First and foremost, I have to apologize that this post was not up a looooong time ago. With the start of school and busy weekends I’ve procrastinated writing due to the fact that I wanted to be able to sit down and write this post all at once. That was most definitely not realistic. Though its been about a month since I left for Mexico, the experiences from the trip still feel fresh and God’s love is always something I can write plenty about.
Now, where to begin? The mission trip I recently took part in was the trip of a lifetime! The constant themes that God has been revealing to me throughout this year were shown to me in new ways. I hope all that I share in this post not only fully explains the ongoings and goals of the trip but expresses God’s constant love and lessons that He taught me.
I’ve written this post in two parts and you can choose which one you would like to read. Part A is a summary of the trip including the highlights. Part B is a detailed itinerary of the trip for those readers interested in learning more about how it all went down.
Several months ago, my youth group introduced the mission trip we would be taking to San Luis Potosí, Mexico beginning July 23rd and ending the 29th (2016). It hadn’t taken much for me to decide to go but I hadn’t realized how big of a decision I had made. And I wouldn’t come to realize the impact until the end of the trip.
Our mission trip team consisted of around twenty people from our youth group. Days before we were set to leave, our church sent out a different group of people to Mexico making up the medical brigade. This group stayed in El Refugio, Ciudad Fernandez and helped to administer reading glasses to 750 people. They prayed with 320 people to receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior! I asked a couple of the team members from the medical brigade about their time with the patients and several of them recalled the same memory. They said the most amazing part was seeing the peoples’ reactions to finally being able to read the Bible with the aid of their new eye glasses.
The day following our arrival is when the medical brigade returned to Georgia and when our experience in Mexico began.
God did amazing things for those in Mexico that we served. But I also believe that we were just as blessed by the experience. Everything ran smoothly, we had a safe trip, and we came back with changed mindsets.
One of my favorite memories is when during one of the church services we sang with the natives in Spanish. My all time favorite hymn that God has used in my life this year, How Great Thou Art, was played and it was the most amazing thing to be able to hear it sung in another language with just as much meaning. God’s love really does cover all languages, races, boundaries, and cultures.
One important thing I learned on this trip is that God provides. Throughout this year, God has been teaching me over and over to stop relying on myself alone and to trust Him. The first day of VBS I realized on the car ride to the church that I had forgotten the music I would need to lead worship. But, soon enough when we drove up to the church I could hear the kids songs blasting for all to hear. That day and many other times throughout the trip, God showed me that His Will is greater than my plans. What He needs accomplished will happen one way or another. I must not worry about being “good enough” or “getting it all right” but instead trust that God will use me and I must only be willing.
One of my favorite sights throughout the whole trip was a statue of a cross that stood atop of a rocky hill that we had climbed in the desert area of Peñasco. When we reached the cross, we realized it had a small, small prayer room on the backside of it. I happened to find it and crawled inside to sit and take in the beauty of God’s creation.
Finally, something that changed me forever were the words of a small boy named Adan in Peñasco. This sweet little boy had been running up everyday to sing and dance with me the moment he came into the worship room. He never spoke a word, but when the music came on he was smiling, dancing, and singing away. When Friday rolled around and it came time for us to leave Peñasco for the last time, Adan came up to me and spoke these words, “Tú vas a estar para siempre en mi corazón” meaning, “You are forever in my heart.” From that, I took away that I never had to do everything perfectly to have an effect on these kids. I only had to show them the love of Christ that I first received from God.
My plan for the future is to show everyone this love. God has truly changed my life this year and I no longer struggle with anxiety like I did before because God has shown me that loving others like Jesus did brings joy that conquers all fears. I know that if given the chance I will return to Peñasco and see the impact that God has made on the children’ lives. I am most thankful that I had the opportunity to experience all that I did.
For this trip to be understood, I must first explain how it ran. Our group of twenty (for the sake of simplicity I’ll call this large group) was divided into three smaller groups (let’s call them teams) who would host and help work Vacation Bible School at their assigned church in Mexico. The three churches were in the cities of SLP (San Luis Potosí), Las Flores, and Peñasco. Our large group stayed at a hotel in SLP and the teams would drive to their assigned church every morning. In each team, the individual members would lead a different session of the VBS at their church. I, for example, led the kids in worship at Peñasco. Other positions included: crafts, recreation, Bible study, and snacks. For meals, our large group would eat breakfast at our hotel and for lunch and dinner we would meet up to eat at the church, named Immanuel, in SLP.
•July 23rd // Saturday // Leaving Georgia•
Most of the members of our large group decided to stay the night before at the church allowing us the most time to sleep considering we would have to meet there by 3:30 a.m. Saturday morning. Those who didn’t stay the night met us in the church parking lot at that time the next morning, and we prayed before heading to the airport. Our flight departed at 6:45 a.m. and this was the beginning to one of the longest days of our lives. We flew out of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and landed in Houston. From there, we took a much smaller plane to San Luis Potosí, Mexico. We were very fortunate to have been able to stay in a new hotel with very nice facilities for a minimum cost (City Express in SLP). After unpacking, we regrouped and ate out that night. To sum up Saturday: we were exhausted and in desperate need of sleep.
•July 24th // Sunday // Meeting the People•
I recall Sunday morning as one of the fondest memories of my trip. Our group drove to a little church by the name of Vida Nueva or “New Life” for Sunday morning service. There we met the pastor and many members of the church. God blessed our hearts fully that morning as we all sang together in Spanish to translated versions of our favorite worship songs. The hymn “How Great Thou Art” has always held a special place in my heart, and God has integrated that song repeatedly into the influential moments of my year. So, I am humbled once again to say God gave me another taste of Heaven through singing that song in a different language with others who feel the same desire to worship our Creator.
Aside from preparing for the week to come, nothing too substantial happened that afternoon. Later that night, I called my dad in tears fearing that I would not perform at the level that was expected of me the following morning. After talking with him I was reassured that there was nothing “expected of me” instead, because of my heart for sharing God’s love, God would work through me to bring love and blessings upon the children in Peñasco. Though I was still nervous due to the unknown factors of the day ahead, I had a new mindset to practice in the following days; one that would allow me to see how God really can use me and that he was not only blessing those kids but growing my character as well.
•July 25th // Monday // First Day of VBS in Peñasco•
Time to panic!! Though I convinced myself I was relying on God to work through me, I still did everything in my power to prepare for the worship session I would be leading for the kids. Unfortunately, I didn’t do enough. I realized halfway through the ride to Peñasco that I had left the VBS music cd at the hotel. I decided all I could do in that moment was trust that God had it handled. Good decision. I was filled with pure joy as we drove up to the tiny little church in Peñasco and heard the VBS songs playing full blast for everyone to hear. I almost began to cry… I learned that day that God provides.
As a forewarning, I will attempt to describe the beautiful city of Peñasco. But, I will do no justice in explaining to you how amazing that little town really was. You must discover for yourself the fulfillment you will receive in traveling far from the city to a little town in the desert filled with more life than big cities. My small group had driven about thirty minutes out from SLP to reach Peñasco. Note that I had been told when I returned to SLP that day and blowed my nose, it would result in more dirt and dust than snot. Needless to say I was pretty anxious to see what this place looked like. It was perfect. There was a beautiful garden for Bible study, a one room building for the church and worship, a little nailed together wooden table as the snack stand, and a dusty playing field for rec. We met the lady who owned the land and her son and friends who helped run the VBS. The decorations were more beautiful than anything I’ve ever seen in even the biggest American churches. Nothing compared to the joy these people had. Though to us they had nothing and were considered “less fortunate,” they had everything they needed to be happy.
My third experience that day was one for the books. It was my first time ever participating in street evangelism and it was awesome! The people walking the streets of Mexico were very respectful as it is their culture. Where as an American may receive a pamphlet about the Christian faith and immediately decide they have no interest, every single person we handed a card to at the very least read it’s words before taking it with them. I was able to give my testimony card to several passerby and even pray with a couple of people and share with them my story. I’ll never forget the first people my small group approached were two young boys, twelve and fourteen. They shared with us their fears of giving into dangerous temptations of the street in order to escape their abusive home lives. Our good friend, Jerry, translated as I and another member of the group prayed with the boys to receive Christ into their hearts.
•July 26 // Tuesday // Relationships•
The second day of VBS God really helped me to connect with the kids. I interacted with them in worship more so than the day before and played soccer, tag, and jumprope with them when I could. Leaving that day was hard, it really filled us up to be around those kids who appreciated being with us and worshipping their Creator.
Later that day we joined with Vida Nueva to set up a block party in a park they visit frequently. So basically, the church decorates the park with balloons and sets up different games such as beanbag toss, sack race, and hula hoop. Kids come from nearby neighborhoods to participate and hear the Word of God. Our church helped to run the games and hang out with the kids before putting on a skit for them about a Bible story.
•July 27th // Wednesday // Free Day•
It’s funny how God works things out. While in conversation with two college students that helped me with VBS, I learned they are studying software engineering. We then began talking about how I’m starting up a blog and they gave me some helpful resources on how to get it up and running well. Later that day, our translators took us on a scenic hike up to the top of a dam. After that, we went shopping in the tourist area in SLP. Let me just say for those prices, Mexico is a GREAT place for back to school shopping!
•July 28th // Thursday // Scenery•
Thursday I woke up sick and the dirt from Peñasco was messing up my sinuses. My favorite part of the day however was the hike we took in a desert area near Peñasco. The rocky hill we climbed had a cross adorned with flowers standing proud at the top. After the hike, the large group drove to our church in Peñasco to hangout and play games with the kids. It was nice for all of the group to be able to see what life was like outside of the the city.
•July 29th // Friday// Goodbyes•
The last day. The last goodbye. Heartbreak and tears. That morning at VBS we had an amazing last day with the kids, but saying goodbye to our new friends was something we had never thought would come. Nothing brings a bigger smile to my face than remembering what one boy in particular told me before we drove away. He said, “Tú vas a estar para siempre en mi corazón” meaning, “You are forever in my heart.” This is when the tears started pouring and though all of us may have been crying, the kids continued to express joy and smile as though we would return the next day. The latter part of the day included a picnic in the park and great conversations with people in my youth group. God truly continues to present me with opportunities to meet others and be inspired by their walks of life.
•July 30th // Saturday // Returning Home•
Our flights home were a breeze, but unfortunately for the first half of the group who left earlier it wasn’t as easy. Their flight was 20 minutes from landing in Atlanta when the pilot decided the best thing to do to avoid a bad thunderstorm was to return to Houston, Texas. That group then had to stay an extra day away while we had already made it home. But, returning the next day exhausted and sightly frustrated they were still extremely grateful for the opportunities and safety God had provided us. We can’t wait for next year!