In the summer of 2014, I went to Romania. In the Spring of 2017, I went to Ecuador. I had two things in mind for this second missions trip: 1) have no expectations, and 2) make it better than the last one.
The issue with these two things was that they contradicted one another. Essentially, I found that I did have expectations in the fact that I wanted to make it better than the last trip. I found myself planning an itinerary in my mind of exactly how I was going to make it better than my missions trip to Romania, and I was not going to be flexible with that plan. In order to make it better, I subconsciously planned that certain things had to happen: I would work hard, I would connect with all the kids, I would be able to communicate myself in a way that avoided language barriers, and I would get out of my comfort zone. I figured that that was what it meant to be a missionary and that I was fully capable of doing all those things. And as I always do as I plan the itinerary of my character, I put my identity in it.
The moment I was introduced to my host family, I realized that it wasn’t going to be as easy as I’d made it out to be in my mind, but I pushed that aside and figured that I was overreacting and that it would get better. And perhaps I was overreacting, but I found it was tougher than I’d anticipated to communicate with my host family. I’d had it all planned out in my mind that we would become best friends with each other, regardless of the language barrier. However, my idea of “best friends” may have been a bit different from their idea, and I had no clue if they even liked me. Car ride upon car ride, I endured long time periods of awkward silences. Or perhaps they were only awkward to me, and my host family thought it completely comfortable? The cultural difference in personalities alone was alarming to me and I couldn’t quite grasp how I ought to reciprocate love for them. Quiet meals were held in the home and walks around Cuenca and surrounding attractions were silent as we fumbled for communication with each other. The first week was admittedly difficult.
As we produced skits and songs for the kids at the schools and Paz de Dios Church, I was quickly realizing that communicating with the children also was difficult, and I was running out of creativity for connecting with them. I felt like I was an awful missionary, and I slowly withdrew to the comfort of my boyfriend or other teammates who spoke English. I felt selfish, and I fumbled around to find ways to work harder.
So I physically put my all into it. I worked as hard as I could, I did my very best to reach out to the kids, and I got out of my comfort zone as much as I could stretch myself. But when Grace got sick, I began to feel helpless. I couldn’t do anything for her. In addition, the kids didn’t seem to reciprocate my reaching out to them, and I felt like a loser, ineffective in my work. My host family didn’t talk to me much, so I thought I was doing a poor job of showing them the love of God. I didn’t feel like I was connecting well with my teammates, and I felt as if everyone was judging the way I interacted with my boyfriend.
It wasn’t until one day that I was quietly riding in the truck with my host family and watching the mountains fly past us along the winding road that I realized what I was doing. I wasn’t resting in Jesus, the Creator of all this beauty around me. Every day in the car, I would be in awe of the gorgeous greenery and vibrancy of Ecuador and I was giving praise to Jesus, but I wasn’t giving Him myself and all my plans. I was protecting those because I felt like I could do a better job. As Grace slid to the ground and cried out, I heard God say, “My grace is sufficient for you….for when you are weak, I am strong.” As the rain tapped the truck windows, God whispered to my heart, “Be still.” And as my host family and I hiked up the mountain of their potato farm that day, God reminded me, “Put your identity in Me.” I stumbled upon a patch of beautiful daisies and God breathed into my soul, “I love you.” I pondered these subtle messages, and I was reminded of the story of Mary and Martha, and how Martha had put her identity in the work she was doing, and she got frustrated at Mary, who was sitting at Jesus’ feet, patiently waiting for Jesus, hanging on every word He said. I was Martha. I was frustrated at myself if I was ever still; if I ever stopped working, I would punish myself with self-hatred. And yet, Mary was not despicable, she was soaking in the life Jesus had to offer her. Martha was dying because she wasn’t willing to rest in God and give up her itinerary of the day, and be with Jesus and learn from Him.
I was dying inside. I got sick. Emotionally and spiritually sick. While God was whispering to me these words of comfort and reminding me that this missions trip was not mine, I was pushing Him away and continuing to busy myself with what I thought a missions trip meant for me. My body and spirit betrayed me and I was in such a dark state that I could no longer function in any healthy way. It wasn’t until I was completely shrunken into the ground and I had been forced to my knees that I realized what I had done to myself as a result of this idea I had in my mind of what it meant to be on the mission field. I was depressed, discouraged, and I was constantly beating myself up for no reason other than I wasn’t fulfilling my own expectations. I worked, yes, I animatedly interacted with the children, of course, and I have no doubt that God used those things to plant seeds into the lives of children who were seeking love and Living Water. There is no question in my mind that even in my foolishness God was using me to give life and love where there was need. But even so, I had suffocated myself, and God was there, comforting me and offering me healing and joy that could come from nowhere else, not from my plans, not from my expectations; only from Him.
When God used people and circumstances through this Ecuador trip to speak into my life, and I finally stopped to rest, listen, and accept the gift of grace God was offering me to enable me to sufficiently fulfill the calling God had given me to be a short-term missionary in Ecuador, He opened my eyes to see what level I had brought myself to, and where He could put me instead. Only by the grace of God was I able to at last stand and smile with joy and begin to overflow love in an effective way.
There were may things that I began to realize about the trip, and essentially, God taught me so much more than I could have ever imagined. I can only hope and pray that through those things seeds of love were also planted in the lives of those whom I encountered as well. Eventually, I realized that my host family truly did enjoy having me as a guest, and I didn’t have to spend all that time worrying, and as I look back on the trip, I can see that every single time that I had the opportunity to show love and followed through with it, it was 100% God, and I had the opportunity to be His vessel in those two weeks. Things were hard, the cultural barriers and differences were difficult to hurdle, but when God calls someone to go, we need not be afraid of those things, for He equips us. The beautiful moments that come to mind from Ecuador shimmer like diamonds and blossom in my heart like wildflowers to compliment the cliffside that was the battle God equipped me to fight in this small, yet significant chapter of the life He has given me to live. From spinning tiny schoolgirls in the air to being a participant of the very last skit of the Fall and the Redemption, chills run down my spine at the recollection of these things, and how beautiful it truly was through every up and down to experience life as a short term missionary in Ecuador. Each missions trip is uniquely different, and there is no comparison; God continually works through those whom He calls.
“It is written: ‘I believed; therefore I have spoken.’
Since we have that same spirit of faith,
we also believe and therefore speak,
because we know that the one who raised
the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us
with Jesus and present us with you to himself.
All this is for your benefit,
so that the grace that is reaching more
and more people may cause thanksgiving
to overflow to the glory of God.
Therefore we do not lose heart.
Though outwardly we are wasting away,
yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.
For our light and momentary troubles are
achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen,
but on what is unseen,
since what is seen is temporary,
but what is unseen is eternal.”
—2 Corinthians 4:13-18—