I’ve been on four missions trips over the past five years–three abroad, one in my state.
The first was to the Bahamas, with the church I grew up in. (The next three are with the church we began attending in the fall of 2006.) We went over Easter break of 2006 (my freshman year of high school), and did door-to-door ministry and park ministry. It was all right. That was probably the first time I noticed just how shy I’d gotten (I’ll expound on this in a minute), and so I didn’t do much talking as we went through the neighborhoods. But I remember playing with the kids in the park, and I think it was the first one that I somehow start lifting kids onto my back and spinning them around. They laughed in delight. The further away I am from this memory, the sweeter it is to me.
But I remember this trip in general as a bad experience. My focus wasn’t on God at all that week. I spent most of it worrying about impressing and hanging out with the guy who would break my heart only three months later. I will never forget the day I realized I had done more harm to Christ’s kingdom than good on this mission trip. I will never have those opportunities again, and I will always wish I hadn’t been so foolish. But by grace, I am forgiven.
The next mission trip was to Venezuela during the summer of 2007, teaching English as a second language (ESL) in the capital. This was right before I entered my junior year of high school. My mom and I went on this trip together. There was stress from that and also from the fact that one of my students took a long time to understand what I was trying to explain. I would get frustrated because I’m not always very good at explaining anything academic (so thank heaven for the little children who would have had me for a teacher before I ditched the education plan, which is a whole other story in and of itself that I’ll have to share sometime), so I’d get frustrated, and she’d try so hard to understand and take longer than other students and so she was frustrated.
I found out only afterwards that she had told one of the missionaries with whom we were working (alliteration, anyone? sorry–English nerd moment, and it’s over now) that the nine days of classes she’d attended had been nine days of peace.
Had she forgotten the frustration so quickly?!
Only a God as great as the one we serve could have used a frustrated sixteen-year-old to bring joy to that woman’s life. I only learned that after I found out about the joy she’d experienced that God can use us even when we’re being difficult, but that if He can use us then, how much more can He use us when we’re willing? I’m not saying I wasn’t willing to be used, but it had never once occurred to me that He could use me while teaching English and getting ridiculously frustrated in the process.
I always remember this lesson of God’s abilities when I think of Venezuela. And I always will.
This is also a notable trip because it’s the first time I ever got sunburned. And this is what I look like with one of those. Or this might have been once I was done peeling; either way, I think you’ll be able to find the sunburn line. About that…
That next summer (2008), I did missions at home. The youth group at my church has a weeklong missions opportunity every year that they name after the city where my church is. In the morning we helped run the annual VBS, and in the afternoons we did yard work for various families around the city. I remember having a ton of fun with the kids, meeting a new friend, and trying to have a heart for service. Serving others by doing yard work is not my strength and while I’m not saying it has to be, for anyone, I think we should at least be willing to do it if we can. My parents would think I’m crazy–I complain about yard work pretty much every time they tell me to do it–and no, I didn’t like it on this trip any better than I did at home, but it was good, honest work and it didn’t kill me.
I don’t have any pictures of this trip on my laptop so unfortunately I won’t get to share any with you. Nor do I have any of the Bahamas; I lost most of the prints my dad made, don’t have prints with me that I could scan onto my laptop, nor do I have any digital versions at all. (What on earth I did before I had a digital camera, or at least was able to use my dad’s, I will never understand.)
This past summer I was blessed to be able to go to Poland. I say blessed here because my parents had said I was done going on trips after Venezuela, at least until I got to college, and this was before college, and I still was able to go. I consider myself very fortunate, for several reasons.
First, we were blessed to have a team that was extremely cohesive. I’ll admit there was something that rankled with me from one of my team members, but I won’t go into it, mainly because it’s my pride that was insulted (and sometimes still smarts from the insult) and it’s irrelevant. But our team did work well together and for that reason I consider this the best trip I’ve been on. (The fact that I was the only team member under 25 probably helped keep our team working smoothly in the sense that unlike the other three, there weren’t four or more teenagers, so there wasn’t any of the accompanying drama. Plus I was eighteen on this trip and treated like an adult, for which I was very grateful, but that’s also irrelevant and as usual I digress.)
In Poland we ran a kids camp for missionary kids (MKs), while their parents were in their annual conference. We had kids whose parents were missionaries to Poland and the Czech Republic. They were so fun to be with. Working at a tutoring center for two years and having to deal with the kids there has shortened my patience, but these kids were wonderful to hang out with. I was also able to start friendships with Hanna and Andrew, siblings who at fifteen and sixteen respectively were several years older than the rest and therefore role models. (The MKs their age all happened to be back in their home countries with their parents on furlough.) Hanna and I especially have kept in good touch since and are planning to go shopping and some other fun things this summer when her family is back on furlough.
In Poland I began to learn the blessing of friendship and the responsibility of mentoring and guiding. And patience. Oh, lord, patience. I don’t know if there are any mothers that read this, but if there are, I commend you. It is a crazy job. But I bet you reap amazing rewards. My patience wasn’t tried too much that week, but the times that it was are definitely worth the joy I had from hanging out with the MKs.