SOUTHEAST ASIA — The
Greyhound bus hisses to a stop and the door flaps open. Ethan Gillmore
positions himself at the foot of the stairs so he can watch everyone file off.
He’s looking for someone.
The shy 10-year-old glances down at the ground, embarrassed by the fact that
his brown hair and fair skin makes him stand out in this crowd of Chinese. He
tries to make himself smaller than his 4-foot, 9-inch frame. When someone looks
his way, he tentatively holds up a red packet written in Mandarin.
A Chinese man smiles, points to his heart and then at the red packet. Ethan
stares in disbelief and then gives it to him. This is the person Ethan’s been
waiting all night on — someone who wants a Bible.
“Mom! Mom! I gave a Bible to that man,” Ethan shouts, running three steps to
his mother, Carianne Gillmore, for a high-five. “This is the BEST mission trip
ever! Quick, I need more Bibles. People need to read God’s Word.”
Ethan returns to his station next to the bus stop loaded down with Chinese Bible
packets and a new sense of confidence. This time, he throws out a few Mandarin
phrases he learned just for this volunteer mission trip to Southeast Asia with
Church at Canyon Creek from Austin, Texas.
“Free Gift. Free Bible,” he says to everyone walking past. “Jesus loves you.”
Carianne Gillmore watches her 10-year-old, amazed at the transformation from
quiet and shy to boldly sharing his faith. This is the exact reason she signed
them up for a family mission trip with three other families from their church —
to watch him grow in his walk with the Lord while experiencing a different
The Texas families took advantage of a partnership their church has with the
Southern Cross Project, a Bible distribution program in Asia. Due to Chinese
government regulations, Bibles are difficult to legally obtain in China.
However, the Chinese are allowed to bring one Bible home with them from a trip
abroad. Church at Canyon Creek normally sends two volunteer teams a year to
hand out Bibles to Chinese tourists on vacation. This is the first time for the
church to send families with children under the age of 15.
No one planned for it to be a “family only” trip, it just turned out that the
only people signed up for the annual summer mission trip happened to be all
James Rinn says he and his wife, Kristen, started praying about taking a family
mission trip instead of a normal family vacation a couple years ago. His son,
Josh, turns 13 soon and they wanted something they could do together to mark
his approaching “manhood.”
“Part of discipling our kids is putting God first in our own lives. When we go
on a mission trip like this, it gives our children a chance to see Mom and Dad
caring about others beyond our little community,” James Rinn says. “Mission
trips can be a fun part of a parent’s discipleship with their kids as they work
“The kids will learn and grow, as well as the parents,” James Rinn says. “Or at
least, that’s what happened with me. God used Josh to teach me a lot this week.”
Josh just shrugs and smiles. He never knew handing out Bibles could be so much
fun. To be honest, it sounded boring when his parents first told him about it.
But once Josh hands out his first Bible, he’s hooked. He and his best friend,
Colin Rasmussen, 12, work as a team to distribute more than 200 of the 750
Bibles given out by the Texas volunteers.
The young Texan even gave away his personal Bible to a homeless German man on
the side of the road. Just mentioning it brings tears to his father’s eyes, but
for Josh, it’s no big deal — after all, that’s why they took this mission trip.
“I’ve had that Bible since I was a little kid,” Josh says nonchalantly about
the Bible the “Easter Bunny” left him years ago. “We probably have 10 or so
Bibles at our house and there are people in the world who don’t even have one.
You should see people’s faces and how excited they get the first time they open
it. You’d give your Bible away, too.”
More than distribution
This “family-friendly” mission trip not only includes handing out Bibles to
Chinese tourists at night but also working with local ministries during the
day. The team hands out food at jails and slum areas. The highlight of one
afternoon is playing on the colorful playground at an orphanage.
At each site, the team takes time to pray and share about God’s love. The
parents try desperately to get one of the children to give their testimony.
Ethan is the best bet with his new, bolder personality. The translator asks him
to speak or pray with the gathered crowd but he reverts back to shyly ducking
behind his mom. However, when the food comes out for distribution, the
10-year-old forgets about hiding and is the first to give a helping hand. The
other children quickly follow suit, while fathers carry heavy packages and
mothers fan out to pray.
Elbow deep in dry rice, Ethan chats with a man working next to him. It doesn’t
matter if the man knows English or not. Ethan is set on making sure he knows
that Jesus loves him — the exact thing the adults tried to get him to do just
“I can’t believe this is called ‘ministry.’ It’s so much fun,” Ethan says, his
voice raspy and tired.
The 10-year-old grabs his throat and makes a funny face. He looks at his mother
for an explanation. She gives him an affectionate “you’ve got to be kidding me”
Of course her normally quiet son is losing his voice. He spends four hours
every night yelling, “free Bibles” to Chinese tourists. Yesterday he played at
the orphanage for two hours — screaming at the top of his lungs with 70 other
children on the playground. He’s literally talked nonstop since getting off the
“I hope it comes back by tonight,” he croaks.
Carianne Gillmore studies her son for a moment. Ethan’s definitely not the same
little boy she brought to Southeast Asia. Nor is she the same. They’ve both
grown in their love for missions.
“Me, too,” the Texas mother answers. “It’s our last night and we need to tell
the Chinese that Jesus loves them.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Rain is a writer for the International Mission Board
living in Southeast Asia.)