I’m sharing in Chapel next week. Our theme is “Missionaries” and mission trips have completely shaped my life for the last seventeen years. In case some of you don’t know the story, I thought I’d
practice my chapel share a bit here. It’s pretty sweet.
At church, I always heard about our big mission trip and I REALLY wanted to go. I’m not sure why…I wanted to speak Spanish and be around Mexicans from a very young age. This still stands. But you had to be 13 to go without a parent. When the year finally came, my grandma Susi sewed me long skirts that were reversible and had pockets (my sense of fashion was just forming into the elastic-band-only stance it is now. I was ahead of my time) and I packed shirts that wouldn’t show as much of my sweat.
The drive there was endless and Ensenada was hotter than blazes. The showers were hoses out of walls, the bathroom stalls had no doors, you couldn’t flush toilet paper, and I got my period unexpectedly. This might have also been the year we ALL got Montezuma’s revenge. The story is one I tell every time to newcomers, stubbornly brushing my teeth with tap water, to “build up my immunity.”
I remember we went to the church and split in groups to walk around for a few hours, knocking on doors in the neighborhood to invite kids to come (something we’d never do now!). We had Vacation Bible school, with sweaty snot-nosed damp-bottomed kids in our laps, sweating buckets, screaming worship songs about frogs who knew Jesus at the top of our lungs.
Our ministry was small and our afternoons free to hang out at the camp. There was a woman who led the praise and worship, had been a longterm missionary in Africa and was amazing in general. She indulged me by sitting under the trees and playing any song you asked her to. I especially enjoyed the ones from “Sound of Music.” One day she said I had a good voice and should learn how to play guitar. I laughed and thought it was a silly idea, but told my family I’d like a guitar for Christmas, thinking it would never happen.
Fast forward a few years and my new guitar and I were still going on the mission trip, but now also leading worship (poorly, I might add. I quit my lessons after six weeks because my super creepy instructor suggested we spend weekends up at his cabin together smoking pot) for the team, and then for the women’s ministry, for the teen girl ministry. (I eventually got better, don’t worry. :) )
From the first, the trip changed me. My desire to learn Spanish became a huge part of my life. I made best friends with girls in Mexico and sobbed every time I had to leave them for a year without contact (this is all pre-email days!). I saw people living in abject poverty, that I could do nothing to help materially, but that were happier than I thought possible, simply because they had Jesus.
Within our group, I met adults that believed in me, cared about me, encouraged my talents. I was given leadership opportunities at a young age and connected in supernatural ways with the people I met in Mexico and the people I grew so close to from my church who went on the trip. I realized that being a Christian doesn’t mean you are a boring dork for the rest of your life.
There were scary times the other 51 weeks of the year – my partying was out of control, I was wildly depressed for different reasons and not really talking about it. I really couldn’t financially afford to take a week off my two jobs and pay a lot of money to go on a mission trip, but every year, no matter how much money needed to fall from the sky (and I would tell our directors, “if God wants me to go this year, money literally needs to fall from the freaking sky.”), somehow it always did. I’d get a phone call that someone had dropped off a check to go “where it’s needed most,” and they had decided that I needed it most to go. And so I kept going. And I loved it. I was the best version of me, the happiest me that week. Because I was doing what I was supposed to be doing.
I ended up double majoring in Spanish and the Socioeconomics and Politics of Latin America. I had no idea what I would do with those degrees. In Mexico, July of 2008, I was baptized in a shallow pool on the campgrounds where I had become a person I liked. In front of about a hundred people, I led worship, gave my testimony, and with some of my best friends, with my youngest sister there, and two couples I consider spiritual parents, my lifelong youth pastor baptized me (this was incredibly special, as he moved to Alaska shortly thereafter).
Because of my passion for Spanish and the people of Latin America sparked from that first mission trip, I went backpacking for six months through Central America. During that trip, I got to translate for a medical mission in nowhere, Honduras. That was a really nutty experience – the hardest part for me was that it wasn’t church-based, so I couldn’t even say “Can I pray for you? God bless you.” and call people my sisters and brothers. It felt really odd to be very clinical with people. So I stopped being clinical. I hugged and kissed and prayed, blessed children and told people to go with God. I realized that was the only way to feel like I was lending any kind of hope.
Before I went backpacking, one of my spiritual parents from that mission trip asked if I would be interested in going on a youth-led mission trip to Nicaragua, literally a few days after I was scheduled to return from my backpacking trip. I told him I could put a deposit down, but nothing else. Because money would have to fall from the sky.
The money ended up falling, and despite just having returned from months in chicken buses, scrambling over Mayan ruins, eating dodgy food from street vendors, I went on the mission trip. Had an incredible time with a truly talented group of young adults from my church. At this point, I had been a part of Mission 2 Mexico for almost 15 years. I had landed back at home with my parents after returning from the backpacking and the Nicaragua trip. And I had no idea what I was going to do with my life.
A few weeks after the Nicaragua trip (which rocked my world more than I care to admit), we had a reunion dinner. At the end of the night, the mom of the hosts asked how I was doing (terrible), how my job search was going (miserably) and how she could pray for me. At this point, I had applied to 40+ places. Safeway wouldn’t hire me. Starbucks rejected me. But Susan asked me what my dream job looked like. I replied “I don’t have time for dreams, I need any job.” And she said –
“Our God is a big god. What three things would your dream job have? Tell me. Let’s pray about it.”
I sighed (heavily, most like, inward eye roll at this ‘God is listening’ mumbo jumbo), and replied slowly . . . “Okay. Um. Dream job. Well. I guess. If we are dreaming (emphasis on this is BS), it would have kids, languages, and Jesus.”
Two weeks later she called me saying that the Christian school she worked at was looking for a Spanish and Latin teacher at the junior high level.
When I went in to apply, the secretary told me that she didn’t think they were hiring, but I insisted I was meant to fill out an application. When I interviewed, the Principal said “You don’t know Latin and you’ve never taught before…what makes you think you can do this (‘this’ being six Latin classes, two Spanish classes, after school drama course and coach volleyball on a tiny salary) ?”
I said “I love Jesus, kids, and languages. I think it will all work out.”
And it did. I learned Latin, taught Spanish, started a drama club after school, and coached a volleyball team. I worked full time and went to school full time and graduated with a teaching certificate marked with a 4.0. Which was like Jesus saying “yeah, this is what I want you to do. You do good stuff with kids.” Because of that experience, when I was left flailing about for a place on this earth after breaking up with my boyfriend and feeling like I had thrown my life away, I was able to get a job teaching English here in Brazil, where I also lead worship on occasion, speak Spanish to internationals, and am easily still the most dramatic person I know.
God has hooked me UP. When I think there is nothing to do, and no way out, He finds a way for me. And it started with that first mission trip. A lot has been done for and with the people of Mexico, Nicaragua, and Honduras, where I have done mission work, but a lot of work has been done in me, too. I found talents God has given me and figured out how to use them for Him. I found community. I found role models. I found purpose. I found Jesus to be more real than I am sometimes prepared to talk about.
Sometimes I think the secret to Jesus is community. It might be in learning to care so much for each other, valuing each other, working with each other so much, that (if you can make it) you will become the best version of you, surrounded by encouragement, accountability, (hopefully) wisdom and experience and vision.
I know Spanish, I play guitar, I know I can sing, I’ve met and loved so many, I learned about responsibility and mentoring and authority from God through this experience. I’m still a Christian because of that mission trip. I owe my career to a mission trip. And the things I have learned and the God I’ve experienced while living the way we do in missions teams, even just the memory of it, saves me and pulls me to Jesus again and again.
I think I went on a mission trip because I wanted to do good things for other people. And I think I have, over the years. But what I didn’t understand then, and what I’m so thankful for now, is all the good things that serving a big and crazy God did and continues to do for me, as I keep working on being the best version of me I can be.