When I was in high school, I went on my first foreign mission trip. I was part of a small team from a local congregation in a really small town in Southeast Texas. We drove, what seemed like a very long time, from the lush forests of our region, thru prairie, coastal plains, and into what was scrubby desert-like country, that, like it's inhabitants, was hardened by difficulty. I had started kindergarten, and was about to finish high school, in the same little town we had left some hours before, so I was seeing so much for the first time. It was a lot to take in.
There is much I don't remember about this time, it was about 25 years ago now. I remember that the place we were staying was not as comfortable as what I was used to, the food was different, and I felt like a bystander to everything that was going on around me. Like most bystanders, I was generally unnoticed by those on the stage.
We had come as a follow up to a previous trip when a church building had been constructed. Our mission was to deliver gifts to the children for Christmas. I had no speaking role, no visibly large contribution, and no experience to offer. It was disorienting.
I do remember my favorite part: it was the greeting of the children. Keeping in mind I was a child myself, though mostly unaware of the fact at the time. When the little kids would approach, I took a knee and gave / received the biggest hugs of my life. I was giving the love of Christ, just as I was indeed receiving it! This was precious to me. I had no words of wisdom to impart, no sermons to give, but love was working on me.
I really didn't think about this trip much after the initial exuberance of too many experiences to process faded. It was nearly 20 years later, upon returning from a trip to Central Mexico, that my mother brought it up to me. I was surprised she remembered it, as my own recollection had been dulled over time, I didn't expect her to be thinking of it. Her question to me was, “Scott, do you remember what you told me after your first trip to Mexico?” I didn't remember. She said, ” You said that you weren't going back…. too depressing.” This kind of hit me like a truck. It was 2006.
In 1997, I was living in Texas, less than ten miles from the high school I had finished more than a decade before. I went visit friends in Charlotte area of the Carolinas… actually two guys who had been involved in the same church I went to Mexico with the first time. At the time we went to Mexico they were both still less than 10 years old, and likely playing Atari while I was trying to figure out international affairs… The lingering reality that I didn't know how to travel yet is imprinted on my memory by the fact that I flew into Atlanta and had them come down and fetch me. Hey, we are all learning, right?
While visiting them, I attended their homegroup and one of the other guys (about their age, less than 20) gave me a word about doing missions work in Spain. This was not in my field of view, and knocked me off my perch. I, as they say, kept this word in my heart, and still do. As I mulled it over and considered it, over time I began to realize that the Lord was speaking to me, not only about Spain, but about the Spanish speaking & Latino people groups. It would be seven more years before I stepped into this calling, on my first return trip to Mexico, which was in 2004.
Since that time, I have been to Latin America around 30 times. It has been extremely meaningful to me, as I hope it has been to those who have went with me, and those I have and gotten to know. At times, it has been heartbreaking. At other times, exhilarating… and everything in between. In many ways, it has been the out-of-building experience so many believers are looking for, and all of us need.