When people at church heard my family was going on a mission trip to Mexico, they of course asked if I were nervous, or excited, or how I was looking forward to it. I told them I thought it would be one of those experiences that you’re scared of beforehand, but that turns out to be one to the best weeks of your life afterwards. I was nervous about leaving the United States for the first time, about speaking Spanish to someone other than my brothers and my teacher, and about all the unknowns of a mission trip.
This is my first year of studying Spanish, so I felt that I would be able to communicate very little with the Mexicans. I stammered a few short sentences during a church service and a few more during a science class. But that science class was the turning point. It showed me that as long as I stayed within my vocabulary, it was not that hard to speak in Spanish. I still had to think in English, then cast the thought into Spanish words and syntax, especially when I was just beginning a conversation. But after a couple days, if I got going well enough, I found myself thinking as well as speaking Spanish.
I helped with several science classes, and after a couple days my Spanish teacher said I should translate for one. I had been watching students with two or three years’ more experience than I do this, so I was surprised he even asked me. I didn’t think I knew enough to stand beside the science teacher and repeat in Spanish his English words. My Spanish teacher had more faith in my language skills than I did at that point!
But he and several others kept at me, and I agreed to try. Once I got going, it was not as bad as I had anticipated. Yes, there were words I didn’t know, and I’m sure what I said sometimes sounded a little strange, but the kids understood me well enough, and the Americans present said I had done well for a first year student. It was both fun and frightening to use my Spanish, and I had to trust God that I was saying what I wanted to. I have never been in a situation where it was an act of faith simply to open my mouth and speak.
The whole week was an adventure. The atmosphere on the trip and of the team was one of intense dedication and purpose, very different from anything else I have experienced, yet exciting and invigorating. We had one purpose – to serve the Mexicans – and we went at it with all we had.
I took along a poem I was working on memorizing, “Ulysses” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson; and throughout the week I had this line running through my head: “…I will drink life to the lees”, and also these, from farther on in the poem:
“How dull it is to pause, to make an end, To rust unburnished, not to shine in use! As though to breathe were life! Life piled on life Were all too little…”
I think it was no coincidence that I was thinking of Ulysses’ desire to live life to the full, and not to shy away from something because of fear or age. God was using those lines in that situation to tell me that it is an adventure to serve Him, if I will do it wholeheartedly, and to begin softening the shell of caution and reserve that smothers my sense of adventure. He was beginning to show me that life is bigger, richer, and more exciting than I had thought or maybe wanted to accept, and giving me the desire to experience it more than I have.
I also opened up to share things with the group that were close to my heart and that I previously would have kept hidden. But I could feel God telling me to speak up, even though I knew it would benefit me more by telling than it would the others by hearing. It was not what I said that was important, but that I took a step of faith and spoke.
This trip to Mexico was over in one week, but the lessons I learned from it will continue on into the rest of my life. God is not done teaching me about faith and the adventure of following Him unreservedly; He merely used this trip to begin. There were times when I was afraid and uncertain, but I learned more through them than I would have had they not happened. I was right in my response to the people at church: in spite of my fears, this mission trip did turn out to be one of the best weeks of my life.
And, another testimony...
It’s 3 in the morning and I’m exhausted but energized from the excitement I feel. Jolting out of bed, I throw on the clothes that I had laid next to my bed and grab my suitcase that I carefully packed the day before. I rush upstairs were my dad waits, also looking exhausted. Then off to the airport we go. It’s time to go to Mexico.
Just three weeks before, I was offered the opportunity to join a Spanish Class organization on a missions trip to Mexico. I am part of this organization but, because I was only a first year Spanish student, there had not been room for me on the trip at the beginning. But at the last minute, two people going on the trip dropped out, leaving vacant spots. Luckily, I was at the top of the waiting list and was able to join.
The flight to San Diego was lovely; as I love flights and the scenery you can watch flow by beneath you. When we arrived in San Diego, we rented four 15 passenger vans with the back rows removed for cargo space. We eagerly loaded into our assigned vans. I was assigned van 3, a.k.a. the Peace Van, with ten other people. The drive down to San Vicente, Baja California, Mexico, which was our destination, was a good six hour drive. Not including our long stop at Costco to purchase and load the pre-ordered food for the week and eat lunch. Because I joined the group late, I didn’t know the people in my van very well. But sleep deprivation is a great tool to get people to be more open with each other. The people in my van were fabulous and we had endless fun and conversation the entire drive down.
When we finally arrived at Rancho Santa Marta in San Vicente, the orphanage/ school/ranch that we came to help out, we unloaded into our dorms, eat dinner, discussed plans for the week, and crashed in our beds.
The next day was Sunday and we joined the Mexicans at the Ranch in their church service. They invited our group to sing and speak, in Spanish, for them. After church we headed down to the beach, since it was predicted to be the hottest day of the week. The dirt road leading from the main, paved road to the beach was an old, rough road full of bumps and pot holes. We took it full on. In our massive, 15 passenger vans, we went as fast as we could without flipping over. We were passing Mexicans, who were usually more reckless drivers, who had 4 wheel drive, all-terrain vehicles. In the endeavor for and epic and insane van ride, our lead driver lost three of his hubcaps. The beach was a fantastic time of frolicking and diving around massive sand dunes, and splashing and running trough the water, which was surprisingly cold.
The next day we started the real reason we came. We began digging ditches for the foundation of a new building project, harvesting hundreds of grapefruit-sized rocks from the surrounding hills to use as concrete filler, setting up fences for a new cattle-corral, and painting new signs for the ranch and the school. We labored all day at these projects while having fun and getting to know each other at the same time.
The following day, Tuesday, we began my favorite part of the trip, the VBS’s and activities with the children of the school and orphanage. Several groups would come in every day we did this. For each group, we would begin by singing songs, followed by performing skits from Bible stories, and finally participating in crafts and games. I was marvelous fun to be able to participate in making these little children happy. I got to make balloon animals and swords for the children and paint their faces, hands and arms. During one of the craft times on Tuesday, I was looking around at the kids with their faces lit up with enormous grins and I was flooded with cumulative joy. It seemed as if everyone in the room was emitting happiness and I was receiving massive amounts of it. I began to tear up as the happiness I was feeling began to overflow. It was the best time of the entire trip.
The next couple of days, Wednesday and Thursday, were repeats of Tuesday. We did the VBS’s the first half of the day, and the work projects the second half of the day. Everyday the work projects got more fun as we continued to get to know each other better and better. If I was doing these work projects by myself, they would have been boring and aggravating; but doing them with the people I was with made them extremely enjoyable times.
On the last day of our trip in San Vicente, we went to a local parade on one of the Mexicans holidays. There I wandered around with others from our group, bought some food, and passed out tracts to the people attending the parade. We had so many tracts that it seemed like everyone there had a tract when we left. We also set up a face painting booth at the parade and I was the first person to work at it. I sat there for a while with out anyone coming to get their face painted. They were probably all nervous to go up to a strangely dressed white boy and get their face painted. But finally, a brave, cute little girl who appeared to be about five years old came and asked to get her face painted. I painted what she requested, which was a butterfly. While I was painting, more children came to watch me, and consequently wanted to have their faces painted too. After every child that got painted, more would flock to the stand. A girl in my group named Audrey joined me at the booth and we were swamped by children getting their faces, hands, and arms painted with various items and designs. I was a great, and intimidating, time. Eventually others took mine and Audrey’s places at the stand. It remained quite busy throughout the entire event.
Throughout the whole trip I was getting to know my team members better. There were forty-four people in our team, including about ten adults, and I got to know every single one. Even though I didn’t really know anyone until the start of that week, I felt as if I had known these people for a long time. Such closeness that could only be formed by like-minded people and by working and playing together to accomplish good. These friendships felt like I was in heaven on earth, surrounded by these people I had bonded with while working and having fun for God.
Saturday was the end of our trip. The time to pack up and leave, after our wonderful time of discussion, contemplation, and reflection the night before around a bonfire surrounded by the spectacular, starry night sky. After eating breakfast, we all gathered around for prayer and then loaded into our vans for the trip home.
The drive back seemed shorter than the drive there. However, the border crossing took far longer going out then in. There is always a constant flow of people exiting Mexico that gets bottle-necked at the border crossing stations. Despite the long time period, the crossing was quite fun. The whole time, vendors go up and down the lanes trying to sell you things. From bags to blankets to pots to churros, Mexican goods galore were for sale. And the best part was you could get about ten small churros for only one dollar!
Finally we crossed the border back into California. Next stop, In N Out Burger. I had never been there before, and it wasn’t as amazing as I expected it to be, but it was good. I accidentally started to answer questions of people in shops and restaurants in Spanish.We continued to the water-front in San Diego and spent some time in the shops and watching the interesting street performers, like a sword-swallower.
At last the time for our flight back to Portland came. We arrived at the airport, checked in and passed through security rather quickly, and bordered the plane. The flight was an enjoyable time despite my exhaustion and non-ability to sleep on planes. My friend Lauren and I passed notes over my other friend, Anna, who was sleeping between us. Anna also got some nice Sharpie arm tattoo designs and hashtags.
When we arrived in the PDX airport, we all exchanged hugs and parting words. Everyone gathered each other’s emails, phone numbers, and Facebooks. It was a sweet and sad time. We all parted our separate ways and headed home.
I very much enjoyed the trip. It was a fantastic time of fellowship, work, and evangelism. I thank God for the good I was able to participate in and the wonderful relationship I established. I look forward to not only seeing those people again here on earth, but also one day together in heaven.