Mission trips are hard for me. I love serving people but I’m only “good” at certain ways of serving and those ways are not what you generally do on mission trips. Manual labor is not my forte. I enjoy cutting boards and nailing things down for a few minutes and then I get bored with it or screw up and whoever is in charge tells me to go away and let someone with skills do it. I generally get in the way of the people who know what they’re doing and, because of that, I’m put in roles that aren’t as fun but are needed.
The past week and a half while on a mission trip with 100 other people, I often found myself in the role of “people pusher” or “question answerer” or even “babysitter.” These are not my favorite things to do but with a group the size of ours, it’s one that someone has to do or there is chaos with 85 high school students running crazy.
The downside of this role, and the downside of any major supporting role on any trip, is that you don’t get the typical “wow God” moments that your students or other leaders do. It’s very easy to hear the stories from other people and how God showed up here or how God amazed them in this way and get down or disappointed that you never experienced that. I know on my first trip in that role last year I really started feeling that way. I thought everyone around me was having this incredible God experience and I wasn’t so either I sucked or God didn’t care enough about me to show me the things he was showing everyone else.
And to be honest, I started feeling that way on this trip too.
On Tuesday afternoon it started raining. I hadn’t had a chance to sit down and stop or even clear my head since we had left at 8:30 on Saturday morning. The bus group I had on the 29 hour drive to Wyoming was loud and I got maybe an hour of sleep. Once we got to Wyoming I had to make sure kids could get in at the place we were showering. I had to make sure everything worked for worship in the form of the sound, the lyrics on screens, and all of that. On top of all of that, I had to make a video every day to recap what we had done and I was the only one on the trip from my group of leaders for my small group.
As the rain started coming down, all of the students doing VBS started asking me, “What do we do?” I looked for our VBS director and couldn’t find her so all I could say was, “I don’t know.” After the 23rd kid asked me the same question, I sort of snapped and my “I don’t know’s” became pretty harsh.
My boss saw that, pulled me aside, and ended up benching me for the rest of the afternoon. He had me go back to where we were staying and take some time to rest, clear my head, and get ready for the week that was coming because we still had 7 days left on the trip. It was during this time “off” that I started feeling disappointed that I wasn’t getting the experience that everyone around me was.
That disappointment lasted the rest of that day and part of Wednesday. I kept trying to find out what my role was. What was my purpose on this trip? Everyone else seemed to have a perfectly crafted out role besides me. It took me figuring out what my role was not for me to figure out what it was.
It was not to be the leader – that role was for two other people so I learned to stop trying to lead the trip.
It was not to be the idea person – that role was for other people. Their ideas worked better than mine and were accepted more than mine so I learned to shut up and stop trying to give ideas.
It was not to know what was going on – I routinely told students the quote of the week was that Jonathan knows nothing. It wasn’t my role to determine what went on and when it was going to go on. I found out what was going on right when the students did many times. It frustrated me like crazy quite a bit but I had to accept my role and learn to just do what I was told.
My role was to support others – I was there to congratulate students for working hard. I was there to encourage them to keep doing what they were doing. I was there for a hug or a high five telling them great job. That was my role. For someone who is used to leading and used to being in on the decision making and used to knowing the ins and outs of what was supposed to happen, this role was very, very tough. I love supporting our students, but it’s hard when that’s all I’m doing.
Every day there was a frustrating struggle between wanting to do what I’m used to doing and wanting to be in the role that I’m used to being in and accepting and doing the role that God wanted me to do.
Every day this struggle kept me from having that “wow God” moment that every other person was having.
On Sunday morning we decided to skip out on the church we were planning to go to and stay at the rec center we were sleeping at to have church on our own. After worship, our pastor invited students to come and tell their stories of what God had showed them throughout the week. As student after student came up I found myself getting jealous of all of these “wow God” moments when I had been dealing with frustration and searching for one, just one, of those moments.
Then, out of nowhere, my “wow God” moment happened. One of the workers at the rec center we were staying at had walked into the gym while we were having worship. While he was standing there, he asked to talk to our trip leader. I was one of a very few that saw the two of them walk outside to talk to each other. I didn’t think much of it, just that it was some logistical thing that I’d find out about later.
I was wrong.
That worker, who’s name is Ben, told our trip leader about a guy who had been working at the rec center, Derek, who had tried to commit suicide four days earlier and was in the hospital. Derek was struggling with things at home and had a rough home life. At the end of all of our students sharing their stories, our trip leader stood up, told us all of this, and invited us to gather around Ben to pray for Derek.
So that’s what we did.
100 people prayed for a guy we’d never met who was sitting in the hospital.
The thing is, this was no coincidence:
No outside group had ever been allowed to stay at the rec center we were staying at before.
We had planned to be at a church a few miles down the road that morning.
Us being in that gym at the time wasn’t supposed to happen by our plans.
God had a different plan though. Just as he had a different role for me than what I was comfortable with or liked, he had a different plan for us than what we had planned. He had planned for us to be in that rec center gym at that time to pray for that person.
So there we were, 100 people praying for a guy we’d never met. At one point it hit me that God loves us so freaking much that he would orchestrate a group of 100 people from 1783 miles away to be in a place to pray for one person who was struggling and having a hard time.
He loves each and every one of us that much.
My eyes started getting a little watery when that hit me. It started to make all of the frustrations worth it. It started to make all of the disappointments from throughout the week not matter. It started to make all of the jealousy go away.
God shows up to us in different ways. He had a reason and a role for everyone else on our trip. I thought my reason and my role was different than what it was. It took God showing me that he had different plans for me to realize the way he wanted to show up to me.
Mission trips are still very hard for me. I think they always will be. I may never have the same experiences on those trips that I have while at camps or retreats or even in a normal service, but God will always teach me something.
It may take days of frustration and disappointment, but by the end of the week, God will always show up.
He works on his time.
He works in his way.
And, at the end of the day, Jonathan knows nothing.
But that’s probably a good thing.
Say your prayers and take your vitamins.
Have a nice day.