DE SOTO – The line of people spanned at least three and half blocks. The mission team in Matamoros, Mexico, was giving away shoes, filled backpacks and hot dogs, and the locals were ready to receive.
“We looked at the people and guessed there were about 1,200 and then we looked at the supplies and we knew we didn’t have nearly enough,” said Russ Sander, a deacon at First Baptist Church here. “It was a true fishes and loaves miracle and I know God provided. When the day was done everybody got shoes and everybody got stuffed backpacks and it was just amazing. That was one of my earliest mission trips and I was humbled greatly to be part of that and to see how happy those people were with the little they had.”
In November Sander will take his 55th short-term mission trip in just 14 years. He’s been all over the country and the world, following God wherever God wants to take him.
“Every time I come back from a trip I always say it was my favorite,” Sander said. “I remember every bit of each one and no two trips are alike. You could take the same crew to the same area to work on the same project and it’s still a totally different trip every time. It’s amazing what God can do through us, and no one is ever prepared for what God does in them after a mission trip.”
To commemorate the many experiences Sander has had while on mission, he had a quilt made out of all the mission team T-shirts he has acquired throughout the years.
“It’s my most-prized possession,” he said. “I look at it and the memories about God’s goodness come flooding back. Other people have been blessed by it, too. They will say, ‘Hey, I have that one!’ or ‘I’ve been there, too!’
Throughout his travels Sander has helped with service projects, disaster relief, construction projects, Vacation Bible Schools, eye care clinics, baseball games, giveaways, bus driving, door-to-door visits, teaching English as a second language, leadership training and much more. In November he will be traveling with a team to Venice, Italy, to help with a traditional Thanksgiving feast, a relational outreach in a country that is only 0.0467 percent evangelical.
“The missionaries there are working against all odds,” Sander said. “They are ready to serve and give their all for the cause of Christ. That just blows me away and lifts me up to keep going.”
One reason Sander is able to go and do is because of his flexible day job. He owns a small contracting business and is able to make his own schedule. Sander said his wife, Krista, a registered nurse, also has some flexibility in her schedule so she can go on many of the trips as well.
“I don’t feel worthy to be highlighted because I’m not the guy who sold everything to answer the call,” he said. “I don’t for a second think spending a couple weeks in a trash dump with no air conditioning is the same as someone who has given their all. My wife works hard to support this short-term mission passion and I couldn’t have went where I’ve been without the people God has used to allow me to go.”
While Sander has never felt the call to be a full-time missionary, he does see how God prepared him throughout his life to inspire, teach, train and send people on mission.
“It doesn’t matter what the day-to-day work of the trip involves; if God calls you, He will equip you,” Sander said. “We are commanded to proclaim the gospel no matter where we are. Never feel inadequate. I always say if God can speak through a donkey, He can speak through me. We all have great value in God’s kingdom.”