Dear Younger Me: First Mission Trip

This is a letter to my almost 15-year-old self on that very first exhilarating mission trip to Honduras in February 2004. Note: mission trip (STM) refers to evangelical Christian humanitarian work typically in another country. My teenage self would probably roll her eyes at this letter, but… Little Idealist, these are lessons you will eventually learn.

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In a medical clinic during one of my first trips. El Jardín, Copán, HN.

Dear Younger Me,

Finally! You’ve been waiting and praying about the chance to go on a mission trip and it’s finally here. So much expectation and anticipation (and let’s face it… drama, because well, you’re 14.) It really will prove to be more life-changing than you can even understand in this phase of life. I know you have done so much preparation and feel like everything in life has been leading up to this big, glorious moment. It will actually prove to be just one of many gloriously small moments that will ultimately string together in a beautiful way that only God can orchestrate. Just wait.

Journal this experience. I know you do this anyway because you’ve always been the weirdo kid who documents EVERY. THING. Good for you. One day, you’ll be 27 and a more experienced, slightly wiser version of yourself and you’ll be going through your old things and come across your old mission trip journal and you will sit in your room and cry over the pages because of how faithful God has been. And you’ll laugh at how cute and naive you once were.

LEARN. That is your first responsibility as a team member on a mission trip: to learn. Learn the language. Learn the culture. If you are serious about opening your mind and heart up to this new part of the world and want to effectively serve in some capacity with these people then there is only one option that makes sense… LEARN TO COMMUNICATE WITH THEM. You can’t build a ministry in another country through hand gestures and handouts while thinking like an American (read: United States-ean). Relationships are key and the foundation is communication and understanding. Do the hard work: learn the language.

Being a learner means you realize that you actually don’t know best. Do you know who does know best? The natives, and usually, the missionaries. The ones who live there day-in and day-out. They know what is appropriate and what is not. They know which situations are dangerous and which are not. As a team member, an outsider (no matter your age), it is not your place to question their leadership or decisions. Like, if they tell you to stop laughing obnoxiously loud in a public restaurant because you are being disrespectful of the country’s social norms don’t roll your eyes because “ugh, what a party pooper.” (Other than already attracting probably more unwanted attention than necessary, you are reinforcing a negative stereotype of North Americans – being disrespectfully loud and dominating of public spaces). You are also part of a team of people who is representing a local ministry or organization. LIVE BY THEIR RULES. It might seem super stuffy or strict compared to your church back home but… you are not at home. Respect the hosts’ rules.

Once you get to truly know the people and the culture you’ll find that they aren’t that different from you. You’ll get past the point of identifying all the differences and will start to celebrate and relish in the similarities of your common humanity. You’ll see dignity in each person and will be less likely to make blanket statements about their culture or race. As time goes on and you start having more conversations with the natives you’ll realize you stop talking so much about the natives. You’ll probably start out quoting faulty statistics about the country to friends back home or making wild generalizations about the local people as a whole… (Yeah, you’re gonna think you’re an expert on the entire Honduran population within your first trip or two. You’re kind of annoying.) Then you will get to know their hearts and will feel silly for making all those ethnocentric assumptions. (Thankfully, your Honduran friends are gracious people. Most will forgive you.) 😉

You’ll undoubtedly come home from this first trip with excitement and tears and pictures, sharing stories of what you saw and felt. Who wouldn’t? You might encourage a couple other friends or family members to join you on following trips. Some will listen intently, some will get bored from your stories pretty quickly because they didn’t experience it with you. They’re not going to understand. They don’t get why you cry because you have such a nice house and so many don’t, and why suddenly you are borderline taking a vow of poverty. You just went though a real emotional journey over the last seven days and those who didn’t experience it can’t exactly relate.

Speaking of poverty… YOU ARE NOT A POVERTY TOURIST. You did not pay $1,200 to travel all the way to Central America so you could “experience poverty.” (Which you never actually did. Seeing poverty is not experiencing poverty.) The thousands of people who live in rural Honduras and are trying to survive off a dollar a day are not staged for your entertainment or learning exploit. This is their real life. I know you’re excited about all the pictures you get to show to everyone back home but count the cost of that photo you just snapped with your iPhone* in that family’s private space while gawking at their extreme lack. Be sensitive and consider each person’s dignity before doing anything.

*I went through 3 entire disposable cameras on my first trip 12 years ago

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Apparently all I did on my first trip was hold other people’s babies.

Now, let’s talk about your clothes for a second. This isn’t a pertinent issue necessarily but it reflects your attitude toward those you are serving. If you show up uncharacteristically dressed like a bum in cut-off capris and cut-off ratty t-shirts, the message you are conveying is: you aren’t worth my best… or at least, you aren’t worth my average. I’m telling you now, there is no need to raid the thrift store for the nastiest items before your trip because “you don’t want to ruin your good clothes.” This is a fine excuse if you are helping with hard labor or a messy job like painting but consider your activity… washing hair for lice? Giving worm medicine at the entrance of the pop-up clinic? Dress appropriately and show respect in that.

Ok, I know you most likely will not receive this well right now because you are high on enthusiasm and naive idealism but you will come to learn this with time and it needs to be said… you are not the hero. Like, it is not about you at all. Take your piece of humble pie and swallow it well because no one likes an arrogant team member. You are one of many team members and unity is key. First of all, you are doing the humbling job of serving other human beings, so esteem them higher than yourself. Secondly, you are working with other volunteers as a unit and any individualism on the job has to go. Thirdly, you nor your team are the first nor the only ones to do this kind of work. It is valuable and needed! But it is not exclusive to your group. You don’t have a monopoly on “free medical clinics in Honduras”and you certainly didn’t invent the idea. Celebrate the fact that you are joining so many others in the effort to share Christ’s love in a tangible way!

It all feels glamorous right now but it won’t always be. You will experience more fear and pain than you even imagined but you will find more love than you even imagined also.

Let this experience move you to inward and outward change. You will slowly start to see the world completely differently. You’ll probably have a slightly different perspective on success, faith, politics, and current events than others. Let it move you to make a difference at home as you dream about going abroad again. You didn’t have this awakening inside your soul just to apathetically return to abundance and self-indulgence. Your eyes will be open to hurting people all around you. DO SOMETHING. Don’t sit casually waiting on your annual mission trip to come around again. You have a bigger purpose and there is too much at stake for you to put on your missionary hat for only one week out of the year.

So, in conclusion, little 14-year-old going on 15, your years ahead have so much in store. Don’t worry about learning all these lessons at once. It will happen in its time. Just you wait,

27-year-old You

(who still anticipates more lessons in the future)

___________

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Then in college I wrote this poem in an attempt to express the love affair I have with the country & people to which I don’t belong.

A Call to Love

Broken streets and broken souls call
I am compelled to answer, answer them all
Your small hands have taught me more than textbooks could contain
Your selfless joy is like my heart’s refrain
I’d choose you over a city of gold – all of you, every inch
I’d choose you first and I’d choose you again
I am a jealous lover, it’s my heart you win
You’re more than a memory, more than a friend
More than beauty and dirt and land
More than a good story to tell, more than I can stand
I am who I am because of you
It’s taken years to express, but for years it’s been true
My commitment to you runs deeper than a flutter in my chest
You have all of me, my worst and my best
I love you longer than seven days
Beyond borders and languages, my love stays
I love you stronger than a smile or a tear
Because I choose to love in the face of pain and fear
I’ve felt welcomed, accepted, rejected and betrayed
I was close to giving in and letting apprehension have its way
But I am led to you by a greater Hand
And my trivial emotions are irrelevant to His plan
I haven’t forgotten you, I never could
You are my first love, and my love is for good

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Oh yeah, 27-year-old me still likes holding other people’s babies. 🙂 Nueva Alianza, Copán, HN.

 

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When Grown-ups [Indirectly] Hurt Your Feelings on Facebook (or in real life)

*Disclaimer: Maybe this is common sense for some of you. If so, GREAT! Unfortunately, from my Facebook newsfeed this is still an issue among people I know.* :/

Dear oblivious friend, family member, angry and bitter Facebook acquaintance,

Your comments hurt. Yeah, remember that time you thought it was funny to joke about those illegals or those violent Muslims? Or, maybe because you feel as if the government or the media is unfairly slanted toward “anti-American values” (and due to the fact that you don’t have any diversity whatsoever within your Facebook friend list) you thought it would even the playing fields by lashing out at an entire group of people by reposting a cruel meme. You justify your hate speech with scripture and make biting comments and sarcastically wish ill on “those people” all in the name of patriotism or religion or whatever twisted combination of the two you pledge allegiance to.

Those things hurt.

Personally.

And it makes me question if there are any loving Christians still out there. 😦 (I know there are because some of my best friends still represent the very best of Christianity)

I know I’m sensitive. I get emotionally involved in situations and people’s lives too easily. I feel drawn to outcasts and misunderstood people. My worldview (read: politics) is determined by my faith in Christ + personal experiences and friendships NOT by talking heads in the media who supposedly share my faith.

(I don’t want to get on the subject of politics but FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, why are so many Christ-followers supporting a clearly arrogant, bitter, angry, unloving, anti-grace bigot this election season? I am appalled.)

“I see the confusion of politics and religion as one of the greatest barriers to grace. C. S. Lewis observed that almost all crimes of Christian history have come about when religion is confused with politics. Politics, which always runs by the rules of UNgrace, allures us to trade away grace for power, a temptation the church has often been unable to resist.” – Philip Yancey

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I do believe that God has given me a burden for marginalized people. I confess that I am not always the best at loving people consistently but oh, how I feel a heavy burden. I have been an advocate for immigrants for some time and just recently I have made a couple dear friends in the Muslim community not too far from where I live. I am consistently amazed at what we have in common. Why had I never noticed our common humanity before?

Maybe because most of the voices I hear paint these every-day people as a murderous, revenge-seeking caricature. That is so far from my personal experience. I choose to believe that my friends are not the exception to the rule, just as I hope they choose to believe that I am not the exception either. And I hope I’m not.

(Funny, random story: the other day I was giving some friends a ride home after the ESL class that I teach. It sounds like the start of a joke but we were… a white girl, a Latina and a Muslim lady all in one little car. A group of people was on the corner at an intersection where we stopped and they all had posters offering free hugs. I honked and waved and a black girl ran across the street and reached into my car to give us all hugs! It was hilarious! I don’t know what that group represented or if I would even personally agree with them on what they stood for but it didn’t matter, I’ll still take a free hug! All four of us had such distinct backgrounds and stories. That to me looked like such a lovely picture of diversity. I wish someone had actually taken a photo. ❤ )

Some people would rather live their lives looking at others with suspicion and fear. That doesn’t sound like a nice way to live though.

If you live wide-eyed in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. Keep your eyes open, your lamp burning, so you don’t get musty and murky. Keep your life as well-lighted as your best-lighted room.” Luke 11:35-36 Message

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..unless it is actually just you because “out of the heart the mouth speaks.” …or the fingers post.

Action step: Let’s try to be more considerate with what we post online. Have a little more discernment before sharing that hilarious thing so-and-so just posted.

We can all THINK before we post. Is it…

True

Helpful

Inspiring

Necessary

Kind?

And I am certainly not saying all of this out of political correctness. Could there be a more nauseating topic of conversation?? How about we all just try not to be *rear ends* in general as we interact with one another. It’s not about being politically correct. It’s about being patient and kind and loving and gracious. I don’t know if Jesus would be too down with your redneck renegade rant you just posted offending half of His creation. Let’s be gentle in our speech.

For the most part, this is me while scrolling through social media…

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But sometimes I want to sit down with the person and have a good coffee (or Yemeni chai tea) and ask what kind of horrible experience they had that made them so hateful toward another person… maybe that is a conversation we should have?

Don’t doubt in the dark what you saw in the light…

For anyone who’s been doubting or feeling skeptical like I often do, I am here to tell you that the REAL God still changes hearts in REAL life.

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(free stock photo from Pexels)

[So, I am working on a Honduras update post or two but I wanted to give a quick testimony and word of praise for what I experienced yesterday at church.]

First of all, the worship team started off the service with a song I had never heard before called Covered by Israel Houghton that absolutely tore me up…

At the cross you called it finished!

All my past is covered… all my sin is covered by your grace…

No matter what I’ve done
No matter where I’ve been
No matter how I fall
You pick me up again
You have removed my shame
You take me as I am
You call me justified
Now I am covered by your grace

Without mentioning the name of the church (because God gets all the glory, not any person or physical location) I want to say how much I admire this team of ministers for creating such a welcoming atmosphere and having the spiritual discernment and anticipation to be prepared to minister when a person has some heavy crap to take care of. Let’s be real, as humans we get shocked and offended and scared at some of the real life junk that people are dealing with deep down. It is a lot easier to dress up on Sunday mornings and intentionally not think about the personal hell that our neighbor might be living in.

My heart hurts for those who think they wouldn’t be welcomed in a church building. We as Christ-followers should be the most welcoming people on the planet. Why do we screw this up so much?

Well, God isn’t offended or intimidated by our mess. He loves us so intensely that just one encounter with His presence, one taste of the REAL Living Water, is enough to quench our thirst and make us realize that we had been so foolishly drinking out of the wrong well for so long looking for something that didn’t even satisfy.

A friend of a family member whom I met for the first time yesterday got a RADICAL taste of this unconditional love and overwhelming grace. He got set free from some crazy stuff on the spot while praying with some staff members after the service. I’ve been in awe of the Lord and feeling kinda weepy ever since. God is good.

Sometimes in ministry we feel like we’re treading water, maybe we are in the “sowing seeds” stage and it feels really slow. The all of a sudden we get to participate in the “harvest” and it is so encouraging and affirming. And I was reminded again not to ever underestimate what God can and will do. He’s been using unconventional ways and unconventional people since the beginning of time. Who are we to predict or “approve” of His methods or even think we could possibly have Him figured out? (And who says ministry only happens in the church building? That might be one of the most debilitating myths of the Church’s ministry today and there are even pastors who perpetuate this mindset.) When we start recognizing the divine in the mundane and becoming aware of sacred moments in secular settings we will be much more effective in the Kingdom. Let’s not miss God-ordained opportunities because we’re too busy with our heads down shuffling through our daily routines.

God is so much bigger 🙂

I’m insignificant but significantly LOVED

I’ve had a couple good conversations with friends recently about how at this point in our lives (several years post-grad) there’s a disappointment that inevitably hits when we realize we aren’t in our glamorous dream job or leading these world-changing ministries like we thought we would be by this age. We decided that that’s okay. (especially considering how wide-eyed and mystified we were in our college years!) 😉 Sometimes life throws a few curve balls and you have to roll with it. What’s important is having the understanding that our significance should never come from our vocation or ministry position to begin with, no matter what that may be.

The rise of self-promotion via social networking has made it quite tempting to post with the purpose of making ourselves appear to be doing something more worthwhile with our life than everyone else is. It’s like we feel the need to announce to the world, “Look! I am doing something significant!” God, let that never be my motivation. When in reality we are all different parts of the body of Christ with many different functions. (Romans 12:3-5) No one is more important than the other.

(The humble experience of having to move back to the U.S. from Honduras for an extended time has been such a great teacher. I really am learning a lot of valuable lessons in this weird transition-like season my life seems to be in.)

God has been dealing with me quite a bit recently through reading a book called Ruthless Trust by Brennan Manning.

I’m in tears reading what sounds like the pages of my very own diary or really maybe responses to what I’ve written:

Humble men and women do not have a low opinion of themselves; they have no opinion of themselves, because they so rarely think about themselves. The heart of humility lies in undivided attention to God, a fascination with his beauty revealed in creation, a contemplative presence to each person who speaks to us, and a “de-selfing” of our plans, projects, ambitions, and soul. Humility is manifested in an indifference to intellectual, emotional, and physical well-being and a carefree disregard of the image we present. No longer concerned with appearing to be good, we can move freely in the mystery of who we really are, aware of the sovereignty of God and of our absolute insufficiency and yet moved by a spirit of radical self-acceptance without self-concern.

Humble people are without pretense, free from any sense of spiritual superiority, and liberated from the need to be associated with persons of importance. The awareness of their spiritual emptiness does not disconcert them. Neither overly sensitive to criticism nor inflated by praise, they recognize their brokenness, acknowledge their gifts, and refuse to take themselves seriously.

THAT is a person so caught up in the Father’s gaze that petty annoyances in life mean nothing. Even for a self-diagnosed Highly Sensitive Person, personal insults or subtle questions of character or blatant disinterest or underhanded “innocent” jokes from people with ulterior motives really begin to pale in comparison with the weightiness of the great mission that Abba is inviting us to. That kind of person doesn’t have time to worry about why “she didn’t message back” or why “they never ask about the ministry” or “why he didn’t donate to the cause.”

Because when the enemy uses these tactics against Lovers of Christ to derail them from their focus, instead of feeling defeat, that person so preoccupied with the glory of Jesus says, “Your will be done. Your kingdom come. All glory to Your name. I am at Your disposal.” Not the other way around. God doesn’t exist to ease our egos. We exist to bring Him glory.

And I don’t have time to maintain these regrets (or hold these grudges or stay offended) when I think about the way He loves us…

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Manel Antonio beach, Costa Rica 2010, photo cred: Charlie B.

Our culture kind of teaches us to talk ourselves up. We apply for scholarships and we have to list our achievements and involvement. We interview for a job and we have to expound on our strengths and why we’re perfect for the position.

Recently, I’ve been learning to rest in my insignificance yet accept myself in the radical and nonsensical love that Christ has for me. I am insignificant and all my attempts at being good are insignificant. The only thing worth talking about in my life is Christ in me. (Galatians 6:14) I hear him say, “you are enough.”

__________ In application to my life __________

I graduated from college with an average amount of student loans. Overwhelming and discouraging at the time and seemingly insurmountable. A definite road block to my calling, I felt. I know that it is only by the grace of God that in the last year and 8 months that I have been back in the states, I have paid two-thirds of my total school loan debt!! IN ONE YEAR I WILL BE COMPLETELY DEBT-FREE!! My sole reason for moving back to the states has been to take care of my debt. This has not been a fun process. (if it weren’t for the help of my parents and grandparents along the way, it would have been an even longer and more discouraging process – so big THANKS to them!)

I say it hasn’t been a fun process not just because of the typical cutting back and “sacrifices” of every day life but because I had a timeline and an idea in my head of how things should work and life just was not going to allow it. There have been delays on life decisions and next steps and I have had to fight back tears some days when I was frustrated with God and didn’t understand His plan – especially when it seemed like everyone else in the world was moving on with their life plans and I felt stuck. This is where I have started to put into practice the concept of TRUST. God, I trust You and your timing.

Even when I was having pity parties or hissy fits because I can be dramatic and life just wasn’t fair! – God was faithful. Not only am I making progress and moving toward my goal of getting back to the mission field in Honduras but I have come to see much of my current work in the states as my ministry. (And I do so enjoy all the part-time and contract jobs I am working these days! For privacy reasons, there is a lot that I won’t post on my public blog but I’d love to chat with you about it in person if you know me.)

Although, I would advise a young person to really consider the financial burden of student loans before deciding on a college and how to pay for it, I must say that I LOVE my alma mater, Lee University. I would not be the person that I am today nor be heading down the path I’m on if it weren’t for my school and the experience I had, friends I met, and connections I made there. I am confident that it was part of God’s plan for my life.

All that to say, I don’t know the details of what the future holds for me* (and the man I am in love with so many miles away from me ❤ ) but as the cliche goes, “I know Who holds my future,” and I trust Him so very much!

*except that, God-willing, I will be back in Central America for good by sometime next year 😀