SOAR volunteers to learn about LDS culture, serve local USMB churches
by Myra Holmes
SOAR Utah volunteers will learn about Mormon culture and theology and have on-site assignments with local USMB churches as part of the 10-day mission experience. USMB pastors in Utah say the way in which the LDS saturates the culture makes ministry “uniquely challenging” and creates a “huge” mission field.
Participants in this summer’s SOAR short-term mission trip will experience cross-cultural ministry to a “least-reached” people group alongside pioneering church planters—all a stone’s throw from home in Salt Lake City, Utah.
If “least-reached” is defined by evangelical church attendance, Utah qualifies among the least-reached places in the United States, with Christian church attendance estimates ranging from 1-3 percent. And, of course, church attendance doesn’t necessarily mean commitment to Christ.
“The mission field is huge,” says Cory Anderson, pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church, West Jordan, Utah.
SOAR is a program of MB Mission, the global mission agency of U.S. and Canadian Mennonite Brethren. While the program particularly appeals to youth groups, the 10- to 14-day trips are set in North America or Mexico to provide an easily accessible mission experience for intergenerational teams comprised of church groups, families or individuals.
This will be the first time MB Mission has sent SOAR teams to work alongside the USMB churches in Utah. (The agency did send teams to Salt Lake City for evangelism and outreach during the 2002 Winter Olympics.) In many ways, Salt Lake City provides a perfect fit for MB Mission’s vision: “holistic church planting that transforms communities among the least reached.”
The headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) is in Salt Lake City, and 70 percent of the Utah population is active in the LDS church. LDS thinking extends beyond church walls to influence family life, politics, moral views, school teachings and more. This saturation of the culture makes ministry here “uniquely challenging,” Anderson says, and offers SOAR participants a cross-cultural setting.
Salt Lake City also offers unique opportunities for SOAR participants to work alongside missionary pioneers who are transforming their community. Paul Robie and his family moved to Salt Lake City in 1998 to plant a Mennonite Brethren church. With the support of the Pacific District Conference (PDC), Laurelglen Bible Church, Bakersfield, Calif., and Mission USA, the church planting arm of USMB, South Mountain Community Church (SMCC) grew and multiplied.
The Utah MB family of churches now includes SMCC, daughter church Shadow Mountain, and two satellite campuses, Daybreak in South Jordan and The Springs in St. George. SMCC recently celebrated the grand opening of a new 40,000-square-foot facility to accommodate some 3,000 worshippers in two services each week.
At the same time, as if to testify to the difficulty of ministry in this area, the newest church plant, New Hope in West Valley, closed its doors in March.
Anderson says that, even eight years in for Shadow Mountain, “We don’t have a sense that we’ve made it, we’ve arrived, but that we’re constantly engaged in the battle.”
SOAR Utah, scheduled for July 13-23, will begin with an orientation at Big Canyon Christian Adventures and Retreats in the nearby Wasatch Range. There, participants will be equipped spiritually through times of Bible study and prayer. They’ll spend time in worship and in team bonding.
Ed Boschman, USMB executive director, and Gary Wall, district minister for the PDC, which includes Utah, will share the church planting vision of the USMB and PDC. “It seems good and right to invite the SOAR participants to see mission as globalocal,” says Boschman.
Participants will also be equipped with a basic understanding of LDS doctrine and culture. Anderson says misunderstanding between Mormons and Christians is growing, with many thinking that Mormons are just a different kind of Christian. But, he says, a closer examination reveals incompatibility: “There are a number of official LDS doctrines that clearly make it a non-Christian church.”
Anderson says that just because someone attends a particular church—whether LDS or Mennonite Brethren—doesn’t necessarily mean they know, understand or buy into the church’s teaching. He recommends starting with dialogue with individual LDS.
Once in Salt Lake City, SOAR participants will continue their exposure through a tour of the temple area, through testimonies of those who have come out of the LDS church and by attending an LDS service.
Anderson says, “I hope that through the combination of reading about LDS beliefs and the lostness of LDS people and seeing the multitude of people here who are LDS, that they will be gripped with a greater sense of ‘we need to do something about this.’”
SOAR teams will partner with local MB churches for on-site assignments. While exact details are still being worked out, assignments are designed to provide added visibility in the community for the local churches.
With Shadow Mountain, for example, SOAR participants will help advertise and then provide workers for the church’s vacation Bible school and a community carnival. Both are the kind of family-oriented events that are well received in a kid-heavy, family-oriented culture.
Other SOAR participants will work with the Daybreak congregation in events such as vacation Bible school, a basketball clinic, an extreme skateboarding competition and an outdoor concert. Rod Jost, campus pastor at Daybreak, says these “entertainment” venues are aimed at gently increasing exposure in the community and “rubbing shoulders” with those who live in Daybreak’s unique, planned community.
“Through entertainment, we’ve been able to build relationships,” Jost says.
SOAR teams will return to Big Canyon for their debrief. Leaders will guide participants in processing the experience, communicating it with their church and continuing the mission at home. “We want them to know a life of mission,” says Mark Thompson, MB Mission’s short-term mission coordinator.
Thompson fully expects the SOAR Utah experience to be transformational for the participants. When God is allowed to work through such an experience, he says, participants often have a newfound passion for God, prayer and mission and a new compassion for the lost. Sometimes, they discover a calling to long-term service.
As for transformation in Salt Lake City, Thompson says that participants must go with an attitude of prayer and openness to how God will use them, whether for planting, tilling or harvesting.
“We just want to be a part of God’s plan that is leading toward a great harvest,” Thompson says. “The results are up to God.”
Ultimately, Anderson hopes some SOAR participants will come back to Utah for long-term mission. “We’re not done yet,” he says of the mission in Utah. Leaders are dreaming of and planning for more church plants in order to reach more people. “We’re going to need more people,” says Anderson.
Thompson asks for pray for the host churches as they finalize preparations, for good relationships between participants and the local churches and for wisdom for SOAR program staff.
“And I don’t think it’s bad to ask for transformation of souls while we’re there,” he adds.
For more information on SOAR Utah, see www.mbmission.org/soar/utah/overview/.—Myra Holmes