jamieson said. "Even if that means a lifetime of short-term trips, I'm going to do that. I came back with a desire to go on one of these trips as often as possible."
Jamieson has participated in several other trips since 2004. In 2008 he served as a team leader for a trip to Niger. He'll be leading a trip to Ecuador later this year.
"With each trip I've been on I've come back more determined to do them as often as possible," Jamieson said.
But participants don't just come back from LifeWay trips determined to return. They come back as mission mobilizers ready and willing to bring more back with them.
"I would invite people to look again at Psalm 139:16 and then Matthew 28:19-20," Collins said. "God may be calling you to missions. I love the fact that He picks the most unlikely of us. God may have written a mission trip into your days. Pray about it. If you answer His call, I promise, your life will never be the same."
Remaining 2009 LifeWay Mission Trips
Novokuznetsk, Russia: July 16-26
Sturgis, South Dakota: August 1-9
Ambato, Ecuador: August 14-22
Huangascar, Peru: October 3-16
Kigali, Rwanda: October 5-18
Pattaya, Thailand: October 25-Nov. 6
Tobin Perry is a freelance writer in Woodstock, Georgia, where he is a member of First Baptist Church.