By Joyce Coronel
A small sign near the exit of the parking lot at Arizona Community Church is emblematic of the congregation’s philosophy: “You are now entering mission territory,” the sign proclaims.
It’s a mindset that has the South Tempe non-denominational, Evangelical church sending forth members of its congregation with a message of faith, hope and love to all who will listen, with some as far afield as Europe, the Caribbean and Russia.
Patrick Cassidy, who leads the church’s short mission trips, has a heart for spreading the Gospel. With no formal academic or seminary training, he nevertheless possesses a passion for evangelization. “I’m a sinner saved by grace. That’s my diploma,” says Cassidy. “Forty years ago, I was a wild man. My life changed in 1982.”
The Marketing/public-relations director and designated broker for local real estate superstar Michael Pollack, Cassidy has ventured to 20 countries around the globe with the Christian message he says changed his life four decades ago. While the church sends mission project teams that help address temporal needs like clean water and food, the teams Cassidy leads are spiritual in nature. They work with local pastors on the ground in host countries to help bring people into a relationship with Christ.
Last month, Cassidy led 13 people from Arizona Community Church to the outskirts of Uberlandia, Brazil. It’s not a chamber of commerce trip with a five-star hotel, Cassidy says. Rising each day at 6 a.m., the team had breakfast with representatives of the host church in the South American nation. The days were long, often lasting until midnight, and filled with visits to homes, prisons and schools. In between these more formal encounters arranged by the Brazilian-based pastor, the team also frequented public spaces such as parks and city streets to speak with people. More than 50 million Brazilians live in poverty, with families earning less than $5.50 a day.
The mission trips, Cassidy said, “bring the promise of God’s word to their lives. They wake up every day feeling helpless, alone, frightened, with no hope or a plan for their future.”
The Brazilians they met with, Cassidy said, were extremely receptive of the message and appreciative of the American missionaries’ efforts. “We tell them we’ve come 2,500 miles, paying our own way, to pray with them. We’re not here to change your religion. We’re here to pray for you. And everybody needs prayer.”
Cassidy recalled visiting the opulent home of a very wealthy couple—the husband and wife were each physicians—and at first, the husband had his arms folded across his chest and appeared unreceptive. When Cassidy asked the man if he could pray for him, his eyes filled with tears and he asked Cassidy to pray for his son. Instead of being thrown out of the home as Cassidy originally suspected might happen, they ended up sharing a meal and spending hours together celebrating the couple’s decision to follow Christ.
Back in the U.S. once mission trips end, team members look at their lives a little differently, Cassidy said, realizing how blessed they are by things most Americans take for granted, like reliable electric power, clean water and food:
‘When you go on these short term mission trips, your eyes are opened wide and your heart softens. You remember and feel that God has a bigger purpose for our lives than just immersing ourselves in worldly comforts and self-focused attitudes.”
For his part, Cassidy says he returns to the U.S. with a deeper desire to share the Christian message and pray with complete strangers he runs into at the grocery store or on the street. “Ninety-eight percent of people say yes when I ask them if I can pray for them. You just have to ask.”