In the summer of 2009, I was in Guatemala on a missions trip with the high school ministry of Willow Creek Community Church. After about a week of serving with a community doing some construction work, our team had about 2 days to relax, debrief, and do a little bit of sightseeing. We ended up at this national park type of place that was absolutely beautiful. The water in the lake was crystal clear, and the surrounding nature was breathtaking. We had a crazy tour guide that was showing us around. The first activity he had us do at this place was cliff jumping into the lake. I told you I hate drops and falling. Now, I hate the feeling of falling you get in your stomach. That’s why I don’t enjoy roller coasters because of the big drops. Even a little bit of turbulence on an airplane can freak me out. Yeah, yeah. I’m a big wuss. Whatever. But for some reason, I decided to climb up the cliff with the others and jump off. Apparently I screamed like a little girl as I was falling. Anyway, I decided to go back up and do it one more time.
Somehow, our tour guide had gotten another guy to climb up this huge tree and tie a rope swing off a branch for us to use. If I was hesitant to believe that we humans evolved from monkeys, this guy would have convinced me. He raced up the tree like it was nobody’s business. I’m pretty sure they based Spiderman off of him. Guatemala Team So our wild tour guide really wanted me to try the rope swing. Now, he was holding the rope for me on the side of the cliff and wanted me to climb down to where he was so that I could swing to jump into the water. But I could not figure out how to get down to where he was. There weren’t any good places to put my feet, and as I was trying to step down, I eventually lost my footing and slipped off the cliff. Now, I don’t know how I did it, and I like to think that I looked like a cool action movie star when it happened, but I was able to grab the rope as I was falling and swing away from the rocks to land safely in the water.
Scary then. Sweet story now. Later, we were exploring an underground river in a cave. We got to a part where the water was maybe just shy of waist deep. The guide told us to stay close to the left because the current got real strong on the right side and we could get stuck and be in danger. Well, I thought I was close enough to the left side but apparently I wasn’t, because I felt myself getting pulled into the current, and I lost control of my feet and started getting swept away, until a girl on our team grabbed my arm and pulled me back in line. Now, I don’t know if she saved me from getting stuck in an underground whirlpool or something, but let’s just say she did since that makes the story more intense. Mississippi Katrina Relief Team Those are two memories that definitely stand out from that trip. But there are so many more insights and lessons that God taught me on that trip, which I’ll get to in a little bit. Through generous donors and God’s provision, I was able to have many different service opportunities during my life. In high school, in addition to Guatemala, I was able to go serve in Ecuador and participate on a Katrina Relief trip in Mississippi.
During college, I went to Memphis, Angola (the Louisiana State Penitentiary, referenced in my post about loneliness, and New Orleans. Our teams were able to serve in a variety of ways, from helping build a school in Latin America, to talking with death row inmates, to ministering to people in neighborhoods right here in the United States. And I don’t take any of these experiences for granted. Angola Team These missions trips have been the most humbling times of my life. I saw poverty like I had never seen firsthand. It convicted me of how materialistic and greedy I could be in my own life at home. I met people who knew that they would be strapped in a lethal injection seat soon. They helped me realize the urgency needed to share Christ with those who do not know Him yet. I could go on and on about the lessons I’ve learned on these trips. But I want to sum it up with this one observation. Memphis Team Whether I was in a poor neighborhood in South America, or a maximum security prison in Lousiana, or a struggling family’s house in downtown Memphis, there was one thing that stayed constant throughout all those experiences. God.
To know that we were worshipping the same awesome God at my home church, in another continent, and in a prison, was just crazy to me. Crazy awesome. Looking back at all these trips, I can see how big God is. That anyone anywhere can come to know Him. How his power and love extends to all corners of the earth. It’s like that Newsboys song : “It’s all God’s children singing ‘Glory! Glory! Hallelujah, He reigns!’” It was sad having to leave the new friends we made after each trip. But there was one thought that comforted me each time a missions trip came to a close. Through the uniting power of Christ, I was going to see them in heaven. I knew I was going to see my new inmate friends sometime again. I knew I was going to be able to sing praises again in heaven with my new friends from the Guatemalan church we stayed at. And that’s pretty cool. No. That’s amazing. That’s the power and love of God. New Orleans Katrina Relief Team This summer, I have the privilege of going on a missions trip for the first time as a leader. It will also be my first real urban ministry experience. We will be taking several HYACKs students down to Sunshine Gospel Ministries on the south side of Chicago. And while I’m somewhat nervous and anxious about it, I can’t wait to see what God has in store for us, and how we are going to be blessed by the very people we go to serve. And that’s the best part of missions trips.