Mission Possible: The Sojourners

“Give me Your eyes for just one second

Give me Your eyes so I can see

Everything that I keep missing

Give me Your love for humanity

Give me Your arms for the broken-hearted

The ones that are far beyond my reach

Give me Your heart for the ones forgotten

Give me Your eyes so I can see.”

– Brandon Heath, Give Me Your Eyes

About forty years ago Paul and Peggie Scott had a brilliant idea. Paul was a career Navy man who had travelled the globe. He and his wife frequently observed small struggling churches that needed help. They felt a calling to do mission work but weren’t exactly sure what form that would take.  They met another couple with an RV and together their dreams began to take shape. They decided they would travel the country by RV, ministering to small churches and others along the way.  In 1978 the two couples held their first planning workshop and a year later they named their mission the National Evangelism with Sojourners. They began to bring together other mostly retired Christians who owned RVs and had a desire to continue serving others. They were aware of many small churches, Christian schools, and Bible camps that needed help, but often don’t have the necessary resources. So this new churches of Christ-affiliated mission, the Sojourners, began to unite servant-hearted, RV-based Christians with churches, schools, camps, and children’s homes that needed a helping hand. Paul and Peggy’s dream had come to fruition, a new mission work had begun, and the Sojourners have been making a difference ever since.

Worship time!
Worship time!

Fast forward to 2015 and the Sojourners mission has grown to 520+ active members all around the country. It is sponsored by the eldership at the Burleson Church of Christ in Burleson, Texas. Each year more than 120 requests come in and are vetted by the Sojourners’ leadership. There are usually enough Sojourners to fill about 90-100 of them.  Some of the projects, called sojourns, are physical in nature…building a cabin, painting a church building, fixing the plumbing or electricity at a school, remodeling classrooms, trimming weeds, landscaping, fixing what’s broken, etc. Other sojourns are more spiritually-oriented…conducting Gospel meetings, door knocking, leading parenting seminars, organizing Vacation Bible Schools, teaching, preaching, conducting family counseling, visiting the sick and shut-ins, etc. Some sojourns are a combination of meeting both physical and spiritual needs. Either way, the Sojourners are self-supporting, and even make a contribution at the conclusion of each sojourn to cover their utility expenses. Among the hundreds of places the Sojourners have made a difference is Pennsylvania’s Camp Manatawny, where I attended as a teen, and Florida Bible Camp, where Lil Jan and I counseled and taught Bible classes.

Making new friends...the McLartys
Making new friends…the McLartys

As a couple who loves to travel, but also wants to continue to serve others, the Sojourners seemed like a perfect match for us. So we joined them! (Special thanks to Rex Dutton, Todd Mikula, and Jonathan Smith for emphasizing the positive on their letters of recommendation on us!)  We are so excited to be Sojourners! They, or I suppose I should now say “we”, have a number of workshops around the country throughout the year. The biggest is in October at the Sojourners headquarters, Camp Bee, in Marshall, Texas. I’ve heard Camp Bee described as “sort of like an RV-based Bible camp for old people.” So we rolled into Camp Bee in October for two weeks of orientation, training, fellowship, mission planning, and edification. This was also the opportunity to sign-up for whatever sojourns we want to volunteer for in the coming year. As rookies on the team, we are known as “Green Dots” because on the various sojourn sign-up sheets, there are designated spots for rookies with green dots next to them. This helps ensure you don’t have a team consisting of all rookies.

More new friends...the Williams
More new friends…the Williams

Our fellow Sojourners are, in a word, awesome!   They could not have been kinder or more welcoming to us. With some exceptions, they (we) are mostly from working class backgrounds.  There are retired farmers, business men or women, teachers, policemen, engineers, chemists, hair dressers, college professors, military, electricians, secretaries and homemakers. Most are retired although some continue to work and do sojourns on their vacation time. Of the 267 or so in attendance at Camp Bee, we were the youngest. In fact, the average age is about 70, but that didn’t make a difference to them or us. They seemed excited to have some new, younger blood on the team and we were excited to join such a loving, giving group of people.

I’ve heard two descriptions of Sojourners that seem to fit. One guest speaker, who is not a Sojourner, said that in every congregation, you tend to have about 10% of the people who do most of the work. He said that among those 10%, you’ll find the Sojourners.  That was evident when it was time to clean up after a banquet or stack chairs or whatever, and everyone pitched in. Another guy privately told me, “Steve, we are past the stage of trying to achieve career goals, make rank, and impress people. You could say our testosterone levels are low. We just want to serve others, and travel while we’re at it.” After spending 23 years of my life trying (at least subconsciously) to impress some general to make rank, his words were like music to my ears. Just serve. Two thousand years ago, Jesus captured his mission, and ours, pretty succinctly: “But I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22:27b) I think the Sojourners may be on to something.

Sojourners hold hands during EVERY SINGLE prayer...something all churches should do
Sojourners hold hands during EVERY SINGLE prayer…something all churches should do

In addition to worshipping together and hearing some motivating keynote speakers and Bible class teachers, we attended several classes on topics ranging from RV maintenance to Electricity 101. I could have used that class prior to taking possession of our RV. We also attended a Green Dot Orientation session and a Green Dot banquet, complete with a 1960s theme. By the end of that night, Lil Jan had somehow managed to volunteer us to head up next year’s Green Dot banquet.

We played lots of cards at night and learned several new variations on how to play “hand ‘n foot”. Jabs and trash talking by 70-year-old winning teams can be quite hilarious. So can the stories of exploding toilets and other “RV fails” on the road. In my spare time, I caught (and released) 14 catfish at the Camp Bee pond and went on some nice runs out in the east Texas countryside. We also went out to eat with and got to know several couples who have been Sojourners and full-time RVers for a number of years. We even ran into Cliff and Sharan David, who we worshipped with years ago back in San Antonio (had no idea they were Sojourners). It’s funny how when we first told people we were planning to unload most of our possessions and go RVing around the country, many looked at us like we had a third eyeball. Well amongst the Sojourners, that is considered a quite normal thing to do. In fact, some of them have been full-time RVing and Sojourning for more than a decade. We fit right in here.

Our "Host Mom & Dad", the Northens
Our “Host Mom & Dad”, the Northens…full-timers for 9 years!  I call him “Dad” now.
Green Dots Live Here
Green Dots Big Steve & Lil Jan Live Here

We, along with the other couple of dozen Green Dots, got first dibs to sign up for 2016 sojourns. This is a privilege you only get your first year as a Green Dot. In subsequent years, we’ll have to stand in line and “battle it out” (in a loving, Christian way, of course) to sign up for desired sojourns. 2016 will be a highly unusual year for us in that I will spend about six months of it attempting to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. Thus, our Sojourning windows of opportunity are in the winter and fall. After looking at all the opportunities out there, we settled on two workshops and three sojourns. We’ll spend most of January and February back in Florida, doing sojourns at Mount Dora Christian Home and Bible School (where we brought our former Youth Group for 7 consecutive years) and Central Florida Bible Camp. We’ll also attend the Sojourners winter workshop at that same camp. Then, after I get off the trail, we’ll head to Paragould, Arkansas in late September to do a sojourn at Paragould Children’s Home. We’ll then head back to Camp Bee in October for the annual workshop. We are thrilled to have these opportunities to serve while still fulfilling a desire to travel and live like gypsies. Lord willing, at the next Camp Bee workshop, we will be able to sign up for some 2017 sojourns in the southwest and/or northwest parts of the country.

RV Storage? You betcha!
RV Storage? You betcha!
Groovy, baby!
Groovy, baby!

As for the Sojourners, we couldn’t be happier serving alongside these wonderful Christian people. As a guy who played lots of sports growing up, I never had the honor to be on a “travel team”. I was a “good” and occasionally a “very good” athlete…but never an all-star that was selected for a travel team. So now, at age 49, I finally made my first travel team!  Lil Jan did too! We love these folks. They are great examples to us of not “throttling down” as you get older, but actually shifting into high gear and continuing to serve with abandon. We learned of one Sojourner who, at 89 years of age, was still climbing ladders, hauling bricks, and basically out-working all the “young 70 year olds” on the team. What a stud! I’m adding him to my short list of role models.

Why? So Steve doesn't fry the planet
Why? So Steve doesn’t fry the planet

If you are affiliated with a Christian school, Bible camp, children’s home or small congregation (less than 150 members) that could use a sojourn, please let me know and I’ll get you the request form. If you are potentially interested in joining the Sojourners, let me know and I’ll get you an application. You can also get these forms by contacting the Sojourner’s Camp Bee office at  office@sojourning.org or check out the web page at www.sojourning.org  for more information.

We ask that you keep this mission in your prayers, and that God will help us to plug into these sojourns and make a difference in the churches, camps, schools, and children’s homes where we’ll be serving. In some ways the various ministries we’ve been involved in throughout our lives have prepared us for this new opportunity. The mission we’re undertaking is exciting, challenging and most certainly a “mission possible”. If it’s anything like our experiences in Honduras and Costa Rica, I suspect we will be changed and blessed by these upcoming sojourns. You are never too old to take on a new challenge and a new mission. Really it’s not a new mission but an old one, going back to the challenge given to us by Jesus. Just serve. We thank God for this opportunity, and give him all the glory, honor, and praise! May he open our eyes, and your eyes, to the needs of those around us.

Big Steve

Not Just Fishers of Men
Not Just Fishers of Men
Hunter Gatherer
Fisher Gatherer
Our first sign-up as Green Dots!
Our first sign-up as Green Dots!

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