Lena Wood has a lifelong passion for missions and writing. The result is a three-volume set of mission trip devotions and journals.
By Andy Rector
In 1970, a teenage Lena Wood sat on a plane with her sister and others bound for Japan. Never having flown before, she was terrified. What would happen on this trip into the unknown?
As it turns out, she fell in love with missions on that trip. Over the summer, she and her team sang and gave testimonies at camps, schools, churches, and even a leper colony.
“When we left,” she says. “I bawled. Why was I ever afraid to go there?”
Since that trip, Wood has been on five short-term trips to Japan, as well as research trips to Ireland, China, South Africa, and Egypt. A lifelong passion for missions and writing grew in her. The result? A three-volume set of mission trip devotions and journals entitled Called, Challenged, and Changed, respectively.
The books’ anecdotes are meant to prepare the reader for an upcoming mission trip, but where did the stories come from?
“All over,” says Wood. “Some were personal, some family, some based on news stories.”
“Called is the first journal,” Wood explains. “You work through that one before you go. The book offers 15 devotions along with prayer thoughts, travel tips, and journaling space.”
Wood included a story in it called “Anything to Declare?” Her friend Vanita Dulin, a fellow student during the late 1960s and daughter of missionaries, shared with Wood about smuggling Bibles into communist Russia.
Dulin’s spiritual spy stories were exciting to us sheltered, corn-fed Midwesterners who thought of secret agents in terms of Get Smart and James Bond. What Vanita didn’t share with us at the time were the horrors: humiliating strip searches, nearly being banned from her beloved Romania, the fear of never seeing dear friends again, the worry that her own mistakes would bring down persecution on the heads of the nationals. She didn’t relate to us how she hid in a restroom tearing and chewing up pages of forbidden literature before she flushed them down the toilet. . . . She did what she had to do learning the rules as she went along.
With all the preparation that goes into a mission trip, “the real mission can get crowded out,” Wood says.
“So you take Challenged with you.” Wood says. “It’s also 15 devotions. Whether you go for ten days or two months, there’s enough in Challenged to chew on.”
In one devotional in Challenged, Wood talks about her conversation with a “Japanese John the Baptist”; he had strange clothes and a magnetic message and was known only by his last name: Ikarashi.
We discussed at length the slippery slope of converting to Christ in a pagan culture. I asked him, “How can a person ever be persuaded to abandon a belief system so enmeshed with his national pride and family honor?” . . . Ikarashi got strangely somber. He thought for a long while, then said something along these lines: “If they could understand it (that their ancient heritage was built on myths and false gods) but if they did not know about Jesus first—if Jesus was not there to catch them. . . . He paused and said sadly, “I think . . . I think . . . they would die.” . . . So as you meet nonbelievers, talk about Jesus first, whenever you can!
Wood says journaling during mission trips is important.
“You think you’ll remember all the cool stories and events, names and places, but mission trips are emotionally intense. It’s easy for great memories to get lost in the shuffle.”
Upon returning home, you’re a changed person because of your adventure with God. Where do you go from here? The last volume, Changed, is designed to combat those unexpected feelings of reverse-culture shock.
“On mission, you’ve come to terms with that new culture,” Wood says. “Maybe it’s the poverty you saw. Or the paganism that has the whole culture by the throat—in government, society, family, holidays. In business practices. The people may have little to no knowledge of Jesus. Your heart broke.
“Then you come home and try to tell your stories, to share your new passion for the lost. And no one understands. Your family might even think you’ve gotten just a tad weird.”
Changed also encourages the potential missionary to discern by taking the impossible to God and seeing what happens. She shares this story:
In spiritual warfare, Maria, a pastor’s wife, goes unarmed into Colombian areas heavily controlled by [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia called FARC]. Since FARC doesn’t expect a woman to be preaching the gospel, she’s been able to go where very few people dare, giving Bibles to guerrillas. Some are coming to know Jesus. . . . Think of a wild place near you where ministry requires uncommon courage. What can you do about it?
Even though you’re back and your family can’t relate with your experience, “do mission from home until you’re ready for that next step,” Wood says.
“Satan will throw things in our way to frighten us, to make mission uncomfortable.” In Challenged, Wood gives a few examples of what she termed “arachnevangelism.” Her sister, Lynn, had been inoculated against a cholera threat in Japan. Unfortunately, Lynn had an allergic reaction to the shot. After an agonizing trip to a campground at Mount Fuji, her sister lay on a scarecrow-like cot. She encountered a spider.
“Then I saw him,” Lynn recalls, “on the wall a few feet away. . . . Brown and fuzzy, nearly as big as my hand. . . . There I was alone with my cholera, my scarecrow, and my spider. I couldn’t move. I fell asleep thinking, Lord, I’m coming home, and was truly surprised to wake up the next morning. In spite of that experience, it turned out to be a wonderful week in a beautiful mountain setting, sharing Jesus with the campers.” . . . That yucky night was a boot-camp event to teach dependence upon God in all circumstances.
The leaders of short-term trips have so many things to tend to when planning. Hours of training can be difficult to schedule.
“From using the books on previous trips,” Wood says, “folks realized that the journals help short-termers prepare spiritually on their own while everyone’s getting gear, finances, and documents together.”
Wood believes the journals keep people focused.
“Missions is about the gospel. Jesus’ Great Commission was to go, preach, baptize, and teach. Sure we want to help in every way: building, medical, rescue, food. The mission journals help keep the word mission from getting hijacked to mean just helping people in a secular way. Don’t get me wrong. Helping with physical needs is great. Let’s do more. But most of all we want to leave people all around the world with an eternal gift: Jesus.”
Called, Challenged, and Changed, all by Lena Wood, published in 2008, are available from Braughler Books in Springboro, Ohio. They are available individually or as a set at https://braughlerbooks.com/store/topics/lena-wood/.
Andy Rector is a writer and graphic designer from Louisville, Kentucky.