Recently, we had a chance to sit down with Justin Mack, the Global Project Pastor here at River Valley Church. We talked missions, and how his story, the church’s story and what God is doing in the people here at River Valley Church.
Since Justin has been here at River Valley, he's watched the passion for global missions spread like wildfire across all of River Valley Church. With nearly one Global Team being sent out each and every week, and 170 individuals and families preparing for long-term missions work, there are more people than ever who are discovering the heart of God to carry the gospel to those who've never heard.
Tell me about how you got here, you know, in regards to missions. Like what were the events in your life that lead you to being so passionate about it…
J: I grew up as a pastor’s kid, and I remember my parents often hosting missionaries at our church and in our home, and being very intrigued and mesmerized by their stories, the thought of people around the world not knowing about Jesus, and their part in going to share that good news with them.
But, the stories always caught my attention, even as a kid. The first time ever going and seeing it first hand was when I was sixteen years old, I went to Lima Nocitias, Peru. It was a lot of fun, it was exciting, it was heartbreaking, it was so many things.
What I didn’t realize was how life-changing it was going to be for me. How it was going to affect my trajectory, and who I was going to become, in terms of my vocation in life. Looking back, that was a major mile-marker.
Up to that point, I wanted to be a professional tennis player, make lots of money travel the world (laughs). Yes, talk about Jesus, but I really wanted to be a tennis player. I think God had a bigger, better plan for me.
After that trip, I had opportunity to travel and see the world more, and my heart has expanded more and more since.
It was actually on a short term team to China that I met the Ketterlings. At the time River Valley Church was just a small church of only a few hundred people, but a BIG vision for missions. I remember, in a hotel room in Beijing China, pastor Rob and I were just dreaming about what River Valley missions could be. He asked me, “would you ever think about coming to River Valley?” Fast forward five years, and I came to River Valley. And the rest is kind of history.
How many times have you had the opportunity to do missions work overseas yourself?
J: I don’t know how many trips, I know I’ve been to… conservatively over 60 countries, but some of those countries I’ve been to 6,7,8 times. I’ve helped organize hundreds of teams.
So it’s pretty safe to say, that you’ve been able to see a pretty good cross-section of all of Global Project since the beginning. What’s one thing that you love seeing in people that come back from these trips?
J: I love seeing people who love Jesus, who are following Him, who are passionate about Him, go on these trips, and their heart exploding and enlarging for a part of God’s plan and for a part of the world that they knew about, but it wasn’t in their heart. But when they go and experience it first hand, it just starts to make sense. This Great Commission, this getting the gospel to everyone— it puts the color into the painting. It just starts to become more vivid to people, and it starts to become a real heart and passion. I love watching that transformation happening. It can happen in a very short period of time, even just ten days, going on a team.
I also love watching people that are uncertain about their faith or their devotion to Christ. They go, and something about taking ten days and just unplugging from the 9 to 5 everyday challenges of life and just focusing on God and being used by God to share His love to other people, just does a radical transformation on people that are even wondering “is this real?” or “is this right?” or, “is this what I want to give my life to?” For most, it just solidifies it. It’s like, “yes, this is what we were designed to do, to love and help on another and share the gospel of Christ with people that don’t know it.
This Great Commission, this getting the gospel to everyone— it puts the color into the painting. It just starts to become more vivid to people, and it starts to become a real heart and passion.
Going on so many trips, I’m sure that you’ve had many life-changing moments, all around the world. What would you say is something that you’ve learned overseas about people, about God, about us, that you bring back home and use everyday?
J: Wow… that’s a great question…
I think every time I go, I learn something different. Sometimes I’m surprised that I hadn’t learned that before. Maybe even sometimes it’s a great reminder of something I learned a long time ago but forgot about.
I've learned that people are not that different from one another at the core. They may look different, they may sound a little different, they may come from a different background— but at the core, they are so much more similar than we are different. People want to be valued, people want to be loved, people have fears and doubts and worries and want to know that someone cares and truly loves them. People just mask it in so many different ways.
I’ve learned— and tried to bring back home this: as different as the person is sitting across from me seems on the surface— at the core we’re the same. We both need each other, we both need Christ’s love in our life, and I want to show them that if they don’t know, or at least remind them if did know at one point.
As much as you can say, what is the future of Global Project?
J: I really think we’re just getting started. I think the investment that we’ve made in our kids and youth by helping them at an early age see the world, and get a heart for the world, that’s gonna be a tidal wave.
We have a vision to send 500 individuals, couples, families to give one year of their life and pray about a lifetime overseas. Right now, we have about 170 people in the pipeline that are preparing to make that decision. In other words, they are going through our training program, called MAP (Missionary Action Plan) that walks them through a four-phase process. At the end of that process, it helps them identify, “am I one of the 500?” If they are, they have a pretty good idea where and when and how they are going to get there.
I think Global Teams have become a very well known part of Global Project. A lot of times, people even call it Global Teams. I think the 500 missionaries being sent out from one local church is such a mind-blowing reality if the Lord helps us get to that goal. That will be as big— if not bigger part of Global Project than the Global Teams.
Global Teams are just the beginning. It’s to ignite a passion, it’s the starter, it’s the spark to just start a journey of generosity, of prayer, of advocacy— and hopefully a wave of people who will say, “I don’t just want to go for ten days, I want to give my life to this.” That side of Global Project, the long-term missionary giving year maybe praying about a lifetime is a huge part of the future. I think our Global Teams will continue to grow— I could see a day where we are sending 2-3 teams every week as the church grows. I see the long-term missionaries growing hugely here.
"...as different as the person is sitting across from me seems on the surface— at the core we’re the same. We both need each other, we both need Christ’s love in our life, and I want to show them that if they don’t know, or at least remind them if did know at one point."
What would you say to someone who’s on the fence— who’s curious about this Global Project thing, but doesn’t know what to do?
J: Just give it a shot! Don’t wait— there will always be an excuse for why the timing is not right, why they can’t come up with the money. We’ve seen so many people go, and when they come back, they say, “I wish that wouldn’t have waited so long. I never had any idea how impacting this would be.”
It often takes an extraordinary experience in your life to reorient the ordinary. And I think this is one of those really positive, extraordinary experiences that help you reshape everyday life, and so don’t wait to get your everyday life all together and figured out before you step into this. I say just do it, watch the pieces fall into place, and watch how that short-term experience changes your long-term perspective. Just do it, just go!
"It often takes an extraordinary experience in your life to reorient the ordinary."