At the end of my senior year of high school, their was talk about mission trips at my church. The high school wing was doing their yearly mission trip to Mexico, and my old high school group leader’s wife was leading it. Chris, my old high school leader I mentioned previously, was going on the trip as well, and was working to recruit students to go.
I hadn’t been on a mission trip since the summer before my freshman year. I honestly wasn’t that interested, especially because none of my good friends were going. Chris, however, kept pressing me to consider. Finally, one day I told him I would sign up, not really thinking much about my response.
I told my dad about the mission trip, and he told me I should go. I said okay, and didn’t really think much else about it. Things started to get real, however, when it was the deadline to sign up for the trip. I signed up the day sign-ups closed; I had no idea what I was getting myself into, or what to expect.
I missed the first two trip meetings due to being out of town, so my first meeting I felt out of place. Everyone going knew almost everyone else, either from the meetings or from being friends previously. I knew three people, and none of them extremely well.
I only went to three of the seven meetings before the trip, so when it came time to fly out to Mexico, I was scared. I still wasn’t that close to anyone on the team, and I didn’t know anything about what we were doing on this trip. I was so nervous that I barely slept the night before.
We met at the church at 4:00 a.m. on Sunday to drive to the airport.
I hate early mornings. I was running on about three hours of sleep, and I was terrified for I was stepping into the unknown. I also forgot to mention, I had never been out on the country before.
I barely spoke on the bus ride to the airport. Sitting alone, I watched everyone talk to their friends. I already wanted to go home.
My experience began to changed, however, when we got to the airport. I started conversations with some of my teammates, and we got to know each other a little better (not to mention I was a bit more awake at that point).
I slept the entire first flight to Texas, which I was okay with considering I was the only team member sitting with strangers. Our connecting flight from Texas to Mexico wasn’t for another three or so hours after we landed, so we ate Panda Express and played card games. It was fun.
When we arrived in Mexico, all of my worries piled up. I was in a foreign country, away from home, with people I didn’t know very well, and I didn’t speak the language. I was completely out of my comfort zone.
When we landed, we were picked up from the airport by a few people from Christian Missionary Fellowship International (CMF). We were serving along side of them for the time we were there. We went and had tacos, and I’m going to let you know now: you haven’t really had tacos until you’ve had authentic tacos. I’m not talking Taco Bell, that doesn’t compare to the tacos I had in Mexico.
They drove us to the camp, where we were stayed until Wednesday.
It was very different compared to camps in the U.S. The buildings didn’t have air conditioning, the only common building was the dinning hall, and the campers served the food to other campers. We slept on cots in a big room, so there was little personal space. What I didn’t realize until a few days later that these conditions were luxurious for the campers. A lot of them come from homes that house their family and extended family, so having their own bed and a roof over their head was something they didn’t experience on a regular basis.
The first day felt so long. After we got settled, we were introduced and split into groups. I was placed in the orange group, as well as were two other people from my church. We learned their chicken dance, and we played so icebreaker games. Then, we had a campfire, which seemed to last forever. We were all tired, but we had to stay out until 11:30 p.m. that night.
The next day was not the best.
I discovered I had altitude sickness, and I was still struggling to connect to the campers. The day consisted of meals, sports, lessons, games, and swimming. We had absolutely no down time, to which was hard to adjust.
Side note: swimming was HUGE for the campers. Unlike in the States, most of these kids didn’t have access to a pool at home, and some of them didn’t even know how to swim because they never got the chance to learn
Throughout the day, my attitude started to change. I started forming relationships with others, even though it took a while to have a conversation with some people because we didn’t speak the same language. One of the most comforting things was that the campers came up to us, and genuinely wanted to talk to us.
The rest of the week went by very quickly.
On Wednesday, we left the camp to go to the church. From Wednesday night on, we stayed in a hotel, which was close to the church. By then I had started to become close friends with some of the campers, as well as the people from our church. While we were at the church, we continued the theme of the camp, as well as worked on serving the community. I actually wanted to be there, and as the end of the week approached, I didn’t want to leave.
This trip changed my life.
I wasn’t expecting it to have such an impact on me. I entered Mexico scared about the unknown, which hardened my heart. However, once I asked God to change my outlook on the trip, there was a change in me. I feel like I learned more on that trip than I taught others. I realized that we weren’t there to help the campers, but we were there to serve along side them and encourage one other to grow in our faith.
One thing I loved about their culture was their sense of community. Their friendships and relationships were completely different from what occurs in the U.S. They do life together. For a lot of them, family and friends are all they have. I want to be able to bring that sense of relationship to my community, both at home and at school.
The trip also made me realize that I need to stop worrying about what other people think of me. I often exclude myself from others because I’m afraid if I approach them, that they won’t accept me. However, in Mexico, so many of the campers approached me and were interested to get to know who I am, even though we have so many differences. I learned that I shouldn’t care what other people think, because most of the time, they could use a friend as well.
I will never forget this trip. I made so many close friends, some that live in a different country than me. I learned so much about God and his plan for me in the little time we were there. I’m so glad I got to go, and I’m thankful for all the prayers and support.
What the bible has to say about: serving others
“Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your body as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.”
I believe this verse is calling us to step out of our comfort zone and fully commit to serving God. Sometimes, where He calls you is scary. I was terrified when I first got to Mexico. But God can use you in mysterious and wonderful ways if you let Him, you just have to answer to His call.
Tip and tidbits about mission trips
- Humble yourself. Don’t go in with the mindset that you are there to help them. You aren’t there to make their lives better. You are there to serve along side of the people and to share the love of Jesus.
- Allow yourself to learn from those who live where you are serving. I’ve learned after several mission trips that the locals may have a bigger impact on you than you have on them. That’s okay. Allow yourself to grow while you are on these trips.
- If you are serving with the materially poor, don’t come with the mindset that giving them gifts will make there lives better. Before we went on the trip, we read “Helping Without Hurting: In Short-Term Missions,” which is an excellent book that talks about how to serve without making a negative impact. In the book, the authors touched a lot on how sometimes giving the materially poor “things” can make them feel degraded and like they cannot provide for them and their families. I highly recommend reading the book if you can.
- If there is a language barrier, don’t worry. Throughout the week, I didn’t really learn more Spanish than I already knew, however by the end of the week, I was able to communicate with the campers better than ever. I learned that actions really do speak louder than words. Even if you don’t have real conversations with people, you can still get to know them through activities such as sports and games. Don’t let language discourage you, in the end you will find a way to create relationships. (p.s. It does, however, encourage them if you try to learn and speak their language 😊)